"When There's No Burning Bush: Following Your Passions to Discover God's Call (pt.1)"
May 20, 2007 1Peter 2:4-12
(Acknowledgment: portions from book of same title by Gary Morsch and Eddy Hall; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004)
No Saint's Job 'Secular'
Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, wrote: "The works of monks and priests, however holy or arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic labourer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but...all works are measured before God by faith alone." That really levels the playing field - er, working field, doesn't it? Can such a radical statement be true? Today we begin a 2-week look at how regular church-goers are involved in ministry every bit as much as are clergy. Our scripture lesson from Peter suggests that if we are God's people through faith in Christ, we will view how we work and live differently - with a purpose of showing God's goodness to those we serve. Much of the content here comes from the book by Gary Morsch and Eddy Hall (who was a co-author of When Not to Build and has been a consultant for our Property Task Group). They challenge half a dozen commonly-held 'myths' that hold saints in the pew back from realizing how they can be actively ministering WITHOUT going to seminary. The bottom line? "We need to release our members into the community to serve God in the area of their deepest passion in a way that uses the gifts God has given them."
Priests Prompting Praise
At the beginning of April last year, we had a guest speaker from ArkAid Mission in London, Mr Jim Fraser. He seemed surprised at the familiarity with which I was referred to, and you seemed to take it to heart as he urged you to call me "Pastor" rather than just "Ernest". I agree it's good to show respect to leaders, and appreciate his intent - perhaps especially in more formal settings such as congregational meetings or out on the street. But there is a danger in elevating preachers "6 feet above contradiction", or speaking about "ministers" as some special class. There's a risk of distancing, creating a false distinction that's not Biblical. Jesus taught that our relationships and structure within the church should be relatively "flat" rather than "hierarchical": he criticized the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes who did everything to be noticed by others; they loved the best seats and to be greeted with titles in the marketplace. But Jesus said, "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers....Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.[then He added]The greatest among you will be your servant [diakonos]." (Mt 23:8-11)
The apostles in their New Testament writings emphasized that Jesus was our great High Priest who made a unique sacrifice for sins "once for all" by offering Himself on the cross (Heb 7:27, 10:10,12). He has become our sole mediator or Advocate through whom we can approach God (1Tim 2:5; 1Jn 2:2). Consequently, believers in Jesus are allowed to do what only the High Priest was allowed to do in the Old Testament - boldly approach the throne of God with confidence, to find help (Heb 4:16).
The New Testament teaches that every believer is a 'priest': as we read in Rev 1(6) last week, Jesus "loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father." Twice here in 1Peter 2(5,9) we see the 'lead apostle' telling believers they are "a holy priesthood...a royal priesthood."
What exactly IS a priest, anyway? Under the old covenant, they were the ones that took the offerings from the worshipper and presented it on the altar. They were members of the tribe of Levi, and the family of Aaron. They represented the people before God in the holy rituals; and they also represented God to the people, in terms of accepting the offering, pronouncing cleansing and forgiveness, etc. Besides dealing with offerings, other specific priestly roles included teaching, keeping the lamp burning before the Lord, and blowing the trumpet - for faith-gatherings, or going into battle (Ex 27:21, 29:38; Lev 10:11; Num 10:8).
How does that translate under the New Covenant, where we already have a High Priest in Jesus? The People's New Testament comments that the sacrifices of the Christian priest "are prayer, praise, good deeds, the consecration of our bodies and substance to God's service." V5 in our text says this holy priesthood offers "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ"; v9 talks about declaring the praises of God who called us "out of darkness into His wonderful light". Heb 13(15f) exhorts us to "continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess His name"; while not forgetting "to do good and to share with others, for with such SACRIFICES God is pleased." No more bulls, sheep, or wave offerings of wheat: Paul urges the Romans (12:1) to offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God. Not animals, but actions; believer-priests exist to be an interface, to represent the Lord and point other people to Him in all we do. Read 1Peter 2:12 and see how this new 'priesthood' points others to God: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us" - the Day He comes for inspection. Strong echoes here of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:16), "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Whatever their slander or false accusations, our lives are to be of such goodness that the unchurched will have to admit God's qualities were reflected through us.
