Thursday, May 26, 2005

Whom does God call to speak for Him?

What kind of person does God call to be a preacher?

It’s a question I’ve mulled over in my mind since I had a spiritual transformation at 23 years of age that ... how do I describe this? ... clocked my heart and knocked me onto an entirely different path. At once I transformed from a casual Christian to serious-minded one. I began to hunger for a better understanding of the Bible and I began to display certain giftings, particularly in one-on-one ministry with my peers. All of a sudden – literally overnight - I could break things down for my friends and explain them in a way that added some illumination and depth. Teaching gift? That’s what I was told. Church leadership told me I also showed giftings in exhortation, discernment, and wisdom (which was not to imply that I am wise, but that God sometimes worked the miraculous and gave me some wisdom for a fleeting moment).

My former pastor encouraged me in ministry and suggested the life of a preacher may be my calling. Nothing has scared me more since that day.

Truthfully, I have never actually wanted to be a preacher. My father was a preacher, all his friends were preachers, my very best friend is a preacher, and my experience is the job presents far more headaches than it’s worth. A preacher spends very little time doing the things that were on his heart that led him into the ministry to begin with.

A preacher’s life is not spent in the pulpit. A preacher’s life is spent in the pit, getting dirty helping others climb out. Their job is mostly a thankless one. Carrying the burden of God’s work is a joy, it’s all that other stuff – gossip, insurrection, personal attacks – that turns idealists into burned-out husks of men.

Wordly opinion? Of course, but if the young could see the messiness of ministry, seminaries would have no students. I have a much more realistic understanding of the life of a preacher, which might have led to an overly cynical view.

Combine that with a very humbling early experience in leadership, and you have the makings of someone who wants no part of the cloth. For a short stretch of my life I embraced my pastor's encouragement and began preparing an academic pursuit to match, but that zeal passed on as I bombed as a teacher and leader for two separate college and career groups. I had no clue how to prepare a lesson and deliver it in a systematic way. The group seemed to falter from the start. My vision for the group suffered through my fumblings as a teacher. To me, my failure was confirmation that calling was nothing more than the passing hope of a pastor with a young, God-hungry friend.

It has been made clear I do not have the gift of administration, and my management of money is a source of embarrassment. While I tend to end up in vocal leadership roles, I shy away from seeking a top position because I don’t want the responsibilities. I don’t trust myself because of my previous experiences.

Still, there’s a piece of my heart that continually burns to help people, to encourage them, to exhort them, to build them up. I still find myself explaining Scripture in a practical way to Christians and non-Christians alike. It just comes out sometimes before I even realize what I’m doing. I enjoy this kind of ministry and have never felt the need to practice it from the pulpit. I'm very content.

At least I was content. Lately my heart has ached for something more. I see needs that aren't being met by churches in my area. I see needs that could be met with the kind of church and the kind of ministries God used to mature me.

Recently, I informed my wife I might be called to plant a church. I did so as a warning because she is also a preacher’s kid who has stated in no uncertain terms she does not want to be a preacher’s wife. Strangely, she was comfortable with the idea, she could see that kind of gifting in me, and agreed to seek God in prayer for confirmation.

What I didn’t explain to her is I’m still not convinced I’m called to be a preacher. I would feel much more comfortable helping someone else plant the church and supporting that ministry behind the scenes. It’s not clear to me what God is putting on my heart. I do not believe being led to plant a church necessarily means taking a visible leadership role. Sometimes God calls people like me to state the need to church leadership and they take up the vision while I follow them.

This brings me back to my original question: What kind of people does God call to be His preachers? I see a lot of my own weaknesses in the people in leadership who have fallen – too much pride, too much worldliness, too little discipline. I see nothing of myself in the people I admire, the great teachers and thinkers. They are the kind of God-lovers I want to be. But that is my hope, not a present reality by my perception.

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