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

While I prefer “live” presentations of laypeople reading or reciting their statements of call, I also recognize that some larger churches can afford to record these statements on DVD so that they might be played during the commissioning service. Each person could be recorded reading or reciting a statement of call and while speaking, scenes of their place of call could be shown, including scenes of him/her there “in action.” Special music could be added by skilled video editors, which would make for a very nice video presentation. A few presentations of call (or even several, if the commissioning service were a large group) could be played at this point of the service, leading then to the next step.

The pastor will then ask the ones being commissioned to respond with “I will” to each of these three questions:

1. Will you be faithful to God’s call as you have described it to us?

2. Will you bring testimony regularly to the congregation of God’s work through you?

3. Will you practice faithfully the spiritual disciplines taught in this church? Next, the pastor will turn to the congregation and ask it to respond with “We will” to each of these three questions:

1. Will you make sure there is training in the spiritual disciplines in this church?

2. Will you regularly pray for these lay ministers?

3. Will you make sure there is a caring and nurturing atmosphere in this church where both new converts and mature believers might be welcomed and loved? The pastor will then lead the congregation in prayer for the commissioned ones. It would be a nice gesture to have other laypeople surround and lay hands on those who are being commissioned as the pastor leads in prayer. In fact, previously commissioned lay ministers might be asked to join the pastor in this part of the ceremony. The pastor might include in his prayer a call for a fresh awareness of God’s spirit as each one engages in Spirit-empowered ministry.

Finally, the service can conclude with a hymn or choruses that are appropriate to the ceremony. An especially appropriate hymn for this occasion is “Take My Life and Let it Be, Consecrated, Lord to Thee”; however, no doubt there are modern choruses or songs that would be appropriate for this occasion in place of a hymn. After the singing, the congregation might be dismissed with the benediction but with the added invitation to congratulate those who have been commissioned.

I cannot finish this section without anticipating what might happen in certain churches. It must be emphasized before, during, and after the ceremony—hopefully in clear but discreet ways so as not to upset people—that this ceremony is not a legal process by which laypeople are being “ordained” into professional ministry as happens with professional ministers in some churches with a congregational polity (e.g., the Southern Baptist Convention). No doubt, some laypeople will try to use the commissioning ceremony as a way to get IRS approval for the tax benefits provided to professional ministers. In teaching on this, in the interviews with the lay committee, and even cited (in small print) in a ceremony certificate that a church might choose to give each layperson commissioned, wise church leaders should provide clear statements that express the “lay” part of the ceremony versus the professional part. Churches will do well to specify in their literature and in public statements that the commissioning ceremony is not an attempt to give every member special tax benefits designated for professional ministers. The ceremony is only the church’s way of recognizing that all believers are called to serve God in the place to which God has called them.

A Groundswell Begins?

I have been teaching at a Christian university for over thirty years. In discussing the issue of lay ministries with generations of students, I have learned that in their churches they have not been taught about lay ministries other than those ministries directly involved with volunteer service in their local church. They also say that they are not taught about integrating their faith with their secular part-time jobs other than to invite coworkers to a church special of some kind or to try to talk to them about Jesus.

Often, these students are confused about how they are to share their faith or they are frustrated because they do not know what to say to coworkers who challenge their faith. They usually have not considered that there might be for them a call of God to a secular workplace—they usually just complain about how poorly they are treated as part-time workers. This frustration needs to be addressed so that when they graduate they do not become full-time workers who are still frustrated. So many churches are doing a poor job of preparing members to find their place in God’s kingdom, even if that might mean a call to the secular workplace. Many of these students want to serve God but do not sense any call to be a professional minister. Increasingly, they are becoming disenchanted with the idea of traditional professional ministry. Instead of choosing a ministerial major as so many did in the past, many students are now choosing majors in business, education, and psychology; however, they lack an understanding of how these majors can provide opportunities for them to fulfill their call.

For some time, Christian liberal arts colleges and universities have sought to help students integrate their faith and chosen profession through courses designed to get them to think about ways their faith impacts their secular work. At the university where I work, I have been involved in this process from the religion side of the equation. In helping to design the coursework that makes up the curriculum, I am troubled by the forces from both the religion faculty and the faculty in non-religion majors who are unhappy with each other and the choices made. Religion faculty want non-religion majors to have a thorough intellectual knowledge of the Christian faith in the hopes this will translate into Christian spirituality. Non-religion faculty want fewer required religion courses, and the courses they do desire they want to be designed specifically for their majors and focused on how to make moral and ethical decisions related to their professions.

I think the opposing opinions have valid strengths and weaknesses. It is important for students to understand their faith—faith seeks understanding—and to have and be able to articulate at least a solid rudimentary Christian theology. It is also important for students to understand how to deal with the moral and ethical dilemmas they might face in their professions. However, it is most important for students to understand that they are called of God regardless of their chosen profession. It is not the right intellectual knowledge about theology, morality, or ethics that is the foundation of their faith. It is their relationship with God that is most important. From this relationship with God they will begin to grasp God’s mission and their call within God’s mission. Once that is grasped, there will be a newfound enthusiasm for being able to articulate a clear message of faith as well as to be able to decide properly about moral and ethical issues. They need close contact with mentors in their future profession, mentors who can help them grasp what it means to be called to be business people, teachers, and psychologists.

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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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