When my grandpa called tonight to catch up on how my life has been going, I didn’t really have much to say. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to tell him anything; it was because I didn’t really have anything to say. I’ve gone to work, hung out with friends from time to time, and then gone to bed. Given my day-to-day routine, my life really is boring.
And yet, after hanging up, I realized there are a couple things going on in my life. For one, I’m finally doing the necessary stuff to land a professional-type job (and striking out miserably). For another, I’ve once again felt the tug toward pastoral ministry. In case you’re wondering, pastoral ministry is a profession of sorts, but it doesn’t pay very well… if at all.
Thinking back to what I was doing at Calvary, I actually do miss the Sunday mornings in kid’s ministry – either with the 3rd graders who have a ton of energy or the high school kids who couldn’t stay awake. I loved cracking open my Bible every week and preparing some sort of lesson or message – even if it wasn’t very well put together. It forced me to be more intentional in my every day life. And heck, it was a far better alternative to working 50-hour weeks… Oh wait, I did that, too 😦
A question that is wrapped up with the spiritual tug toward ministry, though, is where do I start? Right now I don’t have a church home – haven’t even been to church in over a month. And even if I had found a new church to plug into, who’s to say they’d need someone to step into a leadership role? And given my views on Scripture, who’s to say they’d want me to lead a ministry even if they needed someone?
Two years ago on Cross Training’s summer retreat, Darrin Ratcliff shared a message out of Luke 9:10-17; an account of when Jesus fed five thousand men. It was a busy day of Him preaching to a ton of people and probably posing for a few pictures and giving a few autographs – you know the usual antiquity stuff. But then His disciples started getting hungry so they asked Jesus to send everyone on lunch so they could eat. Jesus’ words to them, I think, are His words to us all: “You give them something to eat.”
Darrin’s whole message was wrapped around this one verse solely to say that Jesus gives us the power to do great things like feeding thousands of people if we only do two things: Believe and act. Feeding the crowds and even themselves didn’t need to be delegated to another ministry within the church; they were more than capable of doing it themselves. I think it’s the same for ministry.
Actually, I think it’s the same for any particular profession or career or dream or whatever it is you feel your heart tugging you towards. God wants us to know that if He wills it and we believe and then act upon it, then great things are going to happen. Ministry – not just for me, but for everyone serving the Lord – begins with us. It goes with us as we head off to work or school. It’s right there with us when we’re tired and don’t want to do anything. It’s staring at us as we complain about whatever, saying, “Really?” Ministry isn’t just some profession that those Bible-thumpers do to keep themselves occupied; it’s an essential part to the individual’s Christian identity.
Essentially, in my case, the kind of man I wish to preach to others is the kind of man I need to be – that is, the Christ-like man. If I’m going to talk about the poison of lust or coveting or greed or arrogance or anything else that hinders a walk with Christ, I had better be backing it up with a corresponding lifestyle. I can’t be caught up in watching porn when I’m lonely, stealing money from the tithe box because I think I’ve earned it, or thinking myself a better man than most because of a pastoral platform. Ministry, as I see it, is proactively living the repentant lifestyle on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis. No exceptions.
What this does not mean is that as Christians we’re supposed to be perfect in every way, wherever, whenever. We might frequently try to live such a life, but the truth of Christianity is really stating the obvious: Man is flawed. What Jesus promises, though, is something that is rarely found anywhere else: Grace.
Sure, your boss may forgive you for a few small mistakes here and there, but there’s always a limit to that kind of grace. And society may forgive the married celebrity or the married athlete for the occasional drunken night, but when you have a sex scandal involving many women over a long period of time society does not let you go – no matter how hard you work to redeem your reputation. And yet Jesus’ outstretched arms remain… no matter how many times you mess up.
“If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinkin’,” – John Mark McMillan, “How He Loves”
If grace is an ocean, as the song says, then we really are sinking. We’re not treading water at the surface trying to go it alone, be independent, and prove that we don’t need God. We’re sinking. We’re drowning. Spiritually speaking, we’re dying to ourselves – the selves that feed off of lust, pride, greed, or any sin you might think of. It involves humility, allowing ourselves to be corrected, and enduring – no matter how many things trip us up.
No, I’m not suggesting we take a plunge into the ocean, a river, or even our bathtubs and drown ourselves. I’m saying that in order to enact the Christian life and thereby bring into being God’s kingdom “as it is in heaven,” then we must start with ourselves. We must call ourselves out before anyone else does – regardless of whether or not we’re pastors or congregants. We must be well practiced with admitting our own faults and failures – not with the tone of guilt and shame, but with sincere honesty. And every time we make these admissions of ourselves, we must immediately allow Him – God, Hope Eternal – to speak into our own hearts and revive our souls.
I’ve said all of this to simply say that while I am again feeling the tug toward pastoral ministry, I can start living out that lifestyle right now. I can start training myself spiritually as an athlete training for a race. I can start disciplining myself to remain humble and self-controlled, lest whatever I might preach or write become void (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
As I said earlier, this is not limited to pastoral ministry. Whatever you’ve felt within your heart that you’re called to do, whatever your tug may be, that will be your ministry. And as Jesus implies to us in Luke 9, He’s given us all that we need to do great things: Himself.