Called... To What Ministry?
As a preacher's kid, you grow up with a much different perspective of church life. You commonly witness the energy of members vying for their personal vision for the congregation, frequently in direct conflict with other members who are just as energized. Pastoral confidences are never shared during mealtime but it doesn't take much thought to surmise that a couple is having marital problems when they show up for counseling. Happily, you get to travel around the country a lot because your pastor-father needs to be at Annual Conference every year. It's nice to be able to tell school friends that you've been in forty-six states by the age of eleven (humbly of course). Simply because parents are intimately involved in the mechanics of church operations, you also feel a keen devotion to this faith community. You also realize that church members guide and sometimes try to control your life. A preacher's kid shouldn't be doing that! When are you going to follow in your dad's footsteps and become a minister? I've surely heard those two lines at least a hundred times. There is an unwritten code of decorum in every church for how PK's are to behave and you will be reminded of that code if you step over certain boundaries. So as not to get my father in trouble, I often lived or behaved according to the presumptions and dispositions of others - liking it or not. Perhaps it is because of this keen awareness of the church that I also developed a profound awareness of God very early in life.
Unlike the stereotypical conversion that many try to describe, I never sensed an earth-shattering born again experience because God was extremely important to me as early as I can remember. From the earliest pre-school years, I felt a special joy when I was taken to church. This building was different, it was the house of God. It was not a gymnasium or a restaurant. Here is where I came to thank God for the privilege of life itself. I often stared at the ceiling, wondering how God may be looking at us. I interpreted everything through spiritual eyes that looked to the Bible for answers. Over the years, His presence has often been so real that I felt as though the Lord was standing right next to me. I took it for granted that others experienced the very same thing and was dismayed to learn that I was considered odd and peculiar for sharing these experiences. In other words, it's Ok to be spiritual - but not too spiritual. Perhaps because what seems so real and ordinary is then not interpreted as the unusual and extraordinary. This may be why people try to do the extraordinary in order to feel like they have accomplished something significant for the Lord. Unless their efforts are comparable to painting the Sistine Chapel, they feel as though their life is not spiritually meaningful. I believe the Lord would just like us to use our ordinary talents and abilities to do little things, which through His proper guidance will ultimately have extraordinary results. What a novel concept!
Reading and teaching the Bible has always been easy for me. It's a gift that God has graciously blessed me with. I usually need say no more than a few words in class, and the Spirit pours thoughts and inspirations into my head so fast I can hardly keep up. I expect this to sound braggadocios to some, but it is true. Not only do thoughts pour into my head, but the Spirit usually quickens my mind to the analogy that would explain and illustrate each part of the lesson. I am often astounded at what I have been prompted to say, because the illustrations may exceed my knowledge of the subject. This can admittedly be a little scary, unless I trust Him implicitly to provide the means. Needless to say, people in Sunday School or other public speaking engagements have graciously bestowed unworthy praise for these lessons and messages, to which I then feel absolutely shame-faced because: It's not really me! God has graciously bestowed a gift in me that I realized could graciously be removed. If the Holy Spirit ever remained silent during class - I'd be dead. At least one reason I suspect, that God ministers through me in this way is because of my profound love for Him. I live for God, daydream, work, and play with God on my mind, communing with Him in my spirit throughout most of the day, whether in the office, at home, or even while operating a chain saw. Do not most people find it easy to think about what they love the most? God is my unseen companion with whom I converse in secret while driving on the highway, chopping wood, fixing computers, or playing with grandchildren. Frequently when speaking before large groups, I will sense the Holy Spirit gently whisper: Love them with your words! Just love them into My arms!
Four times in the last several years, a different church member has taken me aside and seriously questioned me about entering the set-apart-ministry. Since I have never actually experienced the proverbial whistles & bells calling, I am overly cautious that I do not call on the ministry, instead of the other way around. Occasionally, I have sat under the preaching of someone (in various places) who I believe to have called on the ministry because it seemed obvious, at least to me, that the Lord had not called on them. In the autumn of 1995, two District officials came to my home and seriously questioned whether set-apart-ministry could be in my future. Hesitantly but cheerfully, I agreed to attend three seminars in the Spring of the following year, along with about twenty others from the District who had been similarly approached. I would have felt more confident if I would have personally sensed the Lord giving me an undeniable calling to greater service. But what should you do, if others continually recognize possible gifts for ministry when you don't sense those same capabilities?
