Wherever he leads, I”ll what?

I’ve looked at a lot of resumes. One of my roles at Midwestern Seminary was answering requests for churches looking to fill ministry needs from our collection of alumni and students. Since that time I’ve served on a pastor search committee that received 300 resumes. Some resumes today are a bit more specific than was common earlier in my own ministry. Now we see that some schools and state conventions use forms to ensure that similar information is collected from all submitters. The fields that caught my eye have to do with the types of ministry a candidate was willing to consider. Some men feel called to minister in the suburbs or the Southwest United States or even to certain sorts of people in those places, though that is not as common. I get the idea that we encourage this thinking by the questions we ask when someone expresses an interest in a ministry move.

And I have had colleagues through the years that weren’t “called” to hospital visitation or helping with VBS, or in one very specific case, to setting up chairs in the fellowship hall. The job descriptions of those brethren were much more specific than mine, I’d suppose. The disconnect comes, in my mind, when you consider the claims of the called. If one is called to the gospel ministry generally but doesn’t know what sort of specific ministry at first, then he prepares generally for the gospel ministry until he is called by one ministry or another to do things they need done. The candidate affirms, as does the ministry, the leadership of God in the move. Neither the ministry nor the new minister has any idea what specific things will need to be done, even in the ministry of the Word. Are there places too small or age inappropriate for the minister to invest his time? Actually, I’ve heard of one or two who would set those kinds of limitations on their preaching ministries.

In a few cases I’ve known of people who were certain that they wanted to serve as overseas missionaries, specifically Southern Baptist missionaries, so long as they can do so in just such a way in just such a country. As you can imagine, that’s not always possible and it seems odd that someone who knows little except his own preferences would feel disappointed that leaders assigned the overall strategic responsibility cannot always bow to those preferences. There’s something about some ministers’ understanding of call that holds them back. 

I find this attitude shocking. There are men who’ve influenced my ministry who would drop on me like a ton of bricks if I took that tone about ministry. It seems appropriate that they would. Consider some important concepts in our call to ministry pulled from the ministry license that hangs on my wall.

Gifts—Typically, we teach that spiritual gifts are administered to Christians for use on behalf of the body of Christ for the glory of God. We do not obtain them through practice or desire or education. They are given by the Lord we serve for his purposes. Those purposes are rarely aimed at our fulfilling our own dreams; they are outwardly focused.

Call—Again, this is something not generated from within ourselves or even from our mothers or pastors. We commonly understand the call to the gospel ministry or to a particular one to originate with God regardless of what human means he uses to put us in a place of service. If we’d initiated it we could add fine print to it regarding the where and what sort of ministry we’d accept. I don’t think we can do that, to any degree. We might sometimes mistake this giftedness for talent, the ability to do something that can be refined by practice. Singing or other kinds of musical ability would be an example of this. A talented musician can be a gifted ministry leader but the two things do not necessarily follow one from another. By the same token, the Lord is going to have to supernaturally change my paltry list of talents if he expects me to use my gifts in some kind of music ministry. I don’t expect it but I’d hesitate to tell him he can’t or that I won’t go if he does. If such a strange thing happened, I think I’d find joy in following him even as I do now.

Preach—While we often think of this as a pulpit ministry it is not always. I think preaching takes place in homes, on the street, or in the workplace. It can be a spoken word, a written one, or a song but it must have the gospel as its content and making disciples as its goal. And we often associate the gospel with either the Lord’s commission in Matthew 28 or that recorded in the first chapter of Acts. In both of those, the preaching and teaching of the gospel is loosed on the world in every place the Lord’s disciples go. The call to preach has no imaginable limits unless the gospel does. Called people should not easily imagine limits on their preaching of the gospel.

Opportunity—My license says “as he may opportunity” in reference to my preaching of the gospel. I think the word implies that I’m willing, even eager, to preach as often as possible. My friend Don has filled in for me a couple of times and it was my pleasure to hear him say, “I feel like I ought to say ‘yes’ if I can any time I’m asked.” That’s the way I view opportunity, although we often have a chance to make opportunities. A preacher that doesn’t want to preach, and often, might not be called to preach. It’s not my experience that I get to pick where, to whom or even how.

There’s a trend here. Our call, our giftedness, our message, and our opportunities all start with God. They are not ours to judge worthy or unworthy of our lives. If Christians are called to follow Jesus wherever he leads, so are those called to serve his church in any capacity. Some guys are doubtless on the shelf because they consider some kinds of ministry outside their call. If that’s true, the call didn’t come from God.

I can’t help but think that this is why some small town and rural churches struggle to find pastors. I’ve heard preachers say that they are called to the suburbs and I’ve heard others say they’ll go anywhere they are sent but I’ve very rarely heard men  say they prefer a small rural ministry made up of people over 40. If you’re going to pastor an existing Southern Baptist church, the odds are you’ll pastor one just like that. That is the bride of Christ in her most numerous context. Are you called to serve the church of Christ or not? Look at the resumes of the most prominent preachers you know. For the most part, they’ve served well in ministries that were lesser known. They were good stewards of smaller responsibilities before they were trusted with larger ones.

This issue of the TEXAN has some stories about church planting. We’re in a bit of an odd situation here within the SBTC. We have places that need churches and we have money to help start churches there but we are short of qualified church planters willing to go to the places and people that need them. Our qualifications for church planters are higher than many other places, granted, but I’m also told that too few people are “called” to minister to people within the inner loop of a city. We have more people willing to start a church in the suburbs when we need more willing to start a work in the city. I can’t help but compare this with our IMB candidates. The situation with international missions seems to be the opposite; we have qualified candidates ready to go to the hardest places in the world but too little money to send them. A call to missions is a call to missions. I’m not sure why we should think about a call to church planting in a more limited way than we do a call to reach people in a distant land.

Are you a recent seminary grad? I challenge you to look for limitations in your resume or in your attitude toward your call. Take the safeties off and preach the gospel everywhere you have a chance, for free or for cheap. Your ministry has already started. Have you had trouble finding the spot or ministry you think is the best fit for you? Stop trying to do that; I doubt that you know the best fit for you. Go somewhere where people will let you serve in some way. Find a ministry and let the position come in the Lord’s time. Be patient, yes, but in the meantime, while waiting for that place you’ve dreamed of to come along, preach the Word as you may have opportunity. It is the testimony of your seniors and mentors that you’ll find joy in that meantime ministry.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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