Part 4 of series: Ivy League Congress: Discerning God’s Call
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In my last couple of posts I sowed the first five of eleven “seeds” for discerning God’s call to ministry:
1. Laity: All Christians have a high calling as ministers of Christ.
2. Surprise: It’s likely that God will surprise you if you seek his will openly.
3. Sovereignty: If we want to discern God’s call upon our lives, we need to be committed to his sovereignty.
4. Stewardship: We should seek to use well the gifts, talents, and opportunities God has given to us.
5. Blessing: If we want to discern God’s call for our future, we should attend to how he is blessing our lives and ministries right now.
Today I’ll scatter a few additional seeds.
We discern God’s will for our lives in community. Though God may certainly reveal his plans to us in a private moment of prayer, even this must be weighed by brothers and sisters who know us well and who are seeking God along with us.
In 1990, when I first received the slightest hint that God may have been calling me away from Hollywood Presbyterian Church, I met with Ralph Osborne, a senior member of the staff there and one whose judgment I trusted. His observations were crucial to my process of discernment, as were those of my covenant group brothers.
Similarly, when I began wrestling with God’s will for my life last year, wondering if I should move to Texas and join the Laity Lodge team, I had plenty of help from my covenant group, my spiritual director, and my wife. These folks helped me to see things I might surely have missed. In the end, their support was essential to my willingness to take a big leap of faith and come to Laity Lodge.
When we talk about God’s call to ministry, sometimes we feel as if we are making a one-for-a-lifetime decision. This puts lots of pressure upon ourselves, and can inhibit us from boldly following God’s lead. In fact, reality offers much more fluidity than we sometimes think. People these days are rarely deciding to do one thing for a lifetime, whether it’s banking or pastoral ministry. Rather, there is a great deal of fluidity both within professions and among them. Therefore, it’s not necessary for a 25-year-old to decide what he or she is going to do for a lifetime. The question is more: What does God have for me right now?
One of the greatest examples of fluidity in ministry is that of Fred Rogers, better known as “Mr. Rogers” of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Though most of us think of Fred Rogers as a children’s television personality, in fact he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister, whose work on television was approved as pastoral work. One can even be an ordained pastor and do something beyond serving in a local parish.
People who are married, or who expect to be married, and even more those who also have children, accept an additional responsibility when it comes to discerning God’s calling. 1 Corinthians 7 teaches that one who wants to serve the Lord will experience greater freedom and focus by remaining single. A married person, Paul explains, has divided interests. Notice that Paul does not criticize such a division. Implicitly, he acknowledges that the married person should indeed prioritize the needs of one’s spouse. Thus the husband or wife is not in a place to ask simply: What does God want for me? Rather, the appropriate question is: What does God want for me and my family?
Last year, as I was puzzling over whether to come to Laity Lodge or not, I had a much harder time deciding what was best for my family that what was best for me personally. A good month before I said “yes” to Laity Lodge, I had determined that, if I were single, I was ready to move forward. But I was not single. As a husband and father, I’m responsible for the well-being of my wife and children. In particular, I needed to know that Laity Lodge would provide an optimum environment for my wife, Linda, to exercise her ministry gifts.