Priests don't exist to serve themselves. Jesus was the man 'for' others; "Christ died FOR sins once FOR all, the righteous FOR the unrighteous, to bring you to God." (1Pet 3:18) We live "for" God (loving Him totally) and "for" others (loving our neighbour as ourself).
Some questions to be reflecting on here: What difference does being a priest make in my job, my daily activities? Who is it FOR? It ought to involve serving others, however remotely, rather than just being about 'me'. How and why do I serve others? What opportunities do I have to reflect God's glory and goodness to those I serve?
Myth 1: "Ministry is Just for Ministers"
This fundamental concept of the priesthood of all believers has massive implications for how the church goes about its operations. First, Morsch and Hall attack the myth that "Ministry is just for ministers". They remind us that the clergy/lay distinction is not scriptural; all are gifted through Christ - for this, you might want to review the 'spiritual gift' passages - 1Cor 12, Rom 12, Eph 4. The latter (Eph 4.7,11ff) states, "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it...It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers [that's me - listen carefully now where 'ministry' comes in], to prepare God's people for works of service[diakonia], so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature [not just the pastors!], attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
The author's friend Mark "knew that all Christians could minister, but he bought into the version of the myth that says, 'God can best use those who are in the professional ministry.' Wanting to invest his whole life in ministry so he could be as effective as possible for the kingdom of God, he quit his job, invested three years in a seminary education, and joined a church staff.
In his new position, Mark's responsibility was equipping people for ministry and providing administrative support for the ministry of others. While he enjoyed much of the work, he quickly discovered that his gift wasn't administration. 'I'm most effective in one-on-one ministry. And rather than coordinating existing ministries, I'd much rather bring new people in. I'd thought joining a church staff would give me more time for such things, but, in fact, it limited the time I could spend doing what I did best.'
Mark resigned his church staff job even though he knew some would misunderstand. [He comments:] 'A lot of people might think that having served on a church staff and now being in the insurance business, I've settled for "God's second best." But I now have far more opportunity for the ministry to which God has called me as an insurance agent than I ever had as a member of a church staff.
'The passion of my life is to offer God's hope to broken people. Though I didn't realize it when I went into insurance, it is a perfect job for someone who wants to work with hurting people. Whenever an elderly client loses a spouse, I get a phone call. When any of my clients divorce, they come to me to change their insurance papers. And, of course whenever one of them has a car accident, a fire, or a serious illness covered by a policy I carry, the client comes to see me. My work gives me lots of opportunities to sit down and talk with people in crisis. Most of them don't know Christ, and I often have the chance to share with them the source of my hope.'"
Mark found he could minister more freely outside of the 'professional ministry.'
Myth 2: "Most Real Ministry Happens at Church"
The apostle Peter in chapter 4(10f) writes, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering - [there's that diakonia 'ministry' word again] - faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that [attention! purpose statement here] in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ."
Another myth the authors tackle is that "Most real ministry happens at church." As Peter implies, every believer using their give to serve others becomes 'ministry'. James Garlow is pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego; he says, "The church is most the church when the sanctuary is empty." He adds, "Perhaps the greatest threat [to] the Christian Church today is the threat of 'ingrownness', so focusing on itself and its own needs that it fails to remember the purpose for which it was called into existence." Remember, the shape of a 'priestly' life is not proud or self-centred, but finding fulfilment in service. Something's amiss if church staff encourage members to spend all their energies on church activities.
While doing plumbing work for a long-term care centre for seriously handicapped children, Roy Eagan noticed some maintenance needs going unmet. When he sold his plumbing business and retired, he went to the administrator and volunteered his services. Over time Roy became much more than a maintenance person. Working day after day among handicapped children separated from their families, Roy became the resident "Papa" for many of the children. On Roy's 75th birthday, the children at the centre threw him a party. One four-year-old girl, on behalf of all the children, gave Roy a shirt. On the front it said, Super Papa" And on the back: 'He works for hugs." Roy had discovered the blessing of minstering within the community.
