Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:3 WEB)
I know I’m not young so when I think to myself, “I miss the way things were,” I feel even older. But I must admit I do miss some things from the past. I miss some of my old music, my hair, and other things I don’t want to talk about. I do want to talk about the old approach churches took when considering new missionaries for support.
I remember going from church to church presenting the work of the ministry, presenting how we were called to the ministry and presenting our desire to bring God’s love and grace to a world in need of salvation. We were looking for opportunities to share the work of the ministry with the people of the church to encourage their prayer for the impact of the ministry. Yes, we were also hoping God would lead the church or people in the church to support our financial needs in the ministry.
God touched their hearts and they did partner with us. In those days you shared your calling with the body of Christ and received prayer, encouragement, financial support whatever was needed for the ministry. Of course, folks had to be convinced that you were sincere about your calling and they received assurance when they prayed on your behalf for clarity and confirmation. If your life reflected the calling and commitment and the body was convinced through God’s reassurance, then you were sent off.
Folks expected to hear now and again about how God was working in your life and the lives of those where you ministered. Just sharing a story or two of how things were pressing forward and how God was helping your spiritual growth in the process was enough to encourage the church and continue to affirm your ministry and calling. It didn’t take an analytical demonstration of the efficaciousness of your particular style or methodology weighed against the numeric counting of those claiming conversion to understand God was working in and through your life and ministry. People wanted to simply know that God was working and you were still committed to obedience to God’s call to ministry.
The definition of a call to ministry has changed. It isn’t that I’m called by God to server where He leads. It’s that I’m called and here are the spectacular, awe inspiring, facts, figures and examples of how you’ll be impressed with my calling. Support (financial, prayer or spiritual) has changed from trust in God’s calling someone to ministry to become man’s statistical analysis of a person’s potential. Just ask any missionary trying to raise support in the accountant guided world of church administration. Numbers and spectacular new methods are the guiding indicators of whether someone should be supported or their support should be continued. Like venture capitalists trying to convince potential investors (aka supporters), those in ministry must come up with a new and spectacular methodology for presenting an ancient simple message to a complex and technologically advanced world. If my story isn’t better than your story then I lose. It has become a competition for those called by God in the human arena of predictive bang for the buck. They must convince the body of Christ by presenting a new flashy ministry, complete with astounding numbers, that they are called. If we can’t quantize it, then it isn’t sustainable and thus unworthy of the church’s backing.
Why should someone feel guilty and need to apologize for not having large numbers, personal encounters and spectacular stories of salvation? People usually come to the Lord in the simple, everyday ways of life. Even with the increasing number of avenues for proclaiming the simple Gospel message people still respond in simple humility, not spectacular world shattering declarations. But that’s what we came to hear about. That’s what the church and the mission committee wants to hear, the spectacular.
But God, spectacular as he is, isn’t looking for spectacular people but humble people who recognize their need and turn to him. He’s not looking at the bottom line of a ledger but the end of a pathway that leads to salvation. God’s not calling workers into special ministry based on their high tech approach or their book sales or their ability to captivate an audience with spiritual literary quotations. God is calling humble servants willing to follow him wherever, whenever, and however he needs them.