For some reason in the American church we sometimes teach theology like we just skimmed over it or read the cliff notes. We seem to look more like peter then Jesus when we use our PhD’s in missing the point. For instance, Jesus never taught on how to be a leader or on leadership. Jesus taught on how to be a great follower. Paul said follow me as I follow Christ… But somehow the message we preach and teach is on leadership. Everyone is a Leader.
My problem with that is if everyone is a leader than who is actually following?
I was on staff at a large church and every sermon was on how to be a better leader… the whole focus of the church was on building leaders in the home, the community, the school, the neighborhood, the work place…
But the church never seemed to have people that could just follow someone or something…
I remember being in a youth convention with 4,000+ junior high and senior high schoolers and the speaker told us, told me I was going to be a world changer… that God was calling me to change the world. I was immediately filled with this intense emotion as I told myself that’s it, that’s what I am called to… And I thought I found my purpose… it affected my attitude and behavior towards others and I saw myself as higher than others because I had a calling to change the world. I went back to my church and I got involved in ministry and became the Youth Pastor. I left for bible college and walked into school like I was a big shot because I already had been in the ministry and I was the pride and jewel of my home church so I was automatically going to be the pride and jewel of bible college. I quickly found out that everybody that goes to bible college was the pride and jewel of their home church and Bible College was going to be the beginning of a lifelong process of jockeying for position and attention. I felt like I couldn’t compete at school so I found another avenue to get me fame which was travelling as an evangelist. People might notice me now and they will soon see I am my generations Billy Graham. Turned out in the Midwest I was just one more young preacher that could shout and scream without much substance. My big break didn’t come from being an evangelist so I went on staff at a church as their youth pastor. The church got weird and I left and found out later the lead pastor had a moral failure. Which I attribute to this issue of having to maintain and image that one could compete for position and attention.
Finally, at 28 I was done and felt like giving up. I hadn’t become the next Billy Graham for my generation. I hadn’t preached the gospel around the world. I hadn’t become a notable speaker and author of all things that make Christian subculture embarrassing and less human.
Probably the most life changing and most embarrassing moment of my life was when I was 28. I was in my apartment and I felt like God had placed me on a shelf and forgot about me. I remember being in that drowsy state of sleep where you aren’t awake but you’re not asleep either you’re like trying to fight the urge to get up because you know you need to sleep. All of a sudden God spoke to me, “Get up and rebuke that thought!” I got up and began praying against the thought that God had placed me on a shelf and forgot about me. After 45 min I felt like God spoke the most embarrassing and profound thing to me… He said, “I have never placed you on a shelf and forgot about you, you have just been to prideful to do the things I was asking you to do. I never called you to be an evangelist or a youth pastor while you were in bible college, I wanted you to enjoy being a bible college student that had fun and learned how to hang out and live life with others. I never called you to be a world changer, I called you to myself to live a life of joy and abundance. All of your frustration was because you were focusing on things that might make you famous instead of living a life that would make Jesus famous!” In that moment of sobering clarity, I began wincing and crying as I saw the replay of all the times I was embarrassing prideful and it was like an out of body experience as I floated above the conversations and saw myself drunk in my own self lies to reality of who I thought I was and I saw the people I was trying to fake it to make it looking straight through me embarrassed for me and unable to say anything to me because of my boastful self-absorbed pride.
That singular moment seriously hacked my life and took me several months to process and move on from it. During my time working with young adults I realized that the majority of the ones I ministered to checked out of church around 24 – 32 and I firmly believe it was because of the pressure we placed on them when they were growing up in the church.
How does someone cope with being just a mediocre Christian working a regular job punching a clock and going to church when they were told God was calling them to be a world changer, God was calling them to the ministry, to missions, to bible college. And yet their lot in life didn’t line up with what was spoken over them by young pastors who were insecure and looking for their own place of importance their own identity their own fame.
When I think about a true understanding of a Biblical call it was to Jesus, to the Father… it was a simple call that Jesus gave to come follow me…
Somehow that simple call has become a call to a specific place, ministry, title instead of a call to follow God.
By using the idea of Calling to a specific place, a ministry, a title we imply that one doesn’t fully have a purpose until they have a call. We tend to overlook people who say well I haven’t been called to a specific place, a ministry, or a title.
In Fact, we don’t see the ministry or titles in our current culture in the biblical witness. We don’t find Women’s ministry director or Men’s ministry director, we don’t find security director, we don’t find diaper changer nursery attendant.
But what we do find, is people who had been called to God and where ever they went they fulfilled the calling by serving and meeting people’s needs.
I know what you are saying, “But hold it, we do have instances when people were specifically commissioned and set apart for particular tasks!” and I agree with you, but remember it was for particular tasks not for the rest of their lives.
I think about Acts 6 where we first see deacons coming into the scene. They were anointed and set apart to wait tables but after their commissioning service you never read of them waiting tables again but they were going all over the place preaching and being witnesses for the Gospel.
I think some of the notion that we are called to a specific place, ministry, title is possibly tide to early American Manifest destiny that permeated the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The idea that America was special and we were to export our American ideals and values around the world. We were to help those poor heathens. (Sound familiar?) What is interesting is that secular society has realized how embarrassing that way of thinking was but yet the American church still sees our self as important and needing to export our ideals and values into other societies because we all know that God will and can only use the American church. I find it funny that we may not overtly say this but we subversively think this and its embarrassing because the church in the rest of the world is starting to send missionaries to us!
We subversively think every time we put ourselves into the important role of hinge pin to God’s plans for the world around us. We need to get back to the reality that God does not need us he chooses to use us but he doesn’t need us. His plan doesn’t succeed and fail based on your commitment, your focus, your ability to do all that you think you have to do to be used by God. IN Fact, God is up in heaven laughing at all the human effort we exert in trying to control things and make things happen and then all the wasted nights worrying about the results that we truly don’t have any control over.
We tend to focus on the false idea that we are called to a specific place, ministry, title so much that all of our energy, thoughts, resources get over used to the point of exhaustion that we have nothing left to focus on the only thing that really matters—OUR CALL TO GOD.
When we help people in our church’s to realize that they are called to God first and only, then everything they do becomes an outflow of that calling… Their first and only calling becomes what they pursue and the things that flow out become secondary.
I find it interesting that in Ephesians 4:11 tells us the 5 fold offices of the church that Jesus gave us, but the only people we hear with a title off the fivefold list were the 12 Apostles. We don’t hear outside of the twelve of other people having titles. And what is interesting is that Ephesians 4 doesn’t imply that Jesus gave them one time, but that they are ongoing offices for the purpose of equipping the church people to do the work of the church people. The word I like in Ephesians 4:12 is equip but the Greek word actually means to off load cargo from a ship. So the picture we get is that the Offices of the church are to off load the work of the church on to the people of the church similar to an apprentice model of learning a trade.
Jesus Starts his encounter with the 12 disciples with the words come follow me and he ends his physical encounter with the 11 disciples with Matthew 28:18 – 20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore Go and Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father the son and the holy spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV) In other words, just as you have learned by following so I send you to teach others by following your example of your calling to ME your Heavenly Father.