The call to ministry is as urgent as ever
Do you remember a time when you heard a call of God to take up some new venture of faith?
At first you may have considered this call to be beyond your capacity. Then you found, perhaps to your amazement, a special giftedness and deep sense of fulfilment. Do you recognise the process?
On a recent trip to the Far North Coast Presbytery I was privileged to participate in a service of commissioning of lay preachers and the rededication of numerous lay worship leaders of Uniting Church congregations. This is a far cry from the days when lay folk sat in services and listened while an ordained minister did all the leading.
Visiting a number of congregations in the central west region of the Macquarie Darling Presbytery I discovered the same phenomenon. This was also the case in the Riverina and no doubt in every rural and regional area where our church is present.
And, yes, it is happening in some urban locations too. People who formerly had no idea of or intention to take leading roles in worship and mission are now discovering their gifts and using them to great effect in their communities of faith.
Those whose knees knocked at the very thought of doing anything “up front” are now sharing major tasks, which build up the life and witness of their congregations.
Clearly this change has come about largely by necessity as congregations have been no longer able to afford full-time or even part-time ordained ministry and so have been required to do it themselves … or close.
Another change, by the same necessity, is that the fewer ordained ministers in these regions have had to cover more ground and take a bigger role in resourcing the lay folk in their ministries.
They are thus fulfilling the biblical injunction to trained and gifted leaders: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
This is a huge undertaking and in some places the church is still sorely underequipped; the few leaders overtaxed.
I am therefore extremely encouraged by and grateful for the example of some of our more experienced clergy who are accepting calls to these rural and regional areas, where they are able to give their invaluable service with multiplied effectiveness.
This is also fertile ministry ground for new ministers who can bring fresh enthusiasm and deep commitment to the task of ministry among those who need it most.
I know that, for some, the idea of going north of the Hawkesbury, south of Port Hacking or west of the Great Dividing Range is a new and risky path they might not want, or be in a position, to consider. It is also true that many urban ministries are every bit as challenging and demanding as rural and regional ones, and need committed and compassionate people to step up into leading roles.
What I would like to encourage is that we attend to the voice that calls us. Like Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Aaron, Ruth and Esther, Peter, John, James and Andrew, Mary and Levi, Lydia and the rest, we could find ourselves led away from “business as usual” and into formerly untrodden paths of sacrificial service.
There is a great need in the community at large to hear and experience the good news of fullness of life in Jesus. As we seek to grow inclusive and generous churches, the call to ministry is as urgent as it ever was.
Do you hear it? If so, why not say with Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me!”
The Rev. Dr Brian Brown is Moderator of the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT.