Tag Archives: pastoral ministry

The “Unsuccessful” Church

By all modern measures, the little church would be considered a failure. It never grew past 50 in attendance. Its demographic was always heavy on the seniors, with only a handful of people under the age of 25. For twenty years the church gathered in a rented facility, a youth centre, and all of the church’s belongings, from the pulpit, to the collapsible communion table, to the hymnals and coffee supplies, fit snugly into a tiny closet. (People used to joke that the little church would be ahead of the game if Christians became a persecuted minority in Canada because it could be packed up in less than fifteen minutes) In the last decade, the church began to die, literally. Every year at least one member went to be with Jesus. With the majority of the members being retired and on fixed incomes, the church operated on a lean budget. As the congregation shrank, the pastor offered to drop down to part-time status to help on expenses. More than one person asked the pastor why he kept ministering there; it wasn’t like he was making a ton of money as a full-time pastor, and now as a part-time pastor he was making bread-crumbs. His response, every time, was so long as people kept showing up, he would continue to pastor. This was a pastor that took joy in ministering to seniors, and in the ever-increasing race for “families and young people” more and more churches were neglecting their elders. This pastor wouldn’t do that to them. Seniors needed pastoral care just as much as young families.

The church was eventually dissolved. 20 years of ministry and it died. It was merged with another tiny congregation.

“Unsuccessful.” Or was it?

It was the church that I was discipled in. While I was saved through a large Pentecostal youth ministry, it was this tiny, dying church that took me under its wing and helped me grow in the faith. The pastor’s wife picked me up from home every Sunday morning, and drove me to church. I learned about being a Christian, and a woman, and a servant during those car rides. I didn’t say much, but I just listened as the pastor’s wife ministered to me through the stories of her life experiences. I learned about serving by helping to set up the rows of chairs every morning, by placing a hymnal and bible on each chair, by helping to put everything away at the end of the service. I learned about suffering and struggle as I prayed with members who were suffering from cancer, dementia, or the loss of a spouse. I learned about joy as I shared in the celebrations of 50th wedding anniversaries, birth announcements of grandbabies and great-grandbabies. It was in this church that I was baptized. It was in this church that I got to cut my teeth on leading worship and preaching. It was by this pastor that I was married, and that my first child was dedicated to Jesus.

The church may be gone, and church growth experts would say that it was an “unsuccessful” church, but they would be wrong. It’s not about numbers.

It’s about proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected.

It’s about faithfulness.

It’s about service.

It’s about obedience.

It’s about caring for one another and discipling each other.

It’s about changing lives.

And that’s what this church did. It changed the lives of seniors who would have otherwise been forgotten by larger churches. And it changed my life. I learned about the long road of the life of faith, a life that is marked not by successive mountaintop experiences, but by the slow and steady walk of decades of faithful discipleship.

 

The Best Reflection on the Newtown Tragedy I’ve Found So Far

I haven’t said much on the blog about what happened on Friday in Connecticut. Part of it was because I didn’t have words. Part of it was because I was waiting for the dust to settle a bit, which turned out to be a good move given how much misinformation was reported by the media in the first 24-48 hours after the incident. And part of it was because I didn’t want to jump on the “must say something profound” bandwagon.

And so, I’m still not going to say much, but instead point y’all to the best reflection on the tragedy I have found so far. Tim Perry is a Canadian Christian Blogger, and an Anglican. His post, “Where Was God?” and Other Wrong Questions is theologically profound, biblically solid, and thoroughly pastoral.

…The murder of 27 people, 20 of them children under 10 is evil. Beyond that it was an event of horrific evil, I have nothing really to say about it. And in my silence, I hope I am emulating the one thing that Job’s friends did well–stayed quiet. They got in trouble when they opened their mouths.

 

So, with and for the victims, I will stay silent.

 

I do want to offer some thoughts on what I think are some of the wrong questions now being asked.

 

The first wrong question is the religious question: “Where was God?” Were the question left hanging, followed only by the same silence that followed our Lord’s last cry on Good Friday, it would be a fine question. But far too often, it’s not. The question is a mere preamble to the answer. Thus far, I have read only two. In short, one says, God was absent. Having scrubbed God from the public life of America, or North America, or the West (take your pick), we are now left to live with the consequences of our “cleanliness.” God has indeed left and we are left to live with godlessness. I confess to holding this answer in some regard even if it is stupidly and insensitively presented by many. It does conform to the message of many of the Old Testament prophets, not to mention Jesus and St. Paul. A message that boils down to, “the consequence of sin is more sin.” But it is the wrong question and wrong answer for this time.

