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The Difference Between Following A Vocation And Volunteering (via Will Willimon)

Will Willimon’s memoir Accidental Preacher is an engaging collection of memories and observations.
He tells the story, and the art of telling the story is as enjoyable as the stories themselves.
In writing about the somewhat neglected concept of calling, he makes the observation that being a disciple of Jesus is not our idea. We didn’t volunteer, we were called. And that stops our service being about ourselves and makes it about the one who idea our service originated from.

In a rare lapse into autobiography, Isaiah dates his call, “In the year that king Uzziah died,” leaving us to speculate why the death of the king was significant in the young prophet’s vocation. Methodists adore this passage. Our Methodist national anthem is based on Isaiah 6, Dan Shutte’s “Here I Am, Lord.” Few Methodists make it through two stanzas of this hymn without volunteering to go evangelize Zulus or at least to shed a maudlin tear.
Here I am, Lord, is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. … I will go, Lord, where you send me … I …
Note the prevalence of the first—person personal pronoun as vocation degenerates into volunteering. Rather than risky encounter with a summoning God, worship morphs into sappy songs, syrupy clichés on the screen, followed by the sharing of tiring details about our personal lives at the coffee hour. Christian preaching slides into “Come right over here and sit next to me. I’m dying to tell you all about myself,” and theology becomes commentary on human experience of God rather than God. Interiority writ large.
Here I am, Lord overlooks a great gift of vocation: rescue from our overly cultivated subjectivity. Vocation’s power, said Hermann Hesse, is when “the soul is awakened…, so that instead of dreams and presentiments from within a summons comes from without,” and an external relation “presents itself and makes its claim.”
Vocation is not evoked by your bundle of need and desire. Vocation is what God wants from you whereby your life is transformed into a consequence of God’s redemption of the world.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 51-52, 54.

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Fulfilling A Calling Rather Than Advancing A Career

Joe McKeever offers what he characterises as the ten hardest lessons that pastors learn.
One picks up on a change that is not a simple adjustment of terms.
Pastors used to think in terms of calling.
Pastoring was a vocation, not a job, because it was something we were called to by God, not a role in which we were employed.
It seems that calling is giving way to the idea of a career in ministry.
McKeever offers the important distinction that needs to be kept in mind in pastoral life.

We do nothing to “enhance our career,” but do a thousand things to “fulfill our calling.”

Read his other observations here.

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The Preached Word – Where God And His People Meet (via Kanishka Raffel)

There is something that can be anticipated when God’s people hear God’s Word preached.
Gathering should be a time of expectancy that God’s Word will be explained, and part of that explanation will be how the portion of Scripture being preached upon should be applied in the lives of hearers.
This is not the work of the preacher or the hearers, as much as it is the work of God’s Holy Spirit.

From Kanishka Raffel:

The preacher and congregation must yield to the Holy Spirit in responding to Scripture. ‘For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12). As the content and purpose of the inspired text of Scripture is preached, the Spirit wields his Word in the congregation. To fail to respond would be to ‘distort the word of God’. When the Word is explained but not applied it suggests that God’s Word is merely of historical interest and makes no immediate demand upon those who hear it; or that Christian duty is fulfilled when we merely hear; or that God’s Word can be safely confined to Sunday morning sitting in church and need not trouble the hearers at other times; all of which are impossible.
It will always be right for a congregation to respond to God’s Word in repentance and faith (Acts 20:21). But the word of God’s grace that is ‘able to build you up and give you an inheritance among the sanctified’ (Acts 20:32) may call for obedience, love, effort, hope, fear and trembling, zeal, joy, praise, prayer, perseverance, contentment, endurance, patience, thanksgiving. The Spirit is the powerful presence of God in the preaching of the meaning and purpose of the words of Scripture so preachers must expect God to meet his people in the preaching, and the people must expect to make a response to God.


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Seeing Christians As Sheep To Be Fed, Not Beasts Of Burdens To Carry Your Agenda (by Peter Bogert)

Some words of reflection about a pastoral ministry philosophy that is firm, but gentle; and does not come communicate disappointment and demand.
Passion for growth of the kingdom can result as God’s people being seen as the means to implement a vision, rather than being the sphere in which the pastor serves.
From Peter Bogert:

…this all leads to a rather important question: do you see your people as sheep, or have they become something else? Let me explain.
More and more I find churches describing themselves by a desire to be influential. That particular word is not used, but it summarizes what is often found in the mission statements or purpose statements on church websites. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a light in the darkness, we are not thinking clearly if we trade our focus as shepherds for one that increasingly calls its people to more and more activity. In other words, to put it plainly, our people do not exist in order to accomplish our goals for our churches.
We exist for them, not them for us.

Plenty more good thoughts here.

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Imposed Preferences Suck The Life Out Of People (via Dan Rockwell at Leadership Freak)

Dan Rockwell extrapolates on the observation that he knows exactly the right way to make a taco to illustrate the distinction between procedures based on preference and those that need to be regulated in a particular way.
Making a leader’s preferences into rigid regulations will strangle the organic life of a group.

Read Dan Rockwell’s tips on taco construction and leadership at Leadership Freak.

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Scripture As Both The Source Of Diagnosis And Treatment (via Harold Senkbeil)

From The Care Of Souls by Harold Senkbeil:

The word of God will obviously be the source of the treatment you will provide for the distressed soul, but it’s also essential for accurate diagnosis. As you listen you filter what is said (and what you observe) through God’s word.

The Care Of Souls, Harold Senkbeil, Lexham Press, 2019, pg 71.

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Christ’s Sheepdog (via Harold Senkbeil)

In The Care Of Souls, Harold Senkbeil observes that God is the comforter of his people, and the means by which he brings that comfort are the simple and straightforward work of the pastor.
The image he uses is not one of pastor as shepherd, or under-shepherd, or stand-in shepherd, but as sheep-dog.

And you as pastor are his authorised agent to bring his presence and his healing by means of the word and sacraments you bring his sheep in every circumstance of life, not just in those moments when life itself hangs in the balance, but also in those mundane, routine, ordinary ups and downs of life. You’re not a counsellor or therapist, of course, but you are Christ’s sheepdog to do his bidding. You’re an errand boy for Jesus, sent to disseminate hope and peace in the most mundane circumstances of life. A fearful, anxious teen, a worried mother or harried father will find stability in your ministry. Not in you, but in God himself, who has chosen to do his consoling work through the word he’s given you to speak. The wondrous reality is that God himself is present by means of the is word to settle anxious hearts and quiet fear. “Thus says the Lord.” Now that’s a mouthful of certainty in an uncertain world!

The Care Of Souls, Harold Senkbeil, Lexham Press, 2019, pg 54.