Still, no whistles & bells when I pulled into the parking lot of the Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren for that first seminar in January of 1996. The District Executive warmly challenged each of us to consider what set-apart-ministry could mean to us, our families, the denomination, and the wider body of Christ. One of the guest lecturers for that morning was a career development counselor who explained the emotional impact that may occur to any family when only one spouse feels a calling to greater service: Not every calling is clearly for the set-apart-ministry, he comfortingly reassured us. Recounting a visit to Italy, complete with magnificent paintings and sculptures, he said: Each work of art brought tears to my eyes. I was overwhelmed by the skill of each artist, and the energy of their work. Those men could have made lousy pastors, but their gifted artistry still powerfully ministers to us today.
Those words vividly hung in my mind for days. Never before has anyone said anything that so captured my attention. I felt emotionally arrested, because I have also walked through St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and experienced the very same degree of astonishment. The height of the ceiling produces a sublime reverence while each painting and lofty sculpture dynamically impacts the conscious mind with a state of wonderment, almost bewilderment. Tapestry and gold covering the altar literally seizes the mind's eye. In this spacious drama, one is humbly cognizant of how insignificant a person can really be. Standing to the side, and never at a loss for humor, I also recall how funny it was for me, watching so many people with heads gazing upwards, repeatedly bumping into each other and then graciously excusing themselves, over and over and over.
The morning lecturer was right. Although each Vatican craftsman has been dead for centuries, through God given talents, they continue to minister, even to this day. So what talents do I have? A profound love for Jesus Christ and His universal church? Teaching a Sunday School class, Bible Study, or guest speaking before other groups? This just seemed too easy to be regarded as a significant contribution. But then again, some have observed that ease is sometimes the mark of a gift. Ted Williams had a high batting average because he seemed to have little trouble hitting a baseball. He made it look so easy. That ball would come hurling from the pitchers mound but he had little trouble redirecting its course into the outfield. If not the set-apart-ministry, how else can I minister for the Lord? My daily hours are wrapped up in administrative meetings, office machinery, training staff, inter-agency computer networking, circuit boards, programming, modems, and a part-time graphic art business that I run from my home. How may I use a computer to minister for God, I thought?
Then one day at work, it hit me - a web site on the Internet. Yes, of course! Put the Brethren on the Web and make them look good! (This was 1996. There was no official denominational web site. No Bethany online. No camps online. No agencies online. No Annual Conference online. Two colleges were online, and perhaps three churches.) Immediately, the Holy Spirit began showing me how each of my ordinary talents would contribute to this endeavor: a love for people, dedication to ministry, programming skills, graphic art, working with people, telecommunications, and most important of all, a profound love for Jesus Christ. It all came together! A perfect blend of ordinary abilities. The first documents went online at the beginning of February and in a couple of weeks, although a humble beginning, an unofficial national COB web site was on the World Wide Web (the official General Board web site was years ahead in the making). I had become the first online ministry in the Church of the Brethren and it quickly developed into a Network of membership interactivity. Denominational leadership soon began sending me information to display for them. Church of the Brethren Network (COB-NET) had been generated through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and a few dedicated craftsmen who left their ministerial handiwork all over Italy.
Perhaps you also have been sensing a call from God for greater service, but like me, you've not heard those whistles & bells. Maybe you feel intimidated with the presumption that real service always means possessing some extraordinary talent, and then losing the comfort of the immediate for the uncertainty of the future. Do you feel that unless you are Michelangelo, your talents cannot really minister in significant ways? This story is being shared with you in the hope that you might also realize that regular people with ordinary abilities can make an extraordinary difference in the lives of others for Jesus Christ. God has given each of us gifts for service which may even be routine daily tasks, but we need to make the decision to allow the Lord the opportunity to use our abilities to minister according to His plan. Too often, our gifted abilities seem so easy for us, that we do not think of them as gifts. We keep waiting to do something much greater and certainly more impressive. This experience has taught me: You don't need to paint the Sistine Chapel in order to make a significant impact on this world for Jesus Christ. Seek through prayer to identify your God given talents, focus on opportunities to use them, and then - do it!
And the Lord said unto Moses, What is that in your hand?
and Moses replied, Oh, just an ordinary walking stick.
To which God might have replied, Then work with what I have given you!
Exodus 4:2 (paraphrased)