 

A second wrong answer to this wrong question affirms just the opposite conclusion as the first: God was present through it all–weeping, perhaps consoling, hastening a departure for heaven. This answer is often given as a response to the more unkind versions of the first answer. And while it does tug at my emotions, I find it wanting, not least because of the emotional response it evokes in me. After the initial pull of sentimentality subsides, I have anger. Were I ever to be in a similar situation, and I pray I never am, I would hope that I have the same courage as the principal and other teachers who died intervening to stop the gunman and to save children. To stand by and cry while observing such a massacre is the definition of cowardice. Not divine love.

 

Further, it seems to me both answers are wrong because, at the end of the day, they are not actually about God and God’s need to be justified in the face of evil.  (Did God ever say he needed us to defend him in this way?) They are wrong because their principal function is to help us reconstruct, at whatever cost to the parents and grandparents of the dead, our own sense of safety. “God is off in his corner. I’m with God and you’re not.” That’s the underbelly of the first answer. “I’m with God. I’ll cry from the sidelines and do nothing, too.” That’s the underbelly of the second. Either way, the answers serve to comfort us by reminding us that we are not the ones who are suffering. That we are somehow different. That we will (hopefully) remain safe from such events happening to us…

 

So, is there a right question to be asking? It seems to me that there is. It is the question that drives Psalm 80–the Psalm for this Sunday’s lectionary: “How long, Lord God Almighty,will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?” To sit with those who are grieving does indeed involve silence. But not simply silence. There are questions to be asked. But not questions about God, or guns, or mental illness. Rather, the question is to be directed to God. The Psalmist is not afraid to ask–How long O Lord? He goes on to say that his people have eaten enough bread soaked with tears. He tells God it’s time for him to turn his face again to his people and deliver them. He is not afraid to talk to God…

I’ve quoted just a couple of excerpts, so go and read the whole thing here.

Training Up Pastors — What is a Pastor?

Earlier this week, I resurrected a post I had done two years ago on the benefits of going away to seminary. It was a pretty big hit, so I thought I would resurrect a couple of other posts from that series on Training Up Pastors.

I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t poorly redefined the role of pastor in our church culture.

Walter Brueggemann tells the story of a rabbi who laments the current definition of pastor, because it has made being a rabbi difficult. Where the rabbi was a teacher/scholar, now because of the western church’s redefining of the pastor, the rabbi is expected to be counselor and social workers and manager.

What if we were to encourage our pastors to be scholars/teachers/preachers? I think it would mean that all those other duties that have been heaped onto the title “pastor” would become the responsibility of the church as a whole. What would happen if we freed up pastors from the counseling, budget managing, program-building, and allowed them to focus on the Word?

Would allowing our pastors to be preachers/teachers while having the congregation (elders and laypeople) assuming responsibility for the day to day functions of the church increase the intellectual and spiritual depths of our churches?

An Example of How Not to Train Up Pastors

Earlier this week, I resurrected a post I had done two years ago on the benefits of going away to seminary. It was a pretty big hit, so I thought I would resurrect a couple of other posts from that series on Training Up Pastors.

I went to Bible college specifically to learn how to be a pastor. I took classes in Bible, theology, homiletics, counseling, Christian education, etc. The quintessential class that was to prepare us for ministry was Pastoral Theology.

It failed.

First, the textbook. Well, we didn’t have a textbook. Instead, the professor photocopied a bunch of articles out of pastoral magazines (like Leadership). That was our material.

Second, the professor was a local pastor who was heavily invested in the Seeker Sensitive movement. So much so that he actually told us to not have people read Scripture from the pulpit that had long or foreign sounding words, because the congregation won’t understand it. [of course when we suggested having the big/foreign words explained, he said that Sunday morning was not the time for that.]

