For those of us in vocational ministry, the summer holds the promise of slower days, lighter schedules, a time to catch up on some “to dos”, maybe even a little vacation time… But around this time of year, that promise quickly gives way to looking ahead (again) to fall planning and programming. There begins an all-consuming countdown to some kind of “kick-off” Sunday when we resume a “normal,” regular, familiar rhythm.
Last week, Mark Ramsey encouraged us to, “look around and pay attention,” as we discern the ministry and mission of our churches. He urged us to resist the temptation to, “reuse, recycle … [or] simply re-purpose conventional ministry programs” and instead reminded us to be aware of what is going on “out there” so that we can be relevant, effective, and faithful in our call to be the church and present the Gospel. In the coming weeks, The Ministry Collaborative team will explore more about what that can look like, and I am eager to learn and consider new ways and perspectives of ministry with my colleagues.
However, as we think about what does and doesn’t deserve our attention in this season, it seems to me that we must include an honest look at our own faith, and call, and gifts. Even the best plans and strategies won’t help – or at least won’t be joyful – if we are ignoring ourselves as we dare to lead. Whether our churches are thriving or struggling, whether we are energized or exhausted, whether the way is sure or unsure – it is important to ask questions of ourselves and remember that we are neither called nor able to do/fix/be/lead/know everything. To believe otherwise will lead to burn-out, or to self-righteous pride.
So, in the midst of the churchwide discerning and deciding, and plotting and planning, take time to reflect on your faith, your call, and your unique God-given gifts. Don’t rush past the simple questions but engage and explore them and remember and (re)discover the What and Why of your vocation.
- What do I believe?
- Why do I feel called to ministry?
- What are my unique gifts?
- What are my passions?
- How will I lean into my faith, call, and gifts this year – and beyond?
Of course, not all ministry work feels easy or good or fun. Some days or seasons are just hard. Even awful. But if we ignore an ongoing misalignment of faith, call, and gifts, we risk too much for ourselves and for the people we seek to serve.
At a recent meeting, Sue, a leader and pastor I know and greatly respect, was talking about a national gathering she had attended. Sue explained that she had a vision for a particular ministry decades ago, but she knew she did not have the executive and administrative skills to scale it well. The gathering showed her how God had called many people to the same ministry but had equipped them in different ways so that the vision could come to life – she met those who had been given the skills she lacked. But I also know that there were many painful and challenging years before Sue learned and accepted what her unique call and gifts are – and what they are not. Now both she and the ministry are flourishing.
Or take John. A youth minister with a thriving youth program who thinks it could be even better with some tweaks. His committee is not short on suggestions, and John is a team player, so he tries to include all of them. He has also consulted with other churches and worked to incorporate their approach to “success.” What he presents is a new plan, but he is clearly not certain of it, nor excited about it. Why? Because John loves teaching Scripture, he has a passion for relationships, he loves hanging out with the youth group (and they love hanging out with him), he wants to share his faith with others, he has built community through playing Wednesday night basketball… and the plan ignored all of that! From the outside, it was so obvious that this would have been a disaster. But we can all get so caught up in others’ ideas, or another church’s model, or pressure to make changes and do more, that we lose sight of what we believe, what is our call, and what are our gifts.
Taking some time to explore, examine, and evaluate where we are in life and faith and ministry is an important discipline. Asking ourselves simple reflection questions is actually anything but simple. If we consider them honestly, our answers may lead to changes in vocation, location, area of ministry, and/or approach.
What deserves our attention in this season, when the tyranny of the urgent threatens faithful reflection and discernment? A reminder of who and whose we are. The only unique thing the Church has to offer is Jesus Christ, Him crucified, who is the Resurrection and the Life. As for us, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, known down to the hairs on our heads, and we trust that the triune God has called us by name. We are members of the same body and know that not all members have the same function. Rather, we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. And it is God who is at work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.
Let’s start there.