I’m an avid board gamer. There’s a cupboard in my house that’s full of board games. I play weekly with a big group of people. Usually there’s three to five tables going on at once.
And sometimes I play similar pencil-and-paper games. Where you each play a character on a team. You sit around a table with your friends…. and you work together to accomplish goals.
And in these games?
You can be the best team. The most talented. Strongest. GOAT.
But if you aren’t prepared? The simple things can sink you.
If you cross a river, and happen to fall in? What happens if your character can’t swim? Literally, that can sink you.
If you go into a town, but no one can speak their language? Good luck gathering information. It’s not gonna happen.
And if you undertake a journey through the wilderness… but forget to pack rations? You just might starve along the way. Or at the very least, get weak.
Adulting is hard.
In recent years we’ve made “adulting” a word. Academics define it in specific ways… they call them “markers of adulthood.” Things like getting a job, buying a house, having a child.
In popular culture, it refers to just about any “adult” skill… whether it’s making a meal or paying your bills.
There used to be a linear path to adulthood. Now it’s anything but.
And it’s no different with ministry. There are a lot of road bumps along the way. Many paths to get into it as a vocation.
There’s a lot of waiting. Hard work. Questions.
What sustains you along the way?
What rations are in your pack?
What’s stored up so you aren’t caught off-guard by difficulty?
In part, for me, it’s been the process getting here.
But there are also a few specific markers along the way.
Here are a couple out of the ones that happened at Master’s College.
Patterns for Pentecostals
A year or so into my time at Master’s, we had a chapel service. We were using some space at a local church in addition to our campus. This service was at the church.
And there was an opportunity for prayer. The band would continue to play worship songs so everyone could sing.
If you wanted to be prayed for, you could head over to where a few trusted staff members stood, along with the pastor who spoke that morning, and a few would pray for you.
If you’re like me and grew up Pentecostal, you probably have accepted a couple patterns.
One, you might get emotional in a church service. You might get excited. Or cry. That’s OK. The integration of emotions into our worship is a wonderful thing.
Two, if there’s a chance to get prayed for? Hey man, I’ll probably take it. Sign me up.
So during that chapel, we had a time of prayer.
I went up and was prayed for. The pastor who prayed for me spoke a word over me there. Essentially, he said to me a message. What he believed God was saying to me at that point.
(For the record, this guy didn’t know me one bit. My story. A single thing about me. We hadn’t met before the service. I certainly hadn’t impressed them in conversation or with any mad skills (ha ha right).)
And yet he spoke specifically about the calling on my life. The ministry God was leading me to. The future ahead. And not just in general “hey, this can apply to anyone” terms. Not the sort of prayer you can just pray for anybody and it’s a good sentiment.
- It was encouraging.
- It was on point.
- It was affirming.
- It was new.
I hadn’t received a ton of these “words” before. And nothing like this one.
Some folks have a story of a dramatic “call” to ministry, a thunderbolt time where God spoke clearly of a calling on their life.
And when you’ve come to it already? By degrees… by struggle… by questioning this calling from every angle?
It’s great to have times like this where you receive that confirmation.
But it didn’t set my course. It confirmed it.
A word for who?
I knew he was visiting from a city an hour or two away. And while they didn’t know him personally (or vice versa), he happened to be someone my parents knew about and respected.
I knew he was a reliable person. Not just some fly-by-night preacher or someone who said the same things to everyone. Someone sober and thoughtful and careful.
(I just heard him speak again a year ago. He’s still that way).
When I told one of my parents…… I was surprised (and thankful) as to how much weight they gave that word.
That they respected it coming from someone like that.
And I realized that word? At that point? It was probably more for them than for me.
But I could take it into the future too. And hold onto it.
Scraps or scrolls?
Up until now, I’ve kept the “words” I’ve received from God on tiny scraps of paper. Written in the smallest hand possible.
Mostly I’ve stuffed them in the bottom drawer of my jewelry box.
Pulled them out once in a while while searching for a watch strap or oversized bracelet.
I read them. I’m thankful. And they go back in.
As I get older, though, I see a need to write down these words in a bigger hand.
To clarify them in my mind.
To understand better all the steps in the journey. Set out those stones of remembrance.
And keep them close when things get rough.
‘Cause they sure do sometimes.
The 21st century Meredith
Not long after the millennium had passed, I read a 1996 book called The 21st Century Pastor. It was part of a course I took at Master’s.
The cover has not aged well.
But at least the book has (mostly)
Most of the content is timeless.
- It talks about the call to being a pastor.
- The models given in the Bible. Identity. Culture.
- The day-to-day work of the ministry.
One illustration is a great source of strength to me.
Some have said preaching is “truth through personality.”
And while I believe heartily that God’s truth never changes… at times I can still doubt whether my personality is really one God can work with.
- Whether I have the authority.
- The humour.
- The guts.
- The ease.
- To do what I’m called to do.
Then I read this. And it’s stuck with me (powerfully) ever since. The author worked briefly with a country’s ambassador to the United Nations.
“”It was an eye-opening experience…
Because the ambassador spoke for the king, a certain authority accompanied everything he did or said. At the same time, however, the ambassador was quite reserved. At all times he deferred to the king, from whom his confidence and power came, for neither the message he spoke nor the mission he was on were his own.
At night when the meetings were over and we went back to the hotel, [he] had one last task. He called home to talk to the king. He had known the king all his life and represented a king he loved and respected. ”
I have had to learn a lot along the way.
I hope I’ve learned to be much less combative now. Less bombastic. Hopefully, less arrogant.
Those aren’t a good look for anyone… but especially not on an ambassador.
But I’m also thankful that the message and power of God isn’t dependent on my amazingness.
God is God and he is awesome… in spite of me.
He uses me in my weakness… and yet he’s not constrained by it.
The Bible speaks in one instance of our role like this.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.
And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-23
Amazing truth. Good news. And to spread that message? Even if it’s with gifts and a role that stretch me far beyond what I initially thought possible for my life? Sign me up.
Thank God for the process.
Thank God for the words I received.
And thank God that
“Neither the message I speak
Nor the mission I am on
Are my own.”
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22. Strength to strength