Third, he didn’t really know what to do with women in the class. Included in our “textbook” were articles about “being a pastor’s wife.” And when a friend of mine asked if there were any articles about the experiences of women pastors, or about “being a pastor’s husband”, the professor’s response was “well, in all likelihood you will end up being a pastor’s wife rather than a pastor yourself.”

At the end of the first semester, the class was frustrated. We really hadn’t learned anything, and because it was a two semester course, we still had another 13 weeks to go. So, we got together and drafted a very nice letter to the professor (and cc’d to the dean) which outlined what we felt we needed to learn in order to jump into pastoral ministry.

The list included things like:
1. What are our legal obligations to report abuse or illegal activity? How far does pastor privilege go?
2. What are the tax implications or benefits for clergy? [for example how do we claim living expenses, or what do we do if we live in church-provided housing?]
3. What are the tax implications for a church? [no property taxes, but how does GST work?]
4. If a couple wants to be married through the reading of Banns rather than with a marriage license, how do we apply for the Banns paperwork from the government?
5. Are there resources in Canada for pastors to network, to get support if needed?
6. What is required when doing a funeral/wedding? [now, in homiletics we did learn how to write a sermon for a funeral, as well as a homily for a wedding ceremony]
7. How do we train and equip a healthy church board?

The list was full of practical, hands-on advice that would equip us in ministry. He took the list, thanked us, and then the following semester didn’t teach us about any of the things on the list. Instead it was another semester of reading magazine articles.

Two semesters of a class that was vitally important became an utter waste of time. [I will admit, my attitude in the second semester soured, and I refused to give 100% in the coursework, which for me is unheard of].

All the things on the list we ended up having to learn on the job. It was a frustrating experience.

What did you wish you had learned in the classroom that would have prepared you for ministry?

Training Up Pastors — Issues for Female Pastors

Yesterday, I resurrected a post I had done two years ago on the benefits of going away to seminary. It was a pretty big hit, so I thought I would resurrect a couple of other posts from that series on Training Up Pastors.

 

When I took Pastoral Theology in college, the professor really didn’t understand why there were so many women in the class. Of about 15 students there were four women. We weren’t there to debate egalitarianism vs. complementarianism (and that is not what this post is about either), we were there to learn how to be pastors. As I wrote earlier:

Third, he didn’t really know what to do with women in the class. Included in our “textbook” were articles about “being a pastor’s wife.” And when a friend of mine asked if there were any articles about the experiences of women pastors, or about “being a pastor’s husband”, the professor’s response was “well, in all likelihood you will end up being a pastor’s wife rather than a pastor yourself.”

Whatever one’s views on women in ministry, the reality is that there are female pastors. Some are full-time senior pastors. Others are associate pastors. Some are filling the exact same function as a pastor, but to preserve the prescription that only men be elders, their titles are “director of such and such ministry”, “ministry coordinator” or some other clever rebranding.


Does being a female pastor require different training? Are there different expectations? Are there different tools that we need that male pastors do not?

Consider the following scenarios:

1. At Hip & Cool church, it is normal for several of the pastors on staff to stay until late in the evening working on various ministry projects. Very often the only people in the church past 8pm are two associate pastors, one male and one female. Both have spouses and families who have no problem with this arrangement, but several parishioners have seen the two them leave the building together, and the gossips in the church have begun to talk. If both pastors were the same gender this would never make the gossip mill. The pastors are oblivious to the gossip but it is beginning to affect the life of the church. Should there be boundaries for the sake of perception? (or even to prevent something inappropriate from developing?)

2. First Bapti-costal Church of Hello Town has just hired their first female pastor. In the past, it was always assumed that though the church was hiring the pastor, his wife would give the church much of her time by leading the ladies’ bible studies, playing the piano, and chairing the Sunday School committee. The church is not quite sure how Pastor Kate’s husband will feel about leading the ladies’ bible study and it turns out he’s never played an instrument in his life. What are the expectations of a pastor’s husband?

3. Secular research has suggested that women leaders are more negatively perceived even when they engage in the exact same leadership behaviour as their male counterparts (Eagly & Karau, 2002), especially when they engage in the more stereotypically-male leadership tasks such as the enforcement of discipline (Atwater, Carey, & Waldman, 2001). Perceptions of effectiveness as a leader are influenced not only by leadership style (task- versus people-oriented) but also by the gender of the leader who uses one particular style or the other, as well as the group members’ attitudes towards women in leadership (Forsyth, Heiney & Wright, 1997). What tools are there to help female pastors be aware of the perception of the congregation of how they lead, how they pastor and how they preach?

