Friday, September 23, 2005

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Bill Easum

Often an unspoken uneasiness lurks just beneath the surface of many Christians. No one wants to talk openly about this uneasiness, but they talk to me about it privately, as you will see later. I don’t mean any disrespect by what you’re about to read. I just think it’s time some of us faced reality: many Christian leaders (clergy and lay) have been duped into following the wrong call and are wasting their own lives and the lives of those under their influence.

Give me time to explain before you start heating up the tar and ripping up the pillows. For most of the last fifty years, when someone received a call to preach, it mostly meant that God had chosen him or her to become pastor of a church. To make matters worse, ministry was mostly relegated to the paid clergy. Most calls sent the person to seminary to some form of full-time Christian service. Very few understood that laypeople could be called to serious ministry in their local church. I can still remember saying ‘I surrendered to the ministry’ [emphasis on ‘the’] as if there were only one form of ministry. Can you hear those nails being driven in?

Not until recently have established congregations begun to understand and practice the belief that all Christians receive a call from God to ministry. This means that there isn’t such a thing as ‘the’ ministry. There are ministries galore, open to all Christians. One doesn’t have to go into ordained ministry to be in ministry.
If this is an accurate view of what has happened, then there are probably a lot of ordained clergy who were never called to be the pastor of a congregation. Some were called to be apostles, and others were called to ministries such as chaplains and counsellors, but not to be pastors of congregations. It also means that there are a lot of Christians who have never heard God’s call nor been involved in ministry because they assumed one had to become a pastor to answer ‘the’ call to ministry.

So, what can be done about this mess? It’s time we got honest with ourselves. We need to wake up to the fact that God calls Christians to some form of service that has absolutely nothing to do with seminary, formal ordination, or full-time service. When Christians fully understand that God’s plan includes everyone doing the actual work of ministry rather than a special few, things will change in our congregations. But more important, lives will cease to be lived without experiencing the joy of reaching God’s potential.

Also, I’m convinced that some of the pastors who are not functioning as pastors (that is, they are taking care of the saints instead of equipping them) are doing so because laity have been convinced that caring for people is their pastor’s job and the laity are forcing pastors to play ‘pastor fetch’ and private counsellor. I want to give these pastors permission to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ There’s still time to get retooled. All you have to do is want to badly enough. If you get retooled and your congregation kicks you out, don’t fret; if God called you to be a pastor, there will be another church waiting for you. What you need to remember is there are far more churches now than there are ordained clergy.

From section 5 of Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First – rediscovering ministry, published by Abingdon 2004
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