Tag Archives: calling

Christian, You Are Crazy

What does it mean to be an ambassador for Christ? Among other things, it means being considered crazy. And is that such a bad thing?

"We represent the foreign power of the kingdom of God," Mack Stiles explains in an interview with Mark Mellinger. "There's a chain that stretches from the throne of God through us to our friend when we're sharing the gospel." Sometimes, Stiles has seen, perceived craziness is precisely what it takes for unbelievers to stop, wonder, and explore.

"As a young Christian I had to learn evangelism isn't some sort of 'raid' on people," says Stiles, general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates. "I came to realize what matters most is living my whole life in line with the gospel."

And what about the tricky issue of calling to missions? "There are three things to understand about calling," he explains. "You must be inspired by Scripture, informed by the gospel, and confirmed by a church."

Watch the full 12-minute video to see Stiles, author of the forthcoming Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Crossway, 2014), talk street preachers, spousal skirmishes, why he packed his bags for the Middle East, and more. You can also listen to Stiles's message from our 2013 Missions Conference, "Being Ambassadors for Christ: The Ministry of Reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:11-21).

Mack Stiles from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

5 Ways Pastors Can Affirm Faith, Calling, and Vocation

At least in America, evangelical churches have largely neglected the subjects of faith, work, and calling. We tend to focus on salvation, evangelism, or basic personal discipleship (Bible reading, prayer, fellowship) but ignore what most people do 40, 60, or 80 hours a week.

When I read the following quote from William Diehl's book, Christianity and Real Life, it jumped off the page at me:

I am now a sales manager for a major steel company. In the almost 30 years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any time of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills which could have made me a better lay minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate my faith to my co-workers. I never have been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn't have the least interest in whether or how I minister in my daily work.

When I first read this quote many years ago, I didn't know any churches that were attempting to address this deficiency. This issue remains even today in many quarters. Gabe Lyons offers this anecdote in an interview with TGC:

Andy Crouch tells a story about a lady in Boston who taught Sunday school at her church for 30 years. She was also responsible for cleaning up the whole Boston Harbor, which was a nightmare for the city. But the first time she was brought up in front of her church was to talk about how she had taught Sunday school for 30 years. They never mentioned that she had been responsible for helping the entire city by leading this huge project.

There isn't anything wrong with recognizing someone's faithful service to the church. However, we're much more likely to recognize those types of service rather than someone's faithfulness to their vocation outside the church. Fortunately some churches and organizations are beginning to wake up to this need through their public teaching. But there is much that can be done to implicitly address these topics as well. G. K. Chesterton said, "Education is implication." We often remember not what is explicitly said, but what is implied.

Here are five things pastors can do to communicate implicitly the importance of work and vocation:

1. Watch your language.

One top Christian leader referred to his work of training pastors as equipping people for a "higher calling." When someone objected, "We don't believe that," he apologetically admitted that the pastoral calling is not intrinsically higher than that of a doctor, lawyer, government worker, carpenter, music teacher, and so on. It's easy to fall back into this kind of hierarchical thinking (pastoral ministry being higher than other work) even if we ought to know better.

2. Pray for people in professions.

Make it a regular part of pastoral prayer to pray not only for those who are sick, but also for doctors, homemakers, business executives, construction workers, and so on, that they might do excellent work that gives glory to God.

3. Interview workers.

For instance, call three lawyers to come forward and interview them about how they see their faith being expressed in their work. Then pray for them and any other lawyers in the congregation. You could do this with different professions—say, once a month, or on another regular cycle.

4. Commission people for ministry in their work.

Periodically call all the practitioners in a particular vocation to come up, have the elders lay hands on them, and commission them just as you would do for someone entering the pastorate or going as a missionary overseas.

5. Stress that you can have a ministry at work.

In Romans 13:4, Paul twice calls government workers "ministers." They are ministers not just when they evangelize or lead Bible studies at work but also when they practice their calling in government. The same could be said for any other valid profession. Emphasize that on Sunday we are the body of Christ gathered, and on Monday we are the body scattered to work in the world by bearing witness in what we say and do.