4. While the women at Community Church of Cowabunga are loving having a female pastor to talk to, the men in the congregation are feeling uncomfortable about approaching the pastor to talk about issues and struggles in their life. What can the female pastor do to serve the men in her congregation?

Feel free to post your own questions that you have struggled with.

Benefits of Going TO Seminary

Brian LePort has a post where he laments the financial cost of going to seminary. He suggests that online education may be a way to alleviate some of the cost. Brian makes this point:

If seminaries want their students involved in ministry why would you ask them to leave their pastorate in Wyoming to move to attend your seminary in Oregon so that they can train to do what they are already doing in Wyoming? That doesn’t make sense. Sure, being in a classroom is superior in many ways to watching a recording of a class, but watching a recording of a class while continuing in your present ministry is better than quitting that ministry to attend classes on campus.

In my education, I have done both in class, and online courses, and I have had positive and negative experiences in both formats. To further the conversation a little bit and interact with this critique that removing a person in active ministry to have them go to seminary to train them for the ministry that they’re currently doing doesn’t make any sense, I thought I would re-post my article on the benefits of going to seminary:

***

There has been much discussion over the move to offer M.Div degrees in such a way that the person in ministry does not have to remove themselves from their current ministry position. This has an advantage because going to seminary often means the uprooting of a family and taking a significant paycut while attending school fulltime.

Christianity Today had a cover story on the rise of online offerings and the shift to seminary education that allows the student to remain in their ministry context while getting a degree.

Some schools have moved to a modular format, where classes are week-long intensives. This allows the student to come for a week, participate in class and then when back home, to work on the papers, exams and other assignments. (This is the model at Briercrest, though there also are semester-long courses occasionally offered).

While it can be a sacrifice to go away to seminary, I would like to suggest some reasons why going to seminary can be advantageous.

1. A New Perspective.
Sometimes we become so embedded in our current ministry context that we cannot see anything other than how “we do it.” To go away to seminary, to join with a different community allows us to see the forest rather than just the individual tree that we have lived and worked in. This can lead to a humbling realization that how we do church is not the only way to do church. As well, it can give us a new perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation that we serve.

2. A Time of Refreshing & Healing.
With the threat of pastoral burnout an ever constant danger, going away to seminary can be a time of refreshment. It can be a time to be ministered to, to learn, to grow and to be filled up so that we can remain effective in ministry.

3. A Time of Exploration.
A pastor begins to wonder about how to read Genesis 1-3 and wants to wrestle and ponder and deconstruct his theological presuppositions. To do this while in a ministry setting can be dangerous. The congregation could begin to wonder if the pastor has “lost it” or is destined to become an apostate, or worse, a heretic. Going away to seminary can provide the pastor the time, space, privacy, and community to question and explore. This can be especially true if a seminary is chosen that is non-denominational, inter-denominational or at least open to academic and theological inquiry (as opposed to some seminaries that focus on training pastors to have the “right” answers).

4. A Time to Discover New Gifts.
A pastor has spent 10 years in congregational care and chaplaincy. In going to seminary she discovers that she loves wrestling through Hebrew and text-critical issues. A new passion emerges, and the pastor respecializes, going on to doctoral studies with the goal of becoming a professor of Old Testament.

Likewise, a preaching pastor goes to seminary and discovers a gift of listening, and chooses to pursue a degree in biblical counseling. By having the experience of being a preaching pastor, and now learning how to provide pastoral counseling, the pastor feels equipped to provide wholistic ministry to a small congregation that cannot afford to have a multi-staff configuration.

5. A Time to Network and Develop New Friendships.
It is said that 80% of ministry postings are never advertised, but are filled through the search committee having a list of “recommended” candidates. Particularly for churches that are non-denominational, the invitation to candidate at a church comes because of “who you know”.
The same can be said for invitations to speak at conferences or retreats. It is often based on friendships and relationships at seminary where fellow pastors and professors have opportunity to see a person’s giftings, ministry, and calling.

