It has been three weeks since my last posting. It doesn't mean that I have nothing to say. On the contrary, I've been thinking about the relationship between pastors, Sessions, members, the past, the present, the future, history, mission, passivity, activism, generations and how all this relates to our relationships with Christ. The following essay is a work in progress that I wrote for one of my client churches. It is not intended to be a final word, or even a complete word on the topic of God's call. The passages that I reflect on are one's that I have been using in my work with this particular church. I hope it is helpful.
Understanding God’s Call to the Church
The following essay is my reflection upon a few biblical texts that help me to understand God’s call to the church and its members. My thoughts are directed toward believers in Jesus Christ who are members of a local congregation. This is not a complete theological statement on the nature of call. It is simply a few ideas offered as way to talk about our call from God.
There six texts, some short, some long, and these texts help me to understand that God’s purpose is to take us, his human creation, and live through us. What they show me is that church membership is not an accurate understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Instead to be a member is about how the love of God comes alive in us and through us touches other people. In other words, the genius of God is that he both sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be God in the flesh in our world, and to die so that we may live, and that he now uses us as that same representation of his grace and love in our world.
Before you go any further, take a few minutes to read through the texts. Don’t try to think about them too deeply. Just read them. Get a basic sense of what they are saying. My comments will direct you back to reading them more specifically.
What amazes me about this story is that this guy in his later years is called by God to go and start something new. It is not only a statement about call, but about what God believes our potential is throughout the course of our life. Abraham and his extended family go as God called them. And we are the beneficiaries of their obedience.
I also see that God’s call is specific. He didn’t come asking for volunteers. He came to Abraham. He picked him out. I wonder what it is that God would pick us out to do?
Reflection Question: Of all the things that you’ve done through the church, what has been the most meaningful? Which one do you feel made the most difference? Make a note of this here.
The Great Commission
This Matthew text comes as Jesus is preparing to enter heaven after his Resurrection. He tells the disciples that he is sending them out to share the Gospel with the world. What is interesting about this call to go? The Scripture calls them disciples, which simply means that they are followers or students of a teacher. They have spent their time preparing, without knowing they were doing so. If you read through the Gospels, the disciples were never very insightful about what was happening. They just responded in the moment to what Jesus was doing and saying. So, now Jesus sends them out, and from here on they are referred to as “apostles.” An apostle simply means “the one who is sent.” In this sense, Abraham was like an apostle. He was sent.
To be sent implies that we are being sent some place for a reason. Many of us have no experience with this idea. We have grown up and lived in the same place all our lives. We have been a member of the same church; maybe lived in the same house, know the same people all of our lives. This may well have been Abraham’s experience. And yet, he was sent to a place that was alien and strange.
Reflection Question: The question is not “Where is God sending you?” Rather, are you willing to be sent? Not are you willing to be sent to China or Africa, but are you willing to be sent? Discovering God’s call starts with a willingness for God to use us as instruments of his grace and love. If you are willing to be “sent,” what do you feel you’d like to know first?
The Fellowship of Believers
Acts 2: 42-47
God’s call doesn’t come in a vacuum. It isn’t just an idea disconnected from the life we live here in this world. It is real and practical, and it is worked in relationship with people. This picture of the early church is compelling to me. It is because I’ve never known a group like this. Never know a group this generous and open. Yet, this new fellowship of Christ believers is caring for one another. It leads me to realize that our individual call is a part of the church’s call. God reaches us through other people, and the church exists as a place where God communicates to us what he wants us to know. It may be through a sermon or a Sunday school lesson, or more likely through the interest and kindness of another person towards us.
Reflection question: Think back over the past few months and try to remember what people have said to you about your impact upon their lives. If you can’t remember any specific instance, think instead of those who have made a difference in your life. What was it they did? How did it affect you? What can you learn from this situation?
Unity in the Body of Christ
Ephesians 4:1-5, 7-16
These verses from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are some of my favorite in Scripture. I see two important messages here. The first is that how we live matters. Paul asks us to live our lives in a way that is worthy of our faith in Christ. This is a responsibility that we each have. This leads to a question of what it means to live a life worthy of the call we have received. It seems that there is a two-step process. First is a call to faith and devotion to Jesus Christ. That call is followed by a call to make our faith real and tangible in how we live. The call that we receive, just like Abraham’s, is a call to live in Christ, doing things that are worthy of our call to be apart of God’s family.
The next question is also in two parts. What am I to do as my call? And then, how am I to do it? Paul is presenting us the idea that the church is a place where we discover our call and are equipped to follow our call wherever it leads. When we do there is a specific impact that comes. “… so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” There is a two-part benefit to our receiving and following our call. First, the church grows in strength, and secondly, we do too.
Reflection question: If you were to feel stronger about your faith and service to Jesus Christ, what do you feel you need to learn or develop in order to be stronger?
Spiritual Gifts and Love
1 Corinthians 12:1-31
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
These last two texts address two aspects of our call that need to always be kept together. The first is our spiritual gifts, and the second is how love needs to always be at the center of our lives.
My experience has shown me that we discover our gifts and strengths through two sources. One is experience. We participate in an event or activity, and our contribution matters to the outcome. We make the connection between what I did and the success of the event. Then we realize that I can do something that makes a difference. We feel good about ourselves and look for other opportunities to participate. This is the tangible, doing aspect of discovering our gifts.
Think of our call from God like we are learning a craft. We have an inkling of an idea that we’d like to learn something. If maybe woodworking or playing the guitar, but something deep inside of us connects with the idea of doing that specific thing. As we practice and grow in ability, we discover that we may like the idea of doing something, but don’t have the talent for it, or we find that we are actually good at it. Then we want to do more. Our call from God is a discovery process. We don’t know everything at the beginning. We learn what we need to know as we proceed along the path of growth.
The second way we discover our gifts is through the advice and encouragement of others. It isn’t necessarily a close friend or family member. In reality, it probably isn’t. That encouragement typically comes from someone who thanks us for what we did.
Reflection question: Over the past year, what have you done that really made the difference in a situation or in the life of someone, whether in the church or elsewhere? Whose life was touched by your? What situation was made better because of your contribution? And, who benefited from the difference you made? Write these thoughts down because they are indicators of where God’s call may be leading you.
In Addition: I realized later after posting this that this is not a very profound statement of God's call to the church. It isn't suppose to be. Rather, it is intended to be basic and simple. It is basic and simple where are the hardest because they exist within the realm of our own abilities. So, may God grant you the courage to fulfill your call, whatever it may be.