Morsch & Hall note, "Some Christians minister by serving on school boards or in local government. Others participate in civic organizations and professional societies...Sometimes, because such involvements are not church related, we may be tempted to view them as taking time away from ministry. But often these can be some of the most strategic opportunities for connecting with and ministering to people in our communities."
Myth 3: "An Ordinary Job Gets in the Way of Ministry"
The third and last myth we'll explode for today is that "An Ordinary Job Gets in the Way of Ministry". Martin Luther wrote, "When a father goes ahead and washes diapers, God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling - not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith." How much more 'ordinary' a job IS there than washing diapers? Yet, when it's done in faith, it is somehow sanctified - made acceptable and pleasing service to God.
Avoid compartmentalizing your life into 'sacred' and 'secular': if Jesus isn't Lord of all, He's not 'Lord' at all! Paul told the Corinthians (1Cor 10:31), "whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."
The authors comment, "God calls us to do everything we do - from eating breakfast in the morning to working during the day to playing with our kids in the evening - with the purpose of bringing glory to God, causing others to think more highly of Him. For the Christian, every aspect of life, every moment of every day, is to be holy...God doesn't call anyone to do secular work. Rather, God calls everyone to do work that glorifies God and meets people's needs, motivated by God's love. Any work that brings glory to God and serves others in love is, by definition, ministry."
Morsch & Hall offer 3 catalysts to help transform a secular job into a ministry. First, Focus on Needs: "when you work - whether at home, in an office, or in the cab of an 18-wheeler - whom do you serve? Whose needs do you meet by the product or service you help to provide? A builder prays for the family that will live in the home he is building; a quilter prays for the family that will spend cold nights snuggled under her quilt."
Second, be Motivated by Love: Gary Morsch was part of a team delivering medical supplies to Calcutta. As a medical doctor, when he arrived at Mother Teresa's, he assumed he'd be put to work in a ward with the dying. Instead he was told to carry garbage to the dump, bucket by bucket. He was upset until he saw a small sign on which a few of Mother Teresa's words were crudely painted: "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."
Third, a secular job can be transformed into a ministry by A Commitment to Excellence. Christian workers should give the best customer service, be the most eager to correct mistakes, and be known for the quality of what we produce. Paul urged the slaves at Ephesus (6:7f), "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does..." He's watching: serve Him well! Martin Luther King Jr said, "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."
Fixing More than Cars
One ministry you won't find listed under "Ministry Organizations" is Ratzlaff Automotive Repair. Lee Ratzlaff, the owner, is well past retirement age, but he never thinks about slowing down.
Simply being an honest auto mechanic is a ministry in itself. Finding an auto mechanic who is both honest and inexpensive is little short of a miracle. And Lee is glad to leave home at night to tow in a stranded motorist, not because he needs the money from the business but because that's who he is. He'll often diagnose a problem and then refer the customer to another mechanic to fix it, without charging for the diagnosis. But perhaps the most amazing ministry going on in Lee's shop has little to do with cars.
Just about any day, if you wander into Lee's shop, you will find one or more men sitting there talking with him -- widowed men who live alone and rarely have visitors. They know that at Lee's they can always pull up a chair next to the hydraulic lift and Lee will remember the good old days with them, or threaten to fix them up with a girlfriend.
Or you might run into Joe. When Joe came to town, he was in trouble with the law, he couldn't read, and he had a hard time keeping a job. Now Joe does detail work for some of Lee's customers, mows the lawn, and runs for parts. But mostly Joe hangs around because Lee is his best friend. "Joe was a rough character when he first came to town," Lee says. "If you could have seen him then, you'd have trouble believing he is the same guy today." [There's gospel grace at work right there!]
Cars come into Lee's shop broken and leave in good working order, but more impressive is that the same thing happens to many of the people who come through those doors. Does Lee's job interfere with his ministry? Hardly. Because of the way Lee does his work and relates to the people he encounters every day, Ratzlaff Automotive Repair is a thriving centre of ministry. Let's pray.