6. A Time to Focus.
One of the downsides to taking classes while still in full-time ministry is that our attention can be divided. The night before a paper is due, a congregant has a family crisis, and the pastor is forced to put aside the paper to deal with the congregant. This can result in a) the pastor choosing to hand the paper in late and thus taking a penalty, or b) not giving the paper the care and attention that it requires. Very often a congregation does not understand the amount of time and study that is required in coursework, and thus when they hear that the pastor is “only” working on a paper, they think that it is okay to interrupt them with more “practical” concerns. (Of course, this can be remedied by having a board of elders who can take on some of these distractions which then allows the pastor the time to focus on the classwork).

On a personal note, while my coming to Briercrest was precipitated by Chuck getting a job out here, I am very grateful for this chance to “go” to Seminary. I had been taking classes while in ministry in Hamilton, but it was a different experience. Being at seminary has given me a chance to refocus and rest. It wasn’t until we moved out here that I realized how burnt out I was from being in ministry. I have a new perspective. I have a new passion and I have a renewed desire to help people get excited about God’s word.

Donald Gowan’s “The Bible on Forgiveness”

Donald Gowan takes a comprehensive look at forgiveness in the Bible. In looking at both the Old and New Testaments, he divides each into two sections: ‘God Forgives Us’ and ‘We Forgive One Another’. In both cases, ‘the God Forgives Us section’ is longer. It is this aspect, ‘God Forgives Us’, that is the focus of this review. In particular two theological themes emerge from Gowan’s book. The first is God’s forgiveness being grounded in his character. And the second is the complicated relationship between repentance and forgiveness.

The idea that forgiveness is grounded in the very character of God finds its roots in Exodus 34. Here, God forgives Israel for the purpose of keeping the covenant relationship intact. As God passes before Moses, God describes his character and actions that are foundational to his very being. He is gracious, compassionate, loving, and forgiving, even in light of the horrendous sin committed by turning so quickly to the idols (Exodus 34:6-7). Gowan then traces how the Old Testament continues to echo Exodus 34:6-7, and how it is repeated throughout the prophets and the psalms. That God forgives is ultimately tied to his faithfulness, and Gowan argues that this is the inherent difference between God and Israel: God can and does maintain the covenant relationship, while Israel is unfaithful and unable to do the same. Closely related to this is Gowans assertion that “Forgiveness is God’s work alone.” This theme, that God forgives, carries into the New Testament. The healing of the paralytic and the story of the woman who anointed Jesus point to Jesus’ action. Indeed, Gowan rightly argues that the point of the parables, such as the Prodigal Son, is to point to the forgiver, to show that God forgives, and that the parable makes no mention of what is “involved in receiving forgiveness.”

The second theological theme that runs through Gowan’s book is the complicated relationship between repentance and forgiveness. As Gowan traces the passages that speak of forgiveness, it becomes clear that the Bible does not always demonstrate that repentance must precede forgiveness. Indeed, as Gowan demonstrates, more often than not, God forgives, which in turn allows the person (or nation) to repent and turn to him. This starts, according to Gowan, in the narrative of Exodus 34. God forgave the unrepentant Israel so as to insure the continuation of the relationship. And while it is true that the Deuteronomistic History of Joshua-Kings, as well as the sacrificial system, demonstrate a theology of repentance preceding forgiveness, the prophets demonstrate that God forgives, and promises to forgive, without Israel first repenting. Repentance appears to be dependent on God’s work. God revokes the punishment, prior to repentance, and because of God’s action of forgiveness Israel is able to repent.

Even in the New Testament, while the model in Acts is “repent and be baptized”, this repentance and the possibility of forgiveness comes in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. To state it another way, because Jesus forgave, we can now respond by repenting in light of the proffered forgiveness. Indeed, when a person’s sins are forgiven, they receive the indwelling of the Holy Spiri,t which brings about the change that the Old Testament authors had hoped for. Gowan argues that this becomes the impetus for the activity of the apostles and early Christians in the book of Acts. They were able to go out and proclaim the Good News precisely because Christ had forgiven them. The parables, like the Prodigal Son, demonstrate the model of forgiveness preceding repentance. Even in the epistles, like 1John, the message is that we can confess our sin because God is forgiving and has forgiven us through the work of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Interestingly, Gowan notes that Paul rarely speaks of forgiveness, choosing instead to speak of justification, and that on the one or two occasions that he refers to repentance (in the Corinthian church) he does not also speak of forgiveness.