These are just suggestions of ways pastors and churches can regularly communicate implicitly that they value the connection between faith and work as well as the validity of various callings. If more churches did this, it would go a long way toward strengthening people in our congregations who work outside the church.

I Wouldn't Trade Seminary for Anything

Editors' note: This is the fourth in a series of brief articles from students and graduates answering the question, "What do I wish someone had told me before seminary?" Previously:

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I associate my seminary years with a wide range of emotions and experiences. I went through a period of unhindered excitement and joy, of grave disillusionment, of utter heartbreak, and ultimately of satisfied contentment. I experienced a new appreciation for my church, the personal heartbreak of divorce, the camaraderie of lasting friendships, the frustration of academic hardship, and the satisfaction of slowly discovering my place in God's kingdom. It wasn't anything close to a utopian experience, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Like any of God's good gifts, seminary can be rightly appreciated, but it can also be idolized and mismanaged. Your time will be temporary and focused, and as such, the atmosphere is uniquely specialized for the specific task you face. Your primary challenge is to find your identity in Christ rather than in academic, social, or vocational success. Embrace your seminary experience, just not too tightly.

Seminary is a great gift, given to us that we might do even better jobs as ministers than we might have otherwise. As a result, it's our job to steward that gift appropriately and with the proper perspective. This, of course, is a balancing act for anyone. Here are five things I've learned that, by God's grace, will help you along the way.

1. Be Comfortable as a Mere Church Member

Seminarians often spend their first few months looking for a church that's not a "seminary church," then gunning for some kind of leadership position or teaching opportunity within that church a few months later. Stop. The best thing you can do for your growth as a leader is to serve your church in ways that are commonly overlooked. Be the sound guy for a while. Wash dishes after church supper. Sit in the pews, take in the sermon, and talk about it with others in the congregation—especially those who tend to be ignored. Servant leadership is more than an abstract leadership philosophy; it's a concrete series of actions you're in the perfect position to live out at this stage of your life.

2. Have Other Hobbies or Interests Besides Theology

If all you care about is theology, biblical studies, and the inner-workings of kingdom ministry, non-seminarians will find you insufferable. Such friends and family have all sorts of interests, and while you may not have a vested interest in popular culture, fashion, decorating the house, or sports, they do. Therefore, if you fail or refuse to engage these subjects, you'll seem like a bump on a log at best and a jerk at worst. Caring about people extends even to caring about the things they care about, even if it may feel trivial or like a waste of time.

3. Embrace Empathy, Not Merely Conviction

Seminary tends to be a safe space to share your convictions with your seminary buddies without having to "walk on eggshells," but after a while it's easy to forget those eggshells are often the fragile hearts of hurting people. Discussing hot topics may be a fun intellectual exercise, but in the real world those hot topics are usually attached to genuine human pain. Abortion, gay marriage, welfare, drug use, and other polarizing subjects are more than just abstract philosophical-theological-political footballs. They're tied to realities we may not be able to readily comprehend until we put in the work. So put in the work. Don't merely seek out the opinions of those different than you; seek out their stories and their company. Listen carefully to the struggles of those whom Jesus came to seek and save, laboring to understand exactly what experiences have made them so adamant about their position.

4. Be Yourself

Seminary should be a place for discovering how to best use your gifts and interests to further God's kingdom, but for many it's simply a place to learn how to mimic the gifts and interests of others. Time in seminary can be incredibly clarifying and freeing if you're not too wrapped up in pleasing other people. Unfortunately, the seminary atmosphere often seems to invite uniformity to a damaging degree. If you're not careful, you'll subtly bend your personality to match the whims of others. Change should come from humble obedience to Jesus Christ, not social pressure and unbiblical expectations.

