“You should really consider moving into a full pastoral role. I have seen many seminary students come here over the years and I do not say this to all of them. You speak and lead so well.”
I remember hearing those words as I was preparing to move on from the pastoral position I served in while I was going through seminary. I knew the woman speaking them was communicating a recognition of ministry gift and calling and meant well, but I could not help but feel like it was a punch to the gut. First, while I understood my calling into pastoral ministry was one in which I was called to serve God wherever He placed me, I believe ministry with children is a ‘full pastoral role’. Second, I recognized that what was behind this church leader’s words was an urging not to feel like I had to be in children’s ministry because I am a woman.
Over the last 20 years of living my calling within the local church, I have realized it seems that sometimes we confuse an organizational sense of ministry with the vocational call of ministry in the professionalization of ministry. Certainly there is nothing wrong in organizing ministry roles and clearly there are specific gifts and calls into various types of ministry. Yet, when a person responds to a sense of calling to vocational ministry that calling is to minister in the name of Jesus as a disciple of Jesus, inviting others into a life a discipleship, regardless of where that role falls in an organizational chart.
We read in the gospels an account where the disciples ask Jesus the question, “Who then is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven”? (Matthew 18:1) Just as we know the disciples have not yet completely understood what Jesus is teaching about His kingdom when they ask that question, I wonder if we do not completely understand what we communicate when we rank the importance of one ministry over another, or certain ministries ‘appropriate’ for certain people.
God calls us all as his disciples to be ministers of the gospel. God calls us all to vocational ministry. Pastors, do not be mistaken. You are not the only ones called to vocational ministry. The belief that only pastors—or certain pastoral titles—are called, or are greatest is a definition of clericism. It diminishes the significance and beauty of the call of God. And it diminishes the dignity of those to whom we are called to minister. The call of God, as we know, is to all who profess belief. That is the Baptist belief in the priesthood of all believers.
Pastors—lead pastors, children’s pastors, youth pastors, chaplains—and deacons, board members, volunteers, let us all, women and men live into the greatest calling we have been invited to respond to in ministry in the way of Jesus. Let us remember the incredible value of our calling and the grace by which we are enabled to respond as we serve in ministry.
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me…” My fellow child of God, how do you respond?