One of the central issues Larry Witham highlights in his book involves the Call to ministry (Who Shall Lead Them? Chapter One). He reports that many ministers feel guilty that they must spend so much time worrying about their work as a vocation (paying bills, overseeing building projects, business meetings, or planning for the future) when they first experienced the Call to spiritual ministry. One way in which this practically plays out for ministers is with finances. It is estimated that for a church to be able to afford a full time pastor it must have 200 full time (its is assumed—tithing) members. Think about that. The rubber suddenly meets the road. “Wait a second,” the called minister might think, “I responded to a call at the altar to save the lost. I have a burden for souls. Nobody ever said anything about pressuring a congregation to pay their tithes.”
I could cast a very skeptical eye over this whole affair. I could say “the whole architecture of this economic reality is flawed.” American giving doesn’t allow for the economic realities facing a small church these days. What if out of a person’s paycheck every week they already feel urged by God to give to the Red Cross, the American Way, the American Cancer Society and the Salvation Army? What’s left over for their church? I didn’t really want to go there. But I can’t help but think it’s a factor. Giving follows the latest Cause on the News. What began as a Call to spiritual ministry becomes a dog fight between equal nonprofits for the bone of attentive charity. There’s something wrong with that.
Well I don’t want to spend any more time complaining. This is ministry life in America. If you feel a call to pastor, you’re accepting the call not to pastor “A” congregation, but “this” congregation with all of its’ messy foibles. Just like when you come to Jesus for the first time you are saying not just “I want You Lord” but I want “THIS” local congregation. I commit to loving and serving and being one of these people that you’ve directed me too. When you fall in love with a woman there are a lot of things you don’t know about her at first. And frankly you don’t care. But when you commit to marrying her you are saying “this is my new place in life and I accept it.”
I remember a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach every month at Chapel in college. A visiting minister would come and give an invitation to intern at his ministry. Sometimes this was a simple description from a local minister about his church. I remember gazing over the crowd of my student peers noticing that they were very unimpressed. But other times there’d be a certain pastor with a lot of pizazz, a nice suit and perfect hair—a young looking guy. He really knew how to work the crowd. He’d developed a following and was a bit of a celebrity. That guy gave an invitation that anyone would have wanted to sit up and follow. In fact it made me question my calling. “Dear God why am I struggling here working with the homeless in the Bible Belt and this guy working in Chicago at Cabrini Green has to beat interns off with a stick?!?” It didn’t seem fair. Maybe I was being Called to work somewhere that really “worked.”
One day one of the faculty said something in Chapel that answered that question. He said “Ministry is a battlefield. If you’re called to Ministry you’re in that battle right now. You’re not waiting for that big vocation later. You’re called to be faithful right here, right now.” That really stuck with me. I don’t always feel like a success in what I do.
Maybe a spiritual Calling is actually a cold slap in the face. Far from being only an ecstatic spiritual experience it is an open door to a new terrain. The terrain of following Jesus, taking up a cross, enduring persecution, learning faithfulness, and receiving the true Joy of salvation.