This year marks my “silver anniversary” in vocational ministry. Yikes! Twenty-five years have passed since I had my christening (or trial by fire) in preaching my first sermon and getting the official licensing certificate to adorn my wall. And to top it off, the Director of State Missions for our denomination happened to be visiting that Sunday! It all seems a world away in one sense, and yet only yesterday in another. As I reach this milestone I find myself reflecting on those years.
The place was Westview Baptist Church in Oxford, Mississippi. Patti and I were newlyweds and students in our junior year at the University of Mississippi. I was miserable trying to figure out what to do with my life while working on a business degree. I was considering dropping out a semester and just working till my head cleared when Patti said kind of off-handedly, “Do you think God is calling you to preach?” The idea wasn’t altogether insane to me, but I brushed it aside nonetheless. After another week of running into walls, I decided to broach the subject with our pastor, James Swindoll. I confided that I sensed God may be calling me into vocational ministry. He said simply, “I know.” My first thought after his response was, “Well, why didn’t you tell me?” This is the kind of thing that only God can tell you, and he knew that. He just waited for me to say I was hearing something from God. Once I realized God’s direction, everything that had been so chaotic about my purpose and future fell into place. I finished my degree and went right into seminary and began seeking opportunities to hone these newfound skills.
Since then nearly twenty of those years have been invested in some form of ministry staff position, with almost seventeen of them as a pastor. For the past three years, God has been reshaping my thinking regarding His call on my life. I now realize that call was so much broader than just a call to preach, or even a call to vocational ministry. The call actually came when Jesus said to me, “Follow me” at age seventeen. What I experienced twenty-five years ago in Oxford was God’s invitation to a specific expression of that original call. For those years I lived out that expression. Now I sense God is opening avenues for the call to be expressed in ways I’ve never considered before. And it is exciting! I now realize the call has always been to simply follow Jesus and minister like He did. And that can be done by pastoring, by serving as a student pastor, or a worship pastor, by working as a church planter, or by being a teacher, a plumber, a writer, and IT person, a coffee shop barista, or a myriad of other vocations! The thing I’ve learned after twenty-five years is that ministering like Jesus is not confined to any specific expression, like being a pastor or missionary. Ministering like Jesus happens through every conceivable expression!
My challenge to you is to comprehend that God has called you, too. Church leaders and missionaries are not the only ones called to ministry. How are you expressing Jesus’ call to “Follow Me?” How are you doing ministry like Jesus today?