This article appeared on the St Padran’s Institute Facebook page recently and offers a real challenge to all of us.
In my role I encounter much discussion about the idea of calling into Christian ministry. For most people, their understanding of calling is determined by the bible’s descriptions of Old Testament prophets like Moses, Samuel, Jonah and Amos, or New testament characters like the disciples and Paul. These exemplary characters are portrayed as being personally summoned by God for their roles as leaders of their communities. Their calling to serve is impressed on them; it is specific and compelling. What many people fail to observe, however, is that this model of calling into ministry is only one of the ways presented in the scriptures. (Like many biblical themes it is complex and expresses a range of perspectives.) If we look closely at the scriptural records, we see that there is a markedly different narrative of calling also at work.
A classic example is the calling of Isaiah. Isaiah’s entry into the prophetic ranks occurs in response to a vision where he beholds the holy majesty of God, then hears a divine plea for a messenger to go on His behalf. In Isaiah’s case, God still takes the initiative to reveal Himself to the prophet and to issue an invitation to service. The difference is, however, that God does not summon him individually or impress upon him that this is the task that Isaiah has personally been given. Instead, God reveals His purpose in universal terms and proclaims His desire for someone to take up His cause. Isaiah responds by offering himself as the answer to God’s appeal. Unlike the prophets mentioned above, he does not wait for God to single him out, communicate directly and press a role on him. Rather, he envisages what God is doing in the world and actively seeks to meet it.
This model of finding ways actively to draw near to God and serve Him, continues in the New Testament. John’s gospel, for example, narrates in a rather surprising way how the first disciples began to follow Jesus, thus entering their role as the founding leaders of the first Christian community. Unlike the other three gospels, Jesus does not call his disciples, nor appoint some of them to be apostles. On the contrary, in John (chapter 1) the first followers of Jesus seek him out, request to become his apprentices, then recruit their friends and relatives to join them. Like Isaiah, they too are responding to a revelation, in this case about the character and nature of Jesus, the true son of God. They do not wait to be invited to join Jesus in ministry, they seize the initiative and request an active share in what he is doing.
I find that this pro-active pattern of becoming called and entering a vocation rarely acknowledged by Christians today. Could this gap in the prevailing understanding of how one enters into service roles within God’s community partially explain why there is a shortage of ministers within the contemporary churches? Certainly. The New Testament makes it quite clear that God has entrusted the task of continuing Jesus’ ministry to his followers. This indicates that every disciple has a role to play in the contemporary service of God’s purpose. The unresolved matter is which ministry each Christian will pursue. If you are waiting for a tap on the shoulder from God calling you forward into a ministry role, perhaps you should think again? God’s call for people to serve has already gone out. The pertinent question is, which vital ministry are you going to take the initiative to answer the call for?Glen Lund
St Padarn’s Tutor, St Asaph Diocese