Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the Incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance… Dealing with burning issues easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the Source of Life, it will be possible to remain flexible but not relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle, and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. Henri Nouwen
Looking at Jesus through the prism of Johannine values offers unique insight into the priorities of discipleship. One’s personal relationship with Christ towers over every other consideration. What establishes preeminence in the Christian community is not apostleship or ecclesiastical office, nor titles or territory, not the charismatic gifts of tongues, healing, prophecy, or inspired preaching, but only our response to Jesus’ question, “Do you love Me?” The Gospel of John sends a prophetic word to the contemporary church accustomed to treating charismatic persons with excessive deference: The love of Jesus Christ alone established status and confers dignity. Before Peter was clothed with the mantle of authority Jesus asked him (not once but three times), “Do you love me?” The question is not only poignant but revelatory: “if authority is given, it must be based on the love of Jesus.” Leadership in the church is not entrusted to successful fund-raisers, brilliant biblical scholars, administrative geniuses, or spell-binding preachers (though these assets may be helpful), but to those who have been laid waste by a consuming passion for Christ – passionate men and women for whom privilege and power are trivial compared to knowing and loving Jesus. Brennan Manning, Chapter Seven
The “call” to pastoral ministry is a unique thing.
In my denominational camp, when we are looking to identify individuals who might be successful at pastoral ministry, we ask them early on in the training process to tell us about their ‘call to ministry’. Other denominations and church groups have similar ways in which individuals who are considering going into full-time ministry are asked about their ‘call’ from Christ.
Without a doubt, no one should enter into the difficult work of pastoral ministry without knowing deep within their heart, soul and mind that Jesus of Nazareth has uniquely ‘called’ them to do so.
But here’s the rub. Since we, in Americanized church life, fully understand the need for an individual to have ‘a call’ on their life before they enter into pastoral ministry, the deeper question I’m afraid we’re ignoring in all this, is this:
“What exactly does ‘the call of Jesus’ call us to?”
As I see it, the ‘call to ministry’ has been worked and reworked to such a large degree by our religious institutions over the centuries, we really don’t have in our hands today anything that truly resembles ‘the call’ Jesus had in mind when He invites His first-century followers to:
1) follow Me,
2) love Me, and
3) feed My sheep.
In today’s church environment, where bigger is always better, the ‘call’ to ministry is so often associated with church planting, church management, church development, and church growth. Unfortunately, a ‘successful’ pastor, in our Americanized version of Christianity, is no longer seen, first and foremost, as a pastoral shepherd, but as a visionary CEO, a corporate rancher, or a strong, dynamic church leader.
Yet, did Jesus really have these definitions in mind when He sent out His friends into the world on His behalf?
In other words, did the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20) really mean ‘go and build a church’?
Or did the Great Commission from the Great Rabbi simply ask His faithful followers to ‘go and love’ as He has gone and loved?
This, my friends, is the core issue at hand when it comes to redefining ‘success’ in the pastoral ministry in the Americanized church. As I see it, the day you and I can stop seeing our ‘call’ from Jesus as being one of dynamic leadership & powerful church expansion and behold our call as an invitation to love; that’s the day we begin to renew and restore the uniqueness of the call to ministry as defined by our Great Shepherd.
Anybody ready for the Great Reversal to the Great Commission?
Imagine what church life could become in America if more of us pastors dropped our ‘call’ to building bigger ministries for Jesus and began responding to Jesus’ unique ‘call’ we see Him extending to Peter in John 21.
Feed My Sheep.
How about if we start redefining ‘the call’ today, seeing it now as a call to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and then going to tend the sheep, just as the Great Shepherd commanded?
My prayer: Forgive us, Lord, for mis-understanding, mis-interpreting and mis-using the unique call of Christ to pastoral ministry. Holy Spirit, align us, once more, with Jesus’ simplified call and commission to His shepherds to follow devoutly, love deeply, and care greatly. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Why is it that we’ve chosen to redefine the call of Christ into a church growth exercise? How can we better live out the unique call to pastoral ministry by restoring what Nouwen states as being “securely rooted in personal intimacy with the Source of Life?”
So what is God speaking to you today as you live as Abba’s child in the midst of His Gospel of Grace?
Over an eleven-week period, you and I will take a deeper look at God’s Gospel of Grace; Exploring the Good News of God’s Unconditional Love & Acceptance. We are using Brennan Manning’s classic book, Abba’s Child – The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging as our guide. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Gospel of Grace home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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