“WiiChurch – Your Ministry”
[WHAT FOLLOWS IS THE FULL PRINTED TEXT OF TODAY’S SERMON. TO LISTEN TO AN AUDIO RECORDING, CLICK THE LITTLE BLACK ARROW ABOVE THE WORD “WHAT.”]
Once, long ago, back in the 1960s, God called me “into the ministry.”
You remember the 1960s – or at least you’ve heard of it: the Beatles, gas-guzzling cars, the first colour TVs, LSD, the flower people. And Bob Dylan.
And in the early 1960s, God called me “into the ministry.”
How did I know it was God, you ask? And – what does it mean to be “called into the ministry?”
We’ll begin with the first question. I knew it was God because he had previously called me once already. He had called me, that time, to be a follower of Jesus. It happened on a Sunday afternoon, the summer I turned 14. Totally unexpected, it was: I was reading some old Sunday School papers I’d happened upon. Suddenly, I knew I was in the presence of God. Over the next few minutes, I recognized my life was not at all what God wanted it to be. And then – right then, at that moment – God was inviting me to turn my life over to him. That was about it...except for my answer.
My answer, my response, to that question, was... “Yes.” I told God, “Yes, you can have my life.” I was not sure why I told him that, and I had no idea where it would lead me. But I do remember the “yes.” That answer made me, for the first time, a real follower of Jesus. It also changed my life forever.
The adventure had begun.
So what happens next, when you become a follower of Jesus? My discovery-time was just beginning. I started reading Jesus’ story in the Bible. For the first time, I began to listen to the sermon in church, instead of daydreaming and planning my Sunday afternoon. I gave up doing some things I should not have been doing. I began instead to do other, better, things that I should have been doing all along.
But one part of my life did not change: from about age ten or eleven, I had been passionate about electronics. I had been taking an adult-level electronics course, by correspondence, since age 12. My life’s career was already carved in stone.
But then... But then, about two years after first becoming a real follower of Jesus, I sensed God speaking to me again. This time it seemed he wanted me to become a minister.
And I must tell you: The thought of becoming a minister had never once crossed my mind. In fact, if I had listed all the possible vocations that I might have chosen, electronics would have been at the top of the list, and “the ministry” would have been at the very bottom. But I realized at the outset that it must be God speaking to me: because I never could have thought up that foolish idea on my own. Consider: if only God had thought to first ask my opinion, instead of just calling me, I could have told him – I would have told him – that I would never make a good minister. And, of course, God notwithstanding, my career path had already been decided: case closed. And, no – I would not change my mind.
Never would I become a minister.
But there came a night when I was about 16 and couldn’t sleep, when I did change my mind. After arguing for half the night, I finally said “yes” to God for a second time.
I chose a different path. And from that day to this, I never once regretted my decision.
That leads to the second question: what is all this “called-into-the-ministry” stuff anyway? That question took much longer to figure out. And the things I eventually discovered may surprise you.
Here’s my first discovery: in the Bible, “the ministry” is not a vocation. It’s not a title for church leaders. There are no “ministers” in the early church. Isn’t that interesting?
In the beginning-years of the early church, a church leader was never called “a minister.” But over my lifetime, I was of course referred to as “the minister” many times. Possibly the first time it happened was when my wife and I arrived at the manse of my first church in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. A welcoming committee had gathered there to greet us, and I overheard a member of the committee phone his wife and say, “The minister just arrived. Come over and bring a sharp knife.”
(That sounds a bit alarming, but it wasn’t, really – the welcoming committee had prepared a meal for us, but found they had nothing to cut a loaf of bread.)
However: in the New Testament, “minister” is never used to describe a church leader. Leaders are “apostles,” “prophets,” “elders,” “pastors,” lots of things – but never “ministers.”
And when the word appears in the New Testament – and the word does appear sometimes – usually it is an “action word,” a verb: so “to minister” is to do something. And what do you think it is that “minister-people” are supposed to do?
The root meaning of “to minister” is “to serve.” So “ministers,” if we go by the New Testament meaning, are not necessarily leaders. “Ministers” are servants. And that must mean: everyone who belongs to Jesus is a minister, because every one of us is called to serve others, in different ways. Jesus took on the role of a servant the day he washed his disciples’ feet.
People have been using the word “minister” in the wrong way for a very long time now.
So let’s begin using the word properly – beginning right now. So... maybe you never realized that you and I are both ministers? Congratulations. Jesus has a job for you.
Which leads to the next question: what is your ministry? What is your ministry? Is it perhaps linked to your gifts that you have been given by God?
It could be. There can be a connection, sometimes – but not necessarily. Let me tell you a story.
When I was in my second church, in Quebec, I led a Cornerstone children’s group, and I would invite people to help me with it from time to time. One day I asked one of the mothers who was very talented in making crafts if she could do a craft with the children, and she agreed. We ended up doing something called “decoupage,” where you cut patterns out of paper and glue them on wood using glue that dries clear, like varnish. The children ended up with a beautiful craft, and I was totally impressed. I was so impressed, in fact, that I decided I should maybe ask this mother if she would do such crafts regularly. I began by asking how she liked doing crafts with the children.
