Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blessing God's Call - and Being Blessed by It

On Sunday afternoon, I attended the ordination of a young woman to the Gospel ministry.

For 2 years, I have watched as she has ministered to the people of our church and they have ministered to her. I have heard her preach . . . teach Sunday School . . . present the Lord's Supper . . . speak homilies at special services. I have heard stories of other ministries she has carried out as a pastor-in-training caring for the needs of the sick . . . the grief-stricken . . . the searching. In occasional personal encounters, I have found her to be full of Christ's grace . . . wise beyond her years . . . inquisitive . . . humble . . . confident . . . and always listening carefully to hear and understand the other person's concerns and perspective.

None of us who attended her ordination were spectators . . . we were participants in blessing her ministry and expressing the blessing we have received from her.

I couldn't help but ponder the contrast with the church my wife and I left 7 years ago. Shortly before we left, the pastor announced that God had spoken to him and changed his mind about the issue of women teaching men. He issued an edict that women would no longer be allowed to teach men in Sunday School in that church, and he "fired" three women . . . long-time faithful servants . . . who had taught "co-ed" Sunday School classes for years. If any member dared to disagree with the pastor's new position well, God would "prune" you from the church; yes, he actually said that from the pulpit.

This same pastor treated the Children's Minister a woman as if she were inferior to the men on the ministerial staff. Her opinions were somehow of lesser value, her calling obviously suspect because she was a woman. Ordaining a woman in that church was, of course, not even an issue it was unthinkable!

Which brings me to my point. Texas Baptists Committed values historic Baptist principles. One of those is local church autonomy. I would never want to restrict a church's right to decide where it stands on the issue of women in ministry, whether teaching men, being ordained . . . all of the ramifications of that issue. By the same token, I don't want a pastor co-opting the church's right by issuing "edicts," either.

While I would never presume to dictate a church's position on this issue, I will always reserve my right as a Baptist Christian to emphatically defend and advance what I firmly believe to be the biblical position  that we should never tell God whom He can and cannot call to ministry, whether it be as pastors, deacons, missionaries, Sunday School teachers . . .

This isn't a "feminist" stance, though some would like to label it as such. It involves freedom in Christ for which TBC will always take a strong stand  but it's not even a "freedom" stance. In essence, it is a "knowing our place" stance and it is not our place as God's servants to tell God whom He can and cannot call to ministry.

Our church has an interesting way of modeling this truth. At every service, all worship leaders preacher (usually the pastor but not always), music leader, prayer leaders, Scripture leaders, and so forth are seated on the chancel for the entire service. One intention of this practice, as I understand it, is to demonstrate that all of us are ministers and are all equal before God.

Unfortunately, some Christians tend to interpret Scripture in a way that elevates them to prominence (remember James and John?), whereas we should be letting the Holy Spirit interpret Scripture for us in a way that keeps us low before God.

Dictating whom God can and cannot call to ministry is a way of placing some of us above the others. But we don't belong there. Only God does. Take a close look at Christ's life and the people He called Christ's call was expansive, not exclusive. He wasn't interested in your station in life . . . your gender . . . your ethnicity . . . or even your past. All He cared about was your heart.

The high point of Sunday's service was the laying on of hands. As is typical of our church, this wasn't limited to deacons or members of the ministerial staff. All of us were invited to participate. I didn't time it, but I'd estimate that it took anywhere from a half-hour to 45 minutes because of the waves of people who wanted to express their personal blessing on God's call to this young woman who has already ministered to all of us in such a special way.

The ordaining council had determined that God's call to the Gospel ministry in this young woman's life is unmistakable, and every one of us was just as convinced that God's call to her is real. So we simply recognized and blessed the call that she heard from God years ago.

I've said all of this to say that, when we limit and deny God's call, it is we who miss the blessing. 

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