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

It can be easy and convenient to produce a “witness” that is most comfortable to believers rather than to provide a kind of sacrificial service that may be very inconvenient and even difficult. It is important for the local church to make those believers who are interested in true lay “missions” in their neighborhoods and workplaces understand that serving others often can be difficult and may require sacrifice. If “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), then Christians who want to be like their Lord can understand what true service may entail. The gift of the Holy Spirit is what will remind them that true service might require personal sacrifice.

Finally, it is important to note that the gift of the Holy Spirit is no substitute for a good work ethic and a concern for excellence. Far too often some Pentecostals have thought that just lots of prayer and worship time are sufficient for preparation for all things. While I certainly do not want to discount prayer and worship, I also do not want these to become a kind of excuse for not doing one’s very best. People who hope to gain the trust of coworkers so that they might serve them in the name of Christ will want to prove their worth as a worker who can be admired for the mature and appropriate manner in which tasks are completed. A concern for doing a good job is also a characteristic of someone filled with the Spirit.

A varsity public high school basketball team played against a local Catholic high school team. Early in the game the public high school players noticed the captain of the Catholic team making the sign of the cross before shooting a free throw. “Hey, coach,” one of the players on the bench asked, “what does that mean?” The coach’s quick reply was, “Not a thing if he can’t shoot!”

The God-Called and the “Necessary Other”

Kathleen Norris’s description of the formation of her art speaks volumes to those called by God.

Art is a lonely calling, and yet paradoxically communal. If artists invent themselves, it is in the service of others. The work of my life is given to others; in fact, the reader completes it. I say the words I need to say, knowing that most people will ignore me, some will say, “You have no right,” and a few will tell me that I’ve expressed the things they’ve long desired to articulate but lacked the word to do so.29

It is the phrase, “the reader completes it,” that so fascinates me and resonates within me as well as convicts me.

In describing this “completion,” Norris uses the phrase, “necessary other,”30 by which she means the process that completes the “transaction” (my term) between poet and reader. As a God-called teacher, I can become so enamored with my learning and research I can isolate myself and become entirely self-serving in both my research and teaching. In my selfishness I can say, “I am the only ‘necessary other’ and the ‘others’ in my sphere of influence will just have to adjust to me.” It is this attitude that poets—and teachers and all God-called people—have to resist. The Spirit who calls us also calls us into a community in which others are necessary. We resist that call to community to the detriment of our call and the Spirit’s work. Here is how she describes it:

How dare the poet say “I” and not mean the self? How dare the prophet say “Thus says the Lord”? It is the authority of experience, but by this I do not mean experience used as an idol, as if an individual’s experience of the world were its true measure. I mean experience tested in isolation, as by the desert fathers and mothers, and also tried in the crucible of community. I mean “call” taken to heart, and over years of apprenticeship to an artistic discipline, developed into something that speaks to others.31

It is in the community to which we have been called that the “transaction” among all in the community occurs. Isolated individuals may create wonderful “art,” but they cannot complete their work without the necessary others, without whom the art—or ministry—will be lost.

All of this may seem obvious and elementary; however, sadly, many operate within organizations, programs, and plans and remain oblivious to those people affected by those plans. A worship leader can lead in all his personal and favorite music and be oblivious to the fact that few are participating or identifying with him or his music. A pastor can preach or lead from his own agenda and be unaware of and even uncaring about the feelings or willingness of the people in regard to what he is doing. Remaining connected to these people—these “necessary others”—is the heart and soul of our callings!

A Suggested Confirmation Ceremony

As I have already noted, it is important for the congregation to affirm the callings of the church members. A public confirmation ceremony has the power to give the ones being confirmed a sense of community support and affirmation, but it also has the power to emphasize to all—to witness—that these people are declaring publicly their commitment to be carrying out the mission of the Church and that the mission of the Church is very important. At the center of the ceremony is the pastor whose leadership in the ceremony during worship services also sends a strong signal of affirmation and support. In fact, pastors who lead these ceremonies might also first preach on the call of every Christian to fulfill the mission of the Church: the Great Commission. At the conclusion of the sermon, those who have been “examined” previously by the lay committee concerning their sense of call and whose callings have received the “witness” or the “amen” from the lay committee are called to the front for the ceremony. As a part of the ceremony, they will be asked to read or recite their part of the commissioning ceremony.

Please note here that instead of having half the congregation commissioned in just one service, each commissioning service might be better limited to four or five laypeople at most. Limiting the number involved each time makes the ceremony shorter, it gives each person being commissioned a chance to speak, and it suggests more such ceremonies to come. This can be a monthly event with four or five laypeople commissioned each time. As the months go by, previously commissioned laypeople might participate in future ceremonies by giving a brief testimony about what the ceremony meant to them and how their lay ministry has been fruitful.

The pastor will then read appropriate Scriptures related to the idea of God’s call (e.g., Eph 4:12, called to do the work of ministry; Mark 9:35, everyone is a servant; Matt 5:13–16, be salt and light; Matt 28:19–20, the Great Commission; Acts 1:8, filled with the Spirit to be a witness; etc). These passages (or parallel passages) might also be used as the biblical text for that day’s sermon by the pastor.

Next, the pastor will ask each layperson being commissioned to read their brief statement written especially for this ceremony. Those who are embarrassed to do this in front of the congregation or who are not able to speak well (or not at all, like my autistic son) might choose someone to speak on their behalf. What is important here is for the congregation to hear the heart of those being commissioned to their ministries, to describe how they have sensed God’s call to their specific place, and how much they care for their coworkers. It is a form of testimony in that it is an opportunity for them to share how God has worked in their hearts and to give praise to God for gifts and callings. The emphasis here is on “brief” statements as it is important not to drag out the ceremony and thus make everyone dread its future occurrence.

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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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