That question was a mistake. Her reaction was unforgettable. Normally quiet, polite, and reserved, both with me and with the children, she turned to me and almost shouted, “THE CHILDREN ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY.”
It was a memorable moment. Instantly I recognized that I should not invite her again. She did have a gift for crafts. Apparently she did not have a gift for working with children.
I must tell you that people have often said to me that I have a gift for “working with children.” I’m actually not sure that is true. Here’s why: some things we can do because we have received a gift for it; other things we can do just because we put our mind to it and learn what we need to learn. I do enjoy children – but I think with children the only gift you really need is patience. In my case, I realized a long time ago that children’s ministry is important: so I decided to try to learn how to do it. As far as I can tell, whatever resulted from that was not a gift – it was just something I learned to do.
Which must mean: there are different ways of ministering – different ways of serving Jesus. Some of them connect with particular gifts God has given us; but other ways do not – they are just things that all of us are just called – or commanded – to go out and learn how to do.
But not everything can be learned. For example: I have a friend – a retired Baptist pastor – who does not have the particular gift of music. He told me once that he appreciates the words of hymns, but he really can’t tell the music of one hymn from another: they all sound pretty much the same to him. Now, I don’t claim to be musical – no one has ever asked me to sing, for example – but I can tell one hymn from another. My friend therefore has an excuse if someone doesn’t like his choice of hymns: that’s not his gift.
But if my friend were ever to be unkind to others – and he’s not, but if he were – he would have no excuse for his unkindness. Kindness is not a particular gift: kindness is a gift of God’s Spirit that is available to all of us. And it is something we are all commanded to do. So we can all ask for and receive God’s gift of kindness, to be shared with others. And God will help us learn to express it.
Let’s just see what we’ve learned so far.  Ministry is not just done by “ministers.” It’s not supposed to just be done by “ministers.”  Every Christian has a ministry. I have one, and you have one.  “Ministry” just means “serving others.” And there are countless different ways to do that.
We haven’t yet looked at our Scripture lesson for this morning, so let’s do that now – because everything we’ve talked about so far comes right out of this passage. Listen to some parts of it again:
[4-5] We have many parts in the one body [the church], and all these parts have different functions... We are all joined to each other as different parts of one body.
So: we are all different. We all have different jobs to do. But no one is left without a job. No one is left without a job. We all have a ministry.
 So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us.
In other words: God’s grace allows each of us to use our different gifts to do different things – but all things we do are important. They are all important.
Then, we come to a list of some of the gifts God gives us to share: the gift of speaking God’s message; the gift of serving; the gift of teaching; the gift of “encouraging others.”
The passage continues: some people’s gift is “sharing with others” (do it generously, it says). And some people’s gift is “being in authority” (people in authority should work hard, it goes on to say). And some people’s gift is “showing kindness to others” (if that is your gift, it says, do it cheerfully).
So that’s quite a list. Do I hear anyone saying, “There’s nothing on that list that I can do?” I’m listening... Going once.... Going twice.... Gone.
There is actually something there for everyone in the church. There is something there that you can do. There is something there that God is calling you to do.
And that’s exactly as it should be.
Perhaps you are still wondering what your own particular ministry might be. I have a suggestion for you to consider. Maybe – if God is speaking to you – maybe you could be one of a small group of people – six or eight – who would commit themselves to a “ministry of welcoming” within this congregation. The object would be to warmly welcome, and care for, every single person who wanders in here as a visitor, or as a guest. Ever thought of something like that?
To truly welcome strangers is hugely important. In fact, it could be one of the most important ministries of this congregation. And doing it well can be costly.
It doesn’t happen just by putting up “welcome” signs outside. (All churches do that.) It doesn’t happen by smiling from across the room, or even from shaking hands.
It happens when you are able to move out of your comfort zone to increase someone else’s comfort zone. It happens when you are able to meet someone else with no expectations whatever except the intention to love them as Jesus does. Doing this is not easy. But maybe – just maybe – God is calling a few of you this morning to a ministry of welcoming.
If God is doing that, I expect he might call some people who are lifelong members of this congregation – but also some recently-arrived people. I expect he would call both older people and younger people; people who have come in from other churches, and people with little or no previous church experience. All those people are needed in a ministry of welcoming, because, collectively, they will have the variety of backgrounds to relate to the variety of people God may choose to bring here.
And for one or two or a half-dozen of you, this could be your particular ministry. God may be calling you to this ministry. If you believe that to be true, I have a suggestion: mention it to Pastor Mike next Sunday; or to me today, and I will pass your interest along to him. Then see what he says! I expect he will ask you to take that on as your ministry. I expect he will be pleased.
Last Sunday he spoke about being a congregation that “rolls out the red carpet” to welcome people. He used that illustration at least three times. I’m thinking this may be the sort of thing he had in mind.