5. Be Ready to Change Course

When I started my seminary career, I had every intention of being a full-time minister. All my desires, counsel, and intuition pointed in that direction. I'd done ministry before seminary and found it to be fruitful and rewarding. And yet, as I neared the end of my seminary career, my life had changed to such an extent that I no longer envisioned myself in a traditional, full-time ministry position. I quickly switched my degree program from an MDiv in theology to an MA in theology and the arts and graduated much sooner than expected. It was one of the best decisions I've made, even though it meant not finishing my language classes.

You may feel convinced in your call to ministry now, but God doesn't always make his plans for us as clear as we'd like. Sometimes he has another kind of ministry for us in mind that doesn't involve being formally employed by a church or ministry. Sometimes this means cutting our losses and leaving seminary. Other times it means finishing and moving on. Either way, it's up to you to be honest with yourself as the time spent in seminary reveals—whether through confirmation or redirection—the concrete reality of God's glorious plan for the rest of your life.

5 Ways to Discern a Call to Overseas Ministry

We were reading the following:

A city in the northern part of our country needs a church planter. It's just east of Saudi Arabia and just south of Iran. A Muslim sheikh on the Arabian Peninsula is giving land for an evangelical Christian church for the first time this century. . . .

I studied my husband's face, trying to read his reaction. "Are you interested?"

He had just graduated from seminary, and we were praying about finding a church for him to pastor. It had never crossed my mind to consider anywhere east of Saudi Arabia and south of Iran.

It wasn't just that I'd never considered living in the Middle East; I'd never seriously considered going overseas for ministry at all. In my mind, the people who went overseas had a special calling and unique desire. They knew who they were. And I knew I wasn't one of them. I'd never even been on a short-term missions trip. I didn't participate in my church's international ministry. I didn't even have any close friends from other countries. I certainly wasn't being called to ministry in the Middle East.

Or was I?

I knew the Great Commission in one sense calls all of us to tell the Good News to those who haven't heard. For the next few months, I asked dozens of Christians whom I respected how to discern a "calling" to overseas ministry. I got as many different answers as people I asked, ranging from the more subjective "You'll know when God calls you" to Augustine's "Love God and do what you want." There were months of angst trying not only to determine our specific calling, but also to decide how to determine a calling. We came up with the following list of biblical principles—a list that helped guide us in making the decision to move overseas and plant a church in a part of the world largely void of the gospel.

Perhaps the most important step in a decision-making process like this one is to cover it in prayer. Pray specifically and pray broadly. Pray over each of these steps and ask others to pray alongside you. Pray, asking the Holy Spirit to lead you in straight paths.

1. Opportunity (Acts 16:6-10; 20:22)

When considering whether there's an opportunity for ministry in another country, look for open and closed doors. If there's no opportunity to go, trust the Lord has closed the doors for now. When Paul, Timothy, and Silas headed for Asia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit from entering. I don't know exactly how he conveyed his alternative plans to this first-century missions team, but they knew not to proceed. So even though Jesus had left them with the directive to go into the world and preach the gospel, the Spirit closed the door for these specific people to go to this specific place at this specific time.

Sometimes, however, an opportunity presents itself—even if you aren't looking for it, as in our case. Be careful not to turn your back too quickly on a seemingly open door because it wasn't exactly what you'd envisioned. God has a heart for the nations, and Christ has issued a call to his disciples to spread this glorious news.

2. Need (Matt. 9:37)

Is there a need for workers in the place you're considering? Pondering this need can help clarify your calling, especially when choosing between multiple potential ministry locations. If we want to examine our short lives in light of eternity, we must learn to place emphases on gospel priorities and places—even above our own preferences.

3. Desire (Ps. 40:8)

This may be the trickiest part of this decision-making process. Desire is ultimately an emotion, and as such can be a useful barometer of the heart. Our desires can give us insight into what we value and what we fear. This information is helpful to us as we seek wisdom and discern calling. On the other hand, however, our emotions can be fickle, and they shouldn't be used as the sole or even the final arbiter of a decision. Desire has to be a factor, but it should never be the only factor. It's especially important to pray for desire if it's lacking. Through prayer God gave me a desire to move to a place I could never have previously envisioned living.

