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Who are “the Called”? Mission, Commission, and Accountability

Still another way people can discover their place of ministry is for the local church to make the congregation aware of various kinds of local church, parachurch, community, and work-related opportunities that are available. People can be “matched” with some kind of ministry opportunity that is in keeping with their abilities and about which they may be unaware. Spiritual-gifts tests are available in various forms. Although these cannot replace the work of the Spirit as God brings to mind gifts and callings, these can be “conversation starters” that encourage believers to start thinking about what it is God might be doing in and through them.

In a similar way, the church community can help people to discover ways to do ministry at their workplace—ways that they may not have considered. For instance, how can people be ministers to their fellow workers when they work all day in a cubicle in front of a computer screen? Can the congregation help them to discover new and creative ways to be an example of Christ? How might lay ministers share their faith in a corporate, judicial, or public school setting where national law mandates a strict separation of church and state? Gifted ministry should not be limited to any one setting.

The local church would do well to prepare to enable people in their ministries wherever those ministries may be found. Many believers are probably doing the work of ministry in all kinds of secular settings. They can give testimony about their work and provide much needed wisdom in dealing with the potential legal dilemmas of trying to do ministry in places often perceived as hostile to religious outreach and personal ministry.

Validating a Call

When believers begin to sense their calling from God, then the local church community must affirm their ministry and affirm them in their place of ministry. Timothy was encouraged to exercise his gift, which was affirmed by the laying on of hands by church elders (1 Tim 4:14). This is a powerful way of recognizing publicly the kinds of ministries in which laypeople are actively involved, including those opportunities in their workplaces. Although Timothy was probably a full-time pastor, the model of public recognition and affirmation of a call to ministry can guide congregations in bearing witness publicly that laypeople do have a legitimate ministry gift.22

Jim Stockard, in the article “Commissioning the Ministries of the Laity: How It Works and Why It Isn’t Being Done,” proposes that a local congregation commission laypeople for ministry. He suggests five points for consideration when commissioning them.23 The first is that the commission involves the whole congregation. “The entire congregation confirms the challenge and promises support. Thus, the whole community is concentrated on one person and his or her ministry.”24 It allows the person to write the particulars of his/her commissioning ceremony, and allows others to help him/her in its composition, thus allowing them to say for the congregation what support will be given and what responsibilities are expected.

The second aspect of a commissioning is that it is part of a public worship service. Stockard noted that a public commissioning is a source of power and support; it stimulates congregational concern for one another’s work; it lets visitors know this congregation takes seriously the work of ministry.25

The third aspect of a commissioning is that it is a two-way street. The one being commissioned is given ministry responsibility, and the congregation commits to ongoing support. The fourth aspect of a commissioning is that the commission is theologically grounded. It is the Great Commission that differentiates believers from a social or political club.

The final aspect of a commissioning is that it is specific. Not only does the commissioned one need to tell the congregation the exact nature of his/her work, but the congregation also needs to know exactly how to provide the support he/she needs to accomplish the work to which he/she has been commissioned.

It is best to keep the work of commissioning as simple and direct as possible. It might be counterproductive to complicate things unnecessarily. Significance and meaning can be given to public commissioning of the laity in ways understandable to all! There can be two parts to the commissioning process:

1. What the person being commissioned promises.

2. What the congregation promises in response. In simple yet profound ways the callings of the laity and the affirmation of the congregation can occur so that everyone understands what is happening.

In terms of the first part, the person might be asked to promise these things:

1. To be faithful to God’s call.

2. To give periodic reports on her ministry through public testimony in settings made possible by the church.

3. To practice faithfully the spiritual disciplines emphasized by the church. In terms of the second part, the congregation might be asked to promise these things:

1. To offer training in and emphasis on the spiritual disciplines (e.g., Bible study, prayer, living a holy life, etc.).

2. To provide regular intercessory prayer for every called person in the church—layperson and professional minister alike.

3. To maintain a caring and nurturing atmosphere in the local church where both mature believers and new converts are welcomed and loved. These promises are given by the one being commissioned, then by the united voices of the congregation in a call-response fashion led by the pastor.

The beauty of this plan is that it is easy to understand and remember, and the whole congregation is involved in some way throughout the process of commissioning. The congregation gives a strong signal to the commissioned one that his/her ministry is part of the community. The commissioned one gives a strong signal to the community that he/she is in some way involved in all ministry in and through the church. Thus, one’s work life and church life are linked, as they should be, and people learn how much they need one another in this life of faith. People need the affirmation of others in all aspects of life, but especially in the work of ministry. They can better cope with life’s difficulties and challenges when they have been assured that people in the church community have promised their support.


The commissioning process suggested by Stockard has an important ingredient that can help a congregation provide needed support. By writing the commissioning ceremony, the commissioned believers let the congregation know in what way they are accepting responsibility for ministry. If they do not live up to that responsibility, then the congregation can call them to be responsible to their commissioning. I use the word support in describing this effort because church discipline is necessary for the life of the church. After all, if the congregation has entered into a contract with laypeople in their commissioning, then it is only reasonable for that congregation to get what was promised, just as the congregation should give what it promised.

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Category: Fall 2011, Ministry

About the Author: Steven M. Fettke, M.Div. (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Th.M., D.Min. (Columbia Theological Seminary), is Professor of Religion at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He was awarded the Delta Alpha Distinguished Educator Award by the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education in 2009. He is the author of Messages to a Nation in Crisis: An Introduction to the Prophecy of Jeremiah (1982).

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