Gowan argues that forgiveness in the Old Testament is not only a forgiving of past wrong, forgiveness also encompasses the idea of healing, cleansing and change. From a theological perspective, what this demonstrates is that, in the Old Testament, forgiveness is not just justification, it is also sanctification. When God forgives, it involves the changing and healing of the offending person with the goal of restoring the broken relationship. To just have sins forgiven does not mean that there is a restoration of relationship, there needs to be change. This is also the message of the New Testament, with the only change being that this forgiveness, which brings healing and restores and sanctifies the relationship, is now offered specifically in the name of Jesus, and is no longer just for Israel, but is available for all peoples of all nations.

That forgiveness is a part of the very character of God, and that this is repeated throughout the Old Testament, may suggest a way through the two God (God of the Old Testament vs. God of the New Testament) dichotomy to which many Christians hold. It would be an intriguing project to develop a theology of God that finds its focus on the forgiving nature of God, rather than on the holiness or love of God. A possible weakness may be found in one of the conclusions Gowan draws about forgiveness. He writes that, “forgiveness may begin entirely by the initiative of the injured party, but it can never achieve what is intended unless it can be accepted by the guilty one.” The question arises, is Gowan’s understanding of forgiveness then not dependant on repentance so much as it is on acceptance of said forgiveness? Gowan demonstrates how forgiveness precedes repentance more often than repentance precedes forgiveness, and so the question becomes, what is the role of repentance? Could the downplaying of repentance be an example of God’s reformed theology that emphasizes the monergistic work of God? While a theology of repentance is outside the scope of this particular work, it is important to remember that repentance and forgiveness, in whatever order they appear, are still theologically related.

Gowan’s book is an important contribution to the Church’s development of a theology of forgiveness and reconciliation. By tracing all of the passages concerning forgiveness, and how they are all connected back to the very character of God, this book offers a much-needed corrective to today’s pop-psychology-saturated church. It is important to understand the broader biblical picture of forgiveness, as it will help the Church to translate, interpret and apply those popular passages on forgiveness that we too often read through the lens of our contemporary culture’s definition of forgiveness.

Children’s Sermons

Russell Saltzman has an article up over at First Things where he examines the dreaded dreadful children’s sermon, and how most of them are merely moralistic exhortations.

But object lessons are easy, too easy. They are almost always “law,” an important distinction from “gospel” for a Lutheran guy like me. They end with exhortations to be better, do better, practice hard and study well and keep their rooms clean, and get along with other people. Take this one from a real children’s sermon: “And I want you to remember not to fight with one another, not to be ugly, and to do as God asks.” Tell you what. Tell the adults first. Maybe if they get the hang of it, it’ll have a better chance of filtering down.

So how does a pastor do a children’s sermon well? My favourite piece of advice from the article:

If a pastor isn’t good talking with kids, and some aren’t, don’t talk. Show them things in the church instead. These are the only objects fit for use. I invite children to come and watch every baptism and I’ll pick a kid to be my book stand. I explain what baptism is, what is happening and why, and show them how to make the sign of the cross so they can remember their baptism every morning and evening like Martin Luther said to do in his catechism.

Read the whole thing here.

Pastoral Advice: Helping a Young Family

“We’ve been going to this church for a year, and we really like it,” said the husband. “The service is great, the people are great.”

“There’s just one small problem,” said the wife, “and we don’t know what to do about it.”

“This church has a small Sunday school for kids 3 and older. For kids under three there is no nursery (it’s not just that they don’t have a staffed nursery, they don’t have a physical nursery space at all). There is a cry room at the back of the church, that is 8-by-8 and doubles as a staging and storing area for all the Sunday morning supplies for the service (communion elements, candle sticks etc). It’s a tiny makeshift space that is designed for short visits. For the last year, one of us has been in the cry room every Sunday with our oldest child who is too young for Sunday school, and too active to sit through the service.” The husband explained.

“And usually that someone was me,” smiled the wife. “What makes it worse is that part of the staging area has a sink, and the cupboard under the sink has cleaning supplies; the cupboard doesn’t have a lock on it, so guess where the little kids like to go get into mischief?”