4. Godly Counsel (Prov. 15:22)

The Book of Proverbs is full of imperatives to seek counsel among the godly. When considering whether to undergo the stress of leaving your home country to take up residence as an alien in another, this decision should be made alongside others. Your church's leaders and other godly believers who know you well should be brought into a decision like this at an early stage. Their counsel should be humbly and earnestly sought. They may have insight into your strengths and weaknesses that could be invaluable to your decision.

5. Willingness (Acts 20:24, Ps. 37:4)

When anyone decides to follow Christ, she must first count the costs. We must not only be willing to follow Christ into Jerusalem, but also to Calvary. Moving abroad often means forsaking familiar culture, language, food, dress, medical practices, and customs. It means intentionally distancing yourself from family and friends. It may mean experiencing loneliness and rejection at a new level. We must be willing to walk away from the comforts of this world because of deliberate hope in the next.

When all of these factors are laid on the table and carefully considered, a "calling" emerges. It's not always a pain-free process, to be sure, but God is faithful to lead us even through confusion.

A year ago I never envisioned myself living outside the States. Now I couldn't imagine wanting to live anywhere but the Middle East. I'm grateful for my "calling" to overseas work, and I pray the Lord who reigns over all would use me—the most unlikely of candidates—to make him known and enjoyed.

Editors' note: This article originally appeared at Gospel Grace.

Four Lies About Introverts

I'm an introvert. Most people who don't know me well wouldn't guess this about me, but it's true. On a practical level, being an introvert means I'm generally more energized by time alone than by time with people, and I have a preference for a less externally stimulating environment. I feel very alive in a quiet, empty room. On the introversion/extroversion spectrum I fall closer to the middle, but still lean decidedly toward the introverted side.

The process of understanding introversion and the way it's expressed in my life has been both a tremendous relief and also an ongoing source of doubt and concern. My daily reality is people-intensive and externally stimulating. I'm married to an extrovert, we have four children, and we live in an urban setting. Our home and surroundings are fun and energetic—not exactly low-stimulus. My husband pastors a large church, and we're involved with many congregations and ministries throughout the world; consequently, our social circles are large and complex. To complicate things even further, my spiritual gifts are often expressed publicly as are the (non-innate!) social skills I've managed to learn and practice over time. These realities, combined with my definite need for quiet and solitude, have often left me and others confused about who I really am.

The lie I'm most tempted to believe is that the way God has wired me is incompatible with the life he's called me to live. The logical conclusion of this lie is that joy and contentment aren't possible—and that constant frustration is inevitable.

It took a while for me to unearth and articulate that lie under the layers of fear, doubt, and insecurity it was producing. I knew these beliefs didn't line up with God's character or promises, but it's taken extended immersion in the truth of God's Word to renew my mind and dismantle that deception. Along the way, I've discovered some subtle and not-so-subtle assumptions I'd unwittingly latched onto over time.

1. Extroversion is the biblical ideal.

There's little question our culture leans toward idealizing extroverts. Those with intrinsically good social skills, who appear to thrive in party-type atmospheres and exude confidence when meeting new people, are often considered worthy of emulation. I spent many years wondering why small talk felt so awkward for me when it seemed so effortless for my friends. In some churches, an appropriate focus on community life can inadvertently favor those who are most comfortable socially, quickest to share their thoughts and feelings, and most likely to throw a party. But there's no biblical precedent for idealizing extroversion, just as there's none for idealizing introversion either. I know extroverts who feel condemned because a quiet environment and time alone are somewhat distracting. They find it difficult to avoid comparing themselves to more introverted, contemplative types and avoid attributing their struggle to a lack of self-discipline when, in fact, a preferred environment has little to do with self-discipline at all.

