Thursday, February 20, 2014

Minister to the Community in Which You are Called

Do you ever feel out of sync with the people you are called to lead?  Maybe like many pastor's and church leaders you grew up in another state, and now you find yourself leading a congregation far from the place you once lived.  Some people are called to mission fields far from home, where they must learn a different language and many different social norms in order to fit in.  Many of us have learned that there are social differences in the country, or even the state we find ourselves in.  However, for most of us in North America we have a lot of common ground on which to stand.

In the Ezekiel's call from God he was told to feed and be filled with God's Word.  Then he was given the challenge to go to the people.  Ezekiel 3:5 says God told Ezekiel that he was not going to "a people of obscure language, but to the house of Israel."  To those of us on the front lines of ministry in North America we may feel separate from people in the pews at times, but the reality is that God has called us to the great mission of reaching people similar to ourselves.  While there will always be slight differences in every person we are called to minister to the reality is that we all have similar needs, and in community we are often facing similar situations.

Do you ever struggle with being a part of the community you are called to lead?  There has been a push in many churches and denominations in the past twenty years to encourage pastors to stay longer in their churches.  At one time in America the average pastoral call to a church lasted less than three years.  Three years is barely enough time to really get to know the community we live in, or the real heart needs that they face.  In fact most people never really accept a minister as caring until they have went through some serious living with them.

All to often the history of small-town churches has been that pastors bale on churches before ever living and being a part of the community.   In many cases it is the churches who have pushed pastors out over situations that bring struggle, which may result in deep spiritual growth before they can really grow up.  Then the cycle starts over with a new pastor, or a new church.  It is a cycle that never allows the church to become a deeper community, living and growing through challenges.  It is a cycle for many pastors to run before growing in their weak areas, or really opening up to the community they have been called to .

The trend of being called to a community is a good trend, which I can say I am becoming better acquainted with in my current pastorate.  There was a time when I first left Bible college that I wondered how a minister could have anything new to preach after four or five years in a single place.  I will soon be starting my ninth year in my current ministry, and I told my wife a few weeks ago that I don't know if I will ever have time to teach or preach all that God has been laying on my heart for the people here.

Being called to a people, to a community is a great thing.  It means that we will come to identify with them in their celebrations and in their needs.  It means we will not preach or teach merely stale words or educated instruction, but we will connect to their hearts because they are a part of us and we are a part of them.  It means we will be willing to work through differences in love instead of running from issues or running people over because of issues that arise.  It means we are willing to stay and make the community our home, and care about the needs of those in and outside the church.

Does all of this mean that one will be there for all of their ministry career?  For some of us it may very well be that we will remain where we are for the rest of our careers where we now are.  I know some who have been at their current ministry for more than twenty or thirty years.  Whether we stay for our entire ministry in one place or move after ten or twenty years, we should serve as God calls us.  For all of us it means that we must grow beyond the temporary mindset and  the constraints of short-term living.  We must open up to the possibility of real relationships and becoming a real part of the communities which we are called to.


Anonymous said...

Daniel, this Rev. Dr. James A. Billman, a pastor you may never remember. I started in First Baptist Tustin, Mi. as my first full time pastorate. I am now fifty years in the Gospel Ministry and am 70 years of age and can still serve (for awhile). Amy, Jim and Debbie remember you all.Your words are true in your article. Satan will us of the small church harder than any others. I have written a book called A Messianic Passover Haggadah - Journey to Seder. This is a good tool for teaching and strengthening your own advancement. Colossians is extremely loaded with preaching subjects. God Bless you and your wife and family. I have been 25 years in my present small church. Your friend and colleague. Dr. B

Daniel Shipton said...

I remember you. You had a very great impact on my childhood, and my family in a great way. I will have to pick up a copy of your book it sounds like a good study. I have always been touched by the power of the Last Supper, and much of the understanding of the Seder meal. Thank you for responding to my thought. Blessings in your ministry.