“Our oldest child is just turned two, so it’s one more year in the cry room. And we’ve just had our second child, so by the time the oldest is ready for Sunday School, the younger will be no longer at the ‘sleep through the service stage’ and will need to be in the cry room.”

“So we’re looking at three more years of one of us being in the cry room for the majority of the service; and longer if we decide to have more kids!” Said the wife.

“And as soon as there is more than one or two kids in the cry room, it gets awfully crowded. It’s such a tiny space. Yes, they do pipe the service in over a speaker in the cry room, but over the noise of the toddlers it’s really hard to hear and follow along.”

The wife’s smile faded, “You know, by the time we get ourselves to church, and one of us settles into the cry room, it feels like it would have been easier to just stay home. Pull up a video of a sermon on the internet, throw in a worship CD and do church at home. What’s the point of going to church if I just end up sitting in the cry room every week?”

“We don’t want to have a consumer, church-shopping mentality, really we don’t,” said the husband, “but is it time to start looking for another church, one that has more child-friendly options?

*****

Okay Cheese-Wearers, what advice would you give this young family?

It’s Not About Crusading, or Even About Calling — It’s About Serving

This is part of the ‘Girly Girl’ Week here at Cheese-Wearing Theology.

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“Are you sure you are called into ministry?”

It’s the question I have been asked numerous times in the last decade of serving in churches.

And so, I tell the person my testimony; of how I have, through prayer, mentoring and theological study, found myself gifted and passionate for preaching ministry. My explanation and testimony sounds about like any other person who feels a call into pastoral ministry.

Yet, even after my testimony, I get the question: “Are you sure you are called into ministry?”

The first few times, I thought it was because the person asking wanted me to be sure, absolutely sure. But, why then were they not asking the same question of male students? Maybe, the person saw something in my life that I didn’t. Maybe I really wasn’t called to ministry. But, why then is that where my giftings and my passions lie?

Maybe it’s because I shie away from the language of calling. I posted this reflection by Ben Witherington a few weeks ago:

“What God demands of us is far more than to realize he has plans for our individual lives, plans for good and not for harm. In fact God demands of us a less narcissistic focus of ourselves and our own needs. When we actually examine the use of the phrase ‘the will of God’ in the only two places it appears in Paul’s writings (1Thess 4:3; 5:18) it has to do with the mandates to maintain a holy life and to take up and practice regularly the three major forms of prayer (adoration, intercession, thanksgiving). It has little to do with finding some more particular purpose or calling in one’s life when it comes to our tasks in life or our occupation.”

Ben Witherington, The Problem with Evangelical Theology, pg. x.

My approach to ministry positions has been fairly passive. I won’t crusade to be in a ministry position. I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to force the issue.

Instead, I find myself saying, “You know what: This is me. These are my gifts, my talents, my educational experiences and training. If you want to make use of it, I am available.”

If a church is looking for someone to lead an adult bible study, and could use me, then I’m available. If a church is looking for pulpit supply, then I’m available. If a church is looking for someone to lead worship, then I’m available. My desire is to serve the Church with my gifts as needed.

Chuck and I moved to Saskatchewan a year and a half ago. In the time since we’ve been here, I haven’t preached a single sermon, I haven’t led a single worship song, and apart from a couple of class presentations, I haven’t had to do any public speaking.

“Ah-ha!” Someone might say, “a year and a half of no leadership proves that you aren’t called to ministry.”

And yet, in this year I have found other ways to serve. I find myself praying for people and ministries and situations in ways I never prayed before. I find myself reading a lot more devotionally, whereas before I was always reading to preach or teach. And above all, I find myself listening. Listening to other pastors preaching; listening to the needs and concerns of the Church in general; listening for that ‘still small voice’ who I could never hear when I was in ‘busy busy’ mode.

Is it God’s will or call that I be in ministry? I don’t know. What I do know is that all Christians are called to serve: to serve the Risen Saviour and to serve our neighbours. What that looks like today may not be what it looks like tomorrow. Perhaps this year I’ll end up preaching or teaching or leading worship. Perhaps it won’t happen for another five years, or ten, or ever. And that’s okay. What matters is that I kneel before my Lord with my life forfeit. Anything I do is for God’s glory and not mine.