Wednesday, January 20, 2016

God's call is always relevant to the times

As many of my regular readers know, I retired as a Resource Minister this past December. For 20 years I served as the bivocational pastor of a small church in Indiana before accepting a new call to be a Resource Minister with our judicatory where I spent the next 14 years. I've seen a lot of changes in ministry during these years, and I believe such changes will continue at an even more rapid pace in the next years. I further believe that no one can predict with any accuracy what future ministry will look like. Some of the old models will survive; others will not.

Much of what we've done in the past has been mechanical in nature. Pastors were trained to manage institutions, churches and denominations, provide pastoral care to church members, and lead public worship. Much of our focus was on the institutional church and those who made up its membership. We enjoyed certain advantages in a "Christian" culture. Those who were effective in one size church could expect to be considered for larger churches and/or ministries. This model of ministry is changing, and people entering the ministry need to be aware of this change.

In his book A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders Reggie McNeal asks the question "What did you answer the call to do?" He explains why this question is so important at this time.

Young people who are still immersed in the church culture may be contemplating a call to minister in a world that simply will not exist in only a few years. What then for them? This situation is not hypocritical. Thousands of church leaders in their late fifties experience this reality. They have been hit hardest by the tectonic shifts in the culture both inside and outside the church in the past fifteen years. The world in which they entered the ministry has passed away in many respects. Their ministry experience seems ill suited to take them to the future. The trip they prepared for has been canceled. Many of these leaders have the internal drive and determination to retool, but many more do not. Fearful and anxious, those in the latter category are trying to hang on until the pension can rescue them. Many are not finishing well...God's call is always relevant to the times. He is not in the business of recruiting leaders to serve the past.

In this rapidly changing world it is imperative that spiritual leaders focus on heart issues. Being proficient at the mechanical aspects of ministry will no longer be enough. As McNeal points out, "People increasingly will abandon the kinds of ministries and ministry leaders that seem more interested in institutional concerns than in assisting individuals to develop spiritually. People will support leaders who help them discover who they are created to be and then empower them to employ their talents, energies, and passions."

In order for us to meet this expectation we need to first focus on our own heart and allow God to shape our hearts through the various experiences that He allows to enter our lives. As we better understand our life's purpose, we can help others understand what God wants to do in and through their lives. As we discern God's vision for our lives, we can help others do the same.

I found McNeal's book very insightful and helpful in understanding the challenges facing those considering ministry and those already serving in a ministry role.

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