The comparisons aren't helpful and neither is holding up an ideal the Bible does not. The body of Christ includes persons at all points on the introversion/extroversion continuum, and no one's contribution is more important than another's. We're all responsible to spend time both privately and corporately with God and others in worship, study, prayer, and service. Caving to a cultural standard that doesn't line up with scriptural truth is destructive to individuals and to the body of Christ.

2. Introverts don't like people.

This has perhaps been the lie that's stung most for me. I care deeply about people, but I need time alone to recharge in order to be able to give them my best. It's taken me years to view this as good stewardship rather than some sort of flaw I need to overcome. Actually, and perhaps ironically, the chief thing that's kept me from loving people well has been my attempt to be someone I'm not. The more I've tried to be that "life of the party" girl, endlessly accommodating others without considering what I need to recover, the less capacity I've had to actually love people well.

We're all responsible to obey biblical commands related to loving people sacrificially and living hospitably and generously. And it's a cop-out to use introversion as an excuse for self-protective isolation. But there's not just one or even ten "right" ways to love people well. I've learned to get better at small talk and interacting with strangers, because it's important and necessary, but it's never going to be my greatest strength. I've become much more comfortable in opening our home to small and large groups of people, both in planned and spontaneous ways, but going deep with one or two people over coffee is always going to be a place where I thrive. Accepting my God-given introversion, I still allow myself to be stretched or uncomfortable. But I passionately pursue opportunities where I can love people deeply with my gifts and life, and then humbly take responsibility for what it looks like for me to be refreshed.

3. Solitude is selfish and indulgent.

Now there's a reality here that can be true. If my choice to be alone is primarily to serve myself and intensify a me-oriented focus, it is a problem. But for a long time I believed solitude for the purpose of prayer, Bible study, or worship is necessary, but anything beyond that is probably frivolous. However, I've come to experience great benefits from a variety of solitary activities. Solitude in itself isn't inherently helpful or harmful, but the underlying purpose is pivotal. I can go for a run by myself to clear my head and enjoy God's gift of nature—or to sinfully distract myself from something I need to confront. I can sit alone in a coffee shop in order to think deeply and process life events—or to worry about things beyond my control. When I cooperate with the way God has designed me, and surrender my solitude to him, he uses it to refresh my soul in often unexpected and powerful ways.

4. Introversion is incompatible with teaching and leadership gifts.

Last year, after an acquaintance watched my husband and me team-teach in front of a few thousand people, he remarked in a good-natured way that I couldn't possibly be an introvert. I knew he meant this as a compliment, and I also understood his confusion. People who are confident and capable in front of large audiences don't exactly fit the introverted stereotype. And while it's true many introverts aren't comfortable in front of people, I am. How much of that is due to my natural personality, gifting, or years of training in music, theater, and teaching, I don't know, and it probably doesn't matter. What I do know is that once the adrenaline wears off after such an event, I need some silence and solitude in order to be replenished. I'm passionate about teaching God's Word, and I love to get to use my gifts in this area, but it's equally important for me to take necessary steps to make room for quiet rest. By God's grace I'm learning to see my more public and more private sides not as incompatible or inauthentic, but as balances to each other. 

Additionally, my leadership gifts aren't expressed in the same way as my extroverted husband. I tend to lead best from a more contemplative place. My creativity flourishes, and my best ideas rise to the surface when I have time to be alone more so than when I'm brainstorming with others in a highly dynamic environment. Since there is no one-size-fits-all model for leadership, our churches will be best served when there's room at the table for extroverted and introverted leaders alike.

Accepting the realities of my God-given personality has been a process of sanctification. I've had to repent of people-pleasing and trying to be someone I'm not. I've had to humbly acknowledge my limits and weaknesses and to live in God's strength rather than my own. Ultimately, this process has been about God and his kingdom, not me. The more I rest in his gracious acceptance of me in Jesus, the more free I become to be myself for his glory. And that's a place where joy and contentment abound.

