Heresy of the Definite Article

Many years ago–38 to be exact– I made a commitment to God and myself with mostly good intentions (I’m unwilling to claim that I’m immune from a selfish motivation here and there). I called that decisive moment “surrendering to God’s call to the ministry” and received profuse affirmation from my faith community and family. Again I’ll say that my motives were mostly pure and that I was using vocabulary that was common to the teaching of my church. All these years later I understand the fallacy of much of what I expressed that day and believed in the years that followed.

First, the idea of “surrendering” carries with it the twin acts of forsaking and relinquishing. In my 16 year-old mind, I was turning my back on everything I enjoyed and was good at in order to drag through life the horrible burden of serving Christ. Somehow my ministerial penance would merit God’s favor. Tragically, no one corrected my thinking and helped me understand that God created each of us for a high purpose and that our living out that purpose includes using every God-granted gift and ability for his glory and kingdom advance, while enjoying the adventure of doing so. Instead of surrender, it was more akin to a grand blip on the EKG of discipleship. The Creator intends fulfillment, not rejection.

Second, my scope of understanding “calling” was much too sterile. Somehow I had reached that tender age believing that a divine call was hoarded by those who served visibly in churches as pastors or in foreign lands as missionaries. Certainly only church leaders of the highest profile were the ones carrying out the “high calling.” No one helped me understand the threefold aspect of call as presented clearly in Scripture: every believer is called to salvation, every believer is called to Christlikeness, and every believer is called to ministry–to live out a vocation–doing whatever they do with a strong sense of divine directive. I succumbed to what I now call the “heresy of the definite article.” I was mistaken in accepting and attempting to practice pastoral ministry as “the” ministry in the church. Such a mentality leads to anemic churches and burned out pastors. A superman complex may produce adrenaline highs, but the end result is a low ebb of ministry and even lower trough of longterm spiritual impotence. Rather than relying on what one minister can do, God intends every believer to minister according to their various spiritual gifts. Frank Tillapaugh was correct many years ago when he called this interpretation “unleashing the church.”

I am older now and, I hope, not only wiser but better understanding of what God was doing in my life 38 years ago and what he continues to do today. Yes, I was-am-and will be “called” by God to live out a divine purpose. And so are you. So is each of us that follow Christ as Lord.

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