Lori and I were talking today about friends that live in another town in Nova Scotia who have decided to start a church together. She asked me how I felt about it, and got thinking about it.
These friends are wonderful people who truly love God and have a heart to win people and disciple them, and I would never presume to have an accurate read on the motivation of their hearts for starting a new church. So my answer ended up being a question: are they called to serve in the church, or to separate themselves from the existing church and start something completely new?
One of my heartaches for the church is how so few people see the call to ministry simply as a call to serve willingly in a church where they can be a blessing to a shepherd and establish themselves as a pillar of that church without seeking honour or acclaim for themselves, and how so many need for that call to result in a full-time ministry position (often of prominence and recognition) in order to follow it faithfully and passionately.
This is not to say that I resent or don't respect those who serve in paid ministry positions- the only job I've ever known my Dad to have is as a pastor of a local congregation. What really bothers me is that so many automatically assume a call to ministry decrees that they should become a pastor (or more specifically, paid clergy).
This kind of thinking demonstrates a real lack of understanding about "pastoring." Pastoring is a spiritual gift and a five-fold office established by the Holy Spirit; it is not a job title or an position of employment that validates a passion or confirms someone's gifting. Graham Cooke did some amazing teaching on this that has stayed with me ever since, and the longer I live in community with other believers, the more accurate his teaching is.
What's more problematic for me is that the church tends to validate and perpetuate this understanding of serving and leading within the church. I get invitations to attend amazing conferences all the time, yet I can count the number of times the main speaker (or even a second tier keynote speaker) has been anything other than paid clergy (and typically paid clergy from churches that are huge and famous) on one hand.
I am not closed in the least to sitting under the ministry of people like this- I have learned some life changing things this way.
I simply cringe at the divorce between the message often spoken about the need to walk in humility and selflessness, to let your giftings speak for themselves instead of seeking self-promotion, to prefer others above yourself and love with Christ's love that seeks to see those you minister to exceed you and accomplish far greater things than you ever did and the silently conveyed message that far too often seems to trump the one just described: that the people really worth listening or opening your heart to are those who are famous or popular or leading large churches or reaching huge audiences.
What this unspoken message serves to do is perpetuate the myth that the people speaking at these events are somehow more gifted or capable of greater impact than you or I. People see this dynamic, coupled with the revolving door cycle that pastoring has become in the evangelical church, and see that "ministry" is for really amazing people, not for the everyday person.
I remember as a teen wrestling with the very clear call I felt to ministry and the passion I had to become a teacher, feeling as if these things were mutually exclusive and that I would have to pick one or the other. So many youth pastors and leaders in my area that I approached for counsel laid it on thick that if I really loved God and felt a call that the only God-honouring course should be bible college immediately after school.
Thank God my Dad had the good sense to make sure that I got real counsel. He was so sensitive to what I felt in my heart, and never did anything to pressure me one way or the other. In fact, I will always remember how he challenged me to listen to God for myself and follow what I felt God saying. The icing has been that my Dad, to this day, has not only verbalized his support, but has consistently put his money(as in hard earned paycheck), house, car, time and help where his mouth was.
Now, after 5 years of secular education at Dalhousie and McGill universities and nearly 8 years of work experience with three different secular school boards, I have never been more sure of or secure in the call I felt all those years ago or my pursuit of a career as a teacher. Not only do I shine every day in a workplace where there are few believers and have an opportunity to serve and be a blessing to people that have never seen or heard of Jesus, but I also serve in leadership at my church and minister in many facets- sunday school teacher and organizer, lead worshipper and helper to other leaders in worship, board member, webmaster and tech leader, and sometime speaker and teacher when my Dad is away or visiting his second congregation.
I have more opportunity to minister where I am than many pastors do in "ministry" positions with specific (and sometimes restrictive) portfolios, and I'm more in love with the church than I have ever been. It's a crime that we herd people to theological schools with such gusto (often to find few or no opportunities to work as a pastor) and do so little to affirm them in following their God-given dreams in the career of their heart and help them discover their giftings and ministry strengths in the context of relationship and commitment to a local church, pastor and congregation.
SO (after such a gargantuan entry), one of my hopes in pursuing "ministry" through my life's work and involvement with my local church is to demonstrate that every life is a platform to minister from, and that we rob ourselves of untold heart-wealth by ignoring the riches nearest ourselves in each other in favour of hearing the latest DVD series from Pastor Amazing from the Incredible Intergalactic Church (ok, so I'm being sarcastic here...).
Along with that, my prayer is that we will see the heart of Christians shift from propping up the cult of pastor-hero-celebrities that is such a huge part of the 20-80 problem (20% of the people in the church do 80% of the work, with a startling chunk of that 20% on the payroll...) to esteeming one another and giving place and honour to the people in our midst and tapping the Jesus in each other.
Whew... I feel better. Thanks for listening. Y'all come again, y'hear? Loads of love...