The Power of Deep Rest

There is a symbiotic relationship between work and rest. Of course we know this at one level. We get away from work in order to replenish our bodies and minds. Resting, or practicing Sabbath, is also a way to help us get perspective on our work and put it in its proper place. Often we can't see our work properly until we get some distance from it and reimmerse ourselves in other activities. Then we see that there is more to life than work. With that perspective and rested bodies and minds, we return to do more and better work.

But the relationship between work and rest operates at a deeper level as well. All of us are haunted by the work under the work---that need to prove and save ourselves, to gain a sense of worth and identity. But if we can experience gospel-rest in our hearts, if we can be free from the need to earn our salvation through our work, we will have a deep reservoir of refreshment that continually rejuvenates us, restores our perspective, and renews our passion.

To understand this deep rest we need to look at the biblical meaning of the Sabbath---to understand what it is a sign of, and what it points to.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

Exodus 20 ties the observance of a Sabbath day to God's creation. "For God rested on the seventh day." What does this mean practically? Since God rested after his creation, we must also rest after ours. This rhythm of work and rest is not only for believers; it is for everyone, as part of our created nature. Overwork or underwork violates that nature and leads to breakdown. To rest is actually a way to enjoy and honor the goodness of God's creation and our own. To violate the rhythm of work and rest (in either direction) leads to chaos in our life and in the world around us. Sabbath is therefore a celebration of our design.

Deuteronomy 5 goes on to tie the observance of Sabbath to God's redemption. Verse 15 says, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." God portrays the Sabbath day as a reenactment of emancipation from slavery. It reminds us how he delivered his people from a condition in which they were not human beings, but simply units of capacity in Pharaoh's brick production system.

Anyone who cannot obey God's command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you if you don't have the ability to be disciplined in your practice of Sabbath. Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom. It means you are not a slave---not to your culture's expectations, your family's hopes, your medical school's demands, not even to your own insecurities. It is important that you learn to speak this truth to yourself with a note of triumph---otherwise you will feel guilty for taking time off, or you will be unable to truly unplug.

The Sabbath legislation in Israel was enacted after the Exodus from Egypt. It was unique among world cultures at the time. It limited work, profit taking, exploitation, and economic production in general. Every seventh day no work could be done in the fields, and every seventh year the field was to remain fallow and not be cultivated at all. This surely meant that in the short run Israel was less economically productive and prosperous than its neighbors. But it was a land of free people. In the long run, of course, a deeply rested people are far more productive.

We are also to think of Sabbath as an act of trust. God appointed the Sabbath to remind us that he is working and resting. To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward. Entrepreneurs find it especially difficult to believe this. They have high levels of competence and very few team members. If they don't put in the hours, things don't get done. How easy to fall prey to the temptation to believe that they alone are holding up their corner of creation!

But by now you must see that God is there---you are not alone in your work. Jesus' famous discourse against worry (Matthew 6:25-34) is set in the context of work. He chides us that the plants of the field are cared for, though "they do not labor or spin" (verse 28). He reminds us that we are obviously more valuable to God than plants---so we shouldn't "run after" material things through our work (verse 32). So if you are worrying during your rest, you are not practicing Sabbath. It is a chance to meditate on passages like Matthew 6 until deep rest begins to penetrate you.

We might conclude that the practical benefits of the gospel's Sabbath rest come to us only as individuals, as we pray and read the Word---but that would be a mistake. God also strengthens us through the fellowship of community with other Christians. So for example Paul calls Christians to "carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). And yet we are told that Jesus will relieve the burdened (Matthew 11:28-30) and that we are to cast all our cares and burdens on God (1 Peter 5:7) who bears them daily (Psalm 68:19). So which is it? Are we to look to God to support us under our work and burdens---or to other Christian brothers and sisters? Obviously the answer is both, because it is normally through the sympathy and encouragement of Christian friends that we experience God refreshing us and supporting us in our work.

