Your Call is Important, So Is Putting in the Work

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It’s so strange. When it comes to leadership in the church, we are often quick to dismiss the importance of things like education and gifting. Evangelicals, in particular, like to talk about “calling” and “anointing”.
~Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley

I believe people are called to ministry. In fact, one of my core convictions in ministry is that every person is called to some form of ministry. This doesn’t mean that every person is called to vocational ministry; that is, ministry as a job/career. But everyone is called to something. It’s a matter of living out the faith we profess. We are all gifted and called to something — even if it is something as (seemingly) simple as praying at home for the work and ministry of the local church.

In the United Methodist Church, there are a lot of different avenues for one to be involved in ministry. There are a number of different ways to be involved in leading a church. For example, just off the top of my head, one can be a Certified Lay Servant, a Certified Lay Minister, or serve in supply status. These people are still considered laity, but serve as the “pastor” of a local church. One can be a local pastor (part-time or full-time), an ordained deacon or elder. One can be retired and still serve a church. You can serve with Other Denomination or Other Methodist status, which means you aren’t a United Methodist, but you’ll be the pastor of a UM church with the understanding that you will be teaching from a UM perspective on faith and theology.

As a United Methodist ordained elder, I have a seminary degree. Actually, just recently, somebody in my wife’s family learned that my seminary degree is actually a Masters degree. She didn’t know. I imagine not everybody knows the level of education that is necessary for this position. It can get somewhat complicated at times, especially when there are churches that hire people to be their pastor based on something ambiguous like “anointing”. When I was in seminary, I worked at Sears with a Baptist pastor who didn’t even have a high school diploma (I do think he eventually got a GED). It’s understandable that there would be some confusion about the educational requirements for the ministry.

I serve on what’s called the District Committee on Ministry (dCOM) in my current location. We recently had interviews with local pastors to renew their licensing, which is something that has to be done on an annual basis. Obviously, I can’t go into details about the interviews or discussion had by the committee, but one thing I have seen over and over again through the years (this isn’t the first time I’ve been on a dCOM), is that there are always some who don’t understand (or don’t care about fulfilling) the educational requirements of a local pastor in the United Methodist Church.

Local pastors are supposed to take what’s called Course of Study. The number of classes they are to take each year depends on their status as full or part time, but it is an expectation that they take these classes. Every year, there is a discussion about somebody who hasn’t seen fit to fulfill their educational requirements. And some of these are great pastors. They are doing great work and are loved by their congregation. But they don’t do the required work. They’ve simply dismissed their educational responsibilities.

Inevitably, there will be people who read this and think, “But all they really need is the anointing of the Holy Spirit in order to pastor a church. Why bother with the educational stuff in the first place?” And this is something that we don’t say about any other profession.

I have no doubt in my mind that there are people who are called to be doctors. I had a friend who went to medical school and became a doctor for the sole purpose of going into the mission field. She was certainly anointed for ministry. She still had to go to medical school.

I have no doubt in my mind that there are teachers who are fulfilling a calling in their lives to teach young people. They still have to go to school and get their degree. The same is true for many professions. People are called to more than ministry, and they can’t just rely on an anointing by the Holy Spirit to fulfill that call.

In the book Three Nights in August, Tony LaRussa talks about J.D. Drew. (Stay with me, this will make sense, I promise!) LaRussa says that Drew is one of the most naturally gifted ballplayers that he ever managed. He has a talent and instinct for the game that few, even professionals, have. But he wasn’t really willing to put in the work to become better. He coasted on his talent, and was an above average player. He compares Drew to a (at the time) relatively young player, Albert Pujols.

This book was about a weekend series in 2003, which was Pujols’ third year in Major League Baseball. Pujols was also incredibly talented. AND he was a hard worker. He put in the extra time to become better. As good as he was, he could have coasted, made generational money, and had a decent career. But he worked hard as well, and is a generational talent. Nearly 20 years later, Pujols is listed among some of the all time greats of the game. His name is on lists with Ruth, Mays and Aaron. He didn’t rely on his talent, on his “anointing”. He continued to work hard, and that has made all the difference throughout his career.

Look, nobody is aiming for the Ministry Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, a lot of the really big names that we know in ministry are names that are known for all the wrong reasons. There are some who are all about expanding their platform and getting those speaking engagements that pad the bank account.

Personally, I’m not interested in that stuff, and most people I know in ministry aren’t either. All we really want is to be faithful to that call. To do that, we have to realize that we need more than our “anointing”. We have to put in the work to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

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Just some guy who is looking to make my pocket of the world a better place. Life is a journey; let’s walk together and help each other along the way.

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Matt Swisher

Matt Swisher

Just some guy who is looking to make my pocket of the world a better place. Life is a journey; let’s walk together and help each other along the way.

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