Thursday, 1 May 2008

Encouragement from the Call - Review of Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome

The Hughes’ next turn to the encouragement that comes from the call. By this, they mean the call to minister. I realise that I am on shaky ground, but it does frustrate me that many evangelicals (And others), for a long period of time, have insisted on using this word to refer to the desire and process of moving into full time vocational ministry. The Bible doesn’t use it that way – it uses it to speak of being called to union with Christ through faith by grace. Leaders are then appointed, by guidance from the Holy Spirit, through the church. My frustration is that by using the word ‘call’ to refer to the movement into ministry, we are significantly devaluing the biblical call. We’ll return to that in a moment.

Hughes is very careful to make clear that his experience of the call (and here I use the word in the call-to-ministry sense that the book uses it) is not normative, and that the actual experience of a call may be very gradual and gentle over the course of their lives. Helpfully, and graciously, Hughes identifies people like myself who question the idea of a specific call to ministry. He identifies two concerns that such people have – that it turns ministry into an uberprofession – and that it strengthens the gap between laity and clergy. However, he in turn responds that ‘the ministry is the highest of calls. We must never downplay or minimize it. Not really an answer, but this book isn't about that issue.

Given his premise, the rest of the chapter turns on how Christian ministers can gain encouragement from their call. Those whom God calls, God empowers for their ministry. ‘Your call means that you have the [God given] power to fulfil it!’. And again ‘…when God calls one to the ministry, he gives the requisite gifts to fulfil that ministry.’ Hughes then turns to the call of Isaiah as the classic call. There he identifies that four things were included and evident – a vision of god’s holiness; a vision of our own unholiness; the grace of forgiveness; the obedience in response to the call. The conclusion – ‘we can all relate to Isaiah’s classic call because its elements are common to the called.’ I couldn’t agree more – but only if we revert back to the biblical use of the called concept, and realise that these things are characteristic of all God’s people – not just those who feel that they have been called to full-time vocational ministry.

My great concern is the unspoken implication. If God gifts those he calls and provides those he has called with power to do that ministry, what happens if you were never called? No call – no gifts. No call – no power. In ministry with no gifts and no power? No thanks.

Brothers and sisters, whoever desires to be an overseer desire a noble task. It's a desire that we have. Is it God given - Yes. Recognsied through the body - Yes. Accompanied by a some sort of spiritual conviction - Yes. Validated by a specific 'call' - possibly, but, I would suggest, not necessarily. Yes, of course God gifts his people – he gifts them for the good of the body. Yes, of course God gives his people power – the power of the resurrected Christ. But can I suggest to you that to glean your encouragement from the fact that God has called you to be a minister, and therefore must have gifted you to do that, is misplaced encouragement.

So can I suggest that our encouragement comes not from the fact that God has called us to be ministers, but from the fact that God calls. He is a God who calls his people out of darkness and into the kingdom of his Son. His call is effectual and powerful. When he speaks, through us, by his Spirit, people listen. Lives change. Raging rebels submit. There’s your encouragement. God calls. Our ministry is his ministry through us.

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