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This excerpt is adapted from Tim Keller's new book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work (Dutton, 2012).

The Ministry Divide

As a layperson, I tend to think of ministry as something some people do while others do not. Or perhaps ministry is something some people do full-time while others do part-time.

Since the dawn of the church age, and certainly since the Reformation, the global church has continued to struggle with the divide between clergy and layman. Full-time ministry often becomes a goal that many seek as a next step in spiritual growth, leaving some outside of the ministry with feelings of guilt for not giving Christ their all and some within the ministry with feelings of frustration in not finding the satisfaction they thought they would find.

But ministry is not meant to create a divide within the body, and we need our pastors to continue to teach us that we are all priests, ministers, and ambassadors for Jesus.

You may be a pastor, or a writer, or a mom, or in business, or a carpenter, or a student, or any number of occupations. But I invite you to consider why you do what you do and whether you consider what you do, and everything you do, as a ministry or not.

I would love to say that I write books and articles and blog posts purely as a ministry. I would love to say that because I desire for this to be my heart’s deepest desire.  What I can honestly say, however, is that I write in order to:

  • Be affirmed
  • Express a gift
  • Force myself to think more deeply about daily life
  • Prove I have something worth saying, or prove I am valuable because of what I do
  • Attempt to know more of God
  • Share ways in which the gospel touches our daily lives
  • Satisfy my ego
  • Proclaim Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings
  • Feel important or impactful

You will notice a mix of pride-filled motives and grace-filled motives in this list. My confession to God is that I am not ready to full submit my writing to Him and His purposes alone, and my prayer is that He will help me remove my own selfish motives and replace them with His motives instead.

With that being said, writing, or pastoring, or _____ as a ministry is a worthy pursuit. We probably shouldn’t go much further in this before understanding what the Scriptures have to say about ministry in general. What follow are a few examples from God’s word:

  • The apostles viewed their primary ministry as ministers of the word (Acts 6:4)
  • Paul considers us as ambassadors for Christ, or ministers with a message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18, 20)
  • God gave gifts to His people in order to equip them for the work of ministry, for building up His church (Ephesians 4:11-12)
  • Paul assumed Timothy had a ministry which needed to be “fulfilled” (2 Timothy 4:5)
  • Jesus obtained a ministry of His own which he appeared once for all at the end of the ages as a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 8:6, 9:26)

So what can we say about ministry, and how does this impact our own ministries in turn?

  1. Ministry is others-oriented. The apostles ministered the word to others, the saints are equipped for ministry to others, and Christ’s ministry saves sinners. Our ministry must continually be self-denying and others-focused.
  2. Ministry comes with a gift. God is the giver of gifts to His people in order that they may use them to build up His church.  Finding our ministry means discovering and using these gifts in order to build up the body in love and grow in maturity in Christ.
  3. Ministry is a call. Timothy had a ministry which he needed to fulfill.  God had prepared good works for Timothy to walk in, and He has done the same for us as well. Being an effective minister means asking God to lead us into these good works.
  4. Ministry requires prioritization. We may be able to minister in many ways, but we should follow the example of the apostles and consider before God where our gifts may bear the most fruit.
  5. Ministry is sacrificial. Ministry means giving, and giving means sacrificing. Jesus gave of Himself to obtain His ministry of mediation, and we must give of ourselves in order to obtain the fruit of our own ministries. We don’t minister to gain; we minister to give.
  6. Ministry exists to glorify God. Jesus’ ministry on the earth, on the cross, and in the Father’s presence exists in order to bring glory to Himself and to the Father (John 17:1-5). As all things exist for Him (Colossians 1:16), and since we are to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), let us embrace the sacrificial, others-oriented ministries of our gifts in order to magnify the glory of our God.

May our churches learn to see that we are all ministers and priests, that the divide between clergy and laymen was forever shattered at the cross, and that we all have a ministry that must be fulfilled for the body of Christ to attain to full unity of faith so that we may "grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ."