Archives For Missions

Does “Called Into Ministry” Mean Becoming a Pastor?

Anyone else grow up going to summer church camp?

Every summer I spent a week in Hartford City, Indiana at Lake Placid campground, home of the sanctuary made out of a rusty old airplane hanger, sulfur-infused water that smelled like rotten eggs, and some of the greatest memories of my entire childhood. I loved church camp! It made a deep and indelible mark on my spiritual development as a young Christian.

Most of it was beautiful, but there were also some unintended theological consequences. Much of what we learn really is caught not taught.

Each of the four evening camp services had a theme, and the 3rd night of camp was usually “called into ministry night.” The camp speaker would passionately preach about what it means to be called by God into full-time vocational ministry. This was followed by a direct challenge to listen intently! What was God saying to each of us individually about our own calling? He was most certainly tapping some on the shoulder, and we don’t want to miss “the call.”

The service would usually culminate with a show of hands for all those feeling God’s “call into ministry.” About 10-12% of the hands would go up, and those feeling this call were invited to the altar where the rest of us gathered around to pray for them. When the prayer time was over, we would all head back to our seats, some carrying “the call” into sacred work and the rest of us just left to our secular work trajectories.

At least that’s the message that was instinctively received.

Snack Shop Talk

I remember using those very terms at the snack shop after service. Someone would holler across the ping pong table, “hey Coop, so are you called into ministry?”

“No-no, not me,” I always shot back. “I’m just going to pursue a secular job. I don’t feel called into ministry.” (Little did I know I would spend a dozen years on staff at two churches. God most certainly has a sense of humor).

Let’s be clear, nothing intentionally devious was being perpetrated here, but an unintentional heresy of sorts was being deposited into our Christian worldview. In seeking to clarify the ecclesiastical pastoral calling on people’s lives, we were unwittingly segregating the way we thought about Christian work and calling as a whole.

This has caused confusion for many believers in the understanding of their everyday work. It’s resulted in marketplace Christians believing their lives are second class, that their “secular jobs” only exist to make money to fund truly sacred activities, that there is no meaningful connection between their daily vocations and the work of God in the world. And that’s just bad theology.

Work Theology

Please don’t get me wrong, there is something special and distinct about the ecclesiastical call into full-time ministry (I spent 12 beautiful years as a pastor myself!), but the sacred nature of work is not just for pastors or those employed by a church, it is intended for all Christians!

Did you know our English word “vocation,” which we use when discussing someone’s career choice and what they do for a living, is derived from the latin word “vocare,” which means calling. The Apostle Paul uses this same word when he references pastors in the church and those who work in the marketplace. There is no distinction.

But my guess is that few of us think of our day jobs this way. We’ve instinctively assumed that our work was just a way to earn money so we can pay the bills, support our families, do a few enjoyable things from time to time, and maybe give a little to the sacred things in life that really matter. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll find a little bit of meaning from it, or at least make enough money to offset the meaninglessness. If not, I guess we’ll have eternity to make up for it.

This is bad work theology.

Your work, in the church or in the marketplace, is vocare. It’s a calling. It’s part of our human vocation as vice-regents and caretakers of God’s creation.

How would it change your feeling when the alarm goes off each morning if you saw your work like that?

If you’re a believer, you have a calling. It’s time to embrace it.


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

Why Is It Called The Stone Table?

My wife and I spent a great deal of time naming our kids. We wanted classic, simple, sweet-sounding first names for our daughters, and so our girls were named Emma and Anna accordingly. With that naming strategy, we established an unintentional pattern (vowel, consonant, consonant, vowel) that produced a bit of an OCD quandary when our son came along a few years later.

What boy’s name could possibly continue the pattern requirement? We were just days away from christening him “Otto” (ok, I was days away) when we landed on Austin. While it broke the letter streak, it likely kept him from becoming a wedgie victim on the school playground for years to come.

What’s in a Name?

While our kids’ first names are the result of parental preference, their middle names have deep and historic meaning to us.

Lorraine was my Aunt, my mom’s oldest sister who was really more of a mother figure to her and our whole family. She was never able to have children of her own, so this name speaks of both heritage and honor.

Noel points to Christmas, the coming of our Savior into the world. Since Anna’s original due date was Christmas day (she was actually born two weeks early), we thought this was an appropriate reminder of our beautiful redemption story.

James was my wife’s maternal grandfather, a giant presence in the family both physically and spiritually. He died way too soon, but his impact on everyone he came in contact with has lived on for generations.

Names mean things, and even when others don’t know the origins, they still carry the vital DNA.

A Daily Reminder

The Stone Table is no different. When we relaunched our missions arm in 2015, we knew we wanted a name that carried the essence of what we were all about. But how could we synopsize that exactly?

While we began as a real estate company built to provide quality affordable housing and give money to missions, neither of those things really described the root. What inspired our founders to start this journey?

It was a simple belief in the holistic resurrection and redemption power of the Gospel.

As a fan of the author and theologian CS Lewis, I began scouring his books for suitable allegories. Few writers have ever been better at illuminating deep spiritual truths through fictional stories. I found an exhaustive glossary of terminology, characters, and places from the Chronicles of Narnia series and began pouring over it for inspiration. The perfect name stuck out on the page like it was highlighted in neon:

The Stone Table (or Aslan’s Howe) is the location of Aslan’s death and resurrection.

What better way to remind ourselves of what we do every day? To those unfamiliar with the Narnia series, the name speaks of a regal and epic gathering place. To people of faith, it shouts the Good News of Jesus!

Tables are gathering places, and The Stone Table is a Gospel gathering place. We’re bringing together pastors and businesspeople, entrepreneurs and missionaries, all for the sake of the Gospel in the marketplace and around the world.

Pull up a chair, it’s time to find your seat at The Table.


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

muslimgirl

She surrendered her life to Isa (Jesus) and it cost her everything. Her father wasn’t content with simply rejecting her, he turned her into the police and they didn’t speak again for 6 years. Ostracized from her entire community, she found refuge in the tiny underground church in this North African city where Christianity was illegal and congregations were counted on your fingers (if you could find them at all).

Yet there she was, full of hope and life and boldness and passion. It was contagious.

Every dinner table hosted a similar guest of honor, as each member of our team was inundated with broken-English stories of dreams and visions, supernatural encounters, and the power of the Gospel at work in a truly dark and lonely place. I was humbled and overwhelmed, completely riveted by her unfolding narrative of God’s grace and redemption in her life. Then, without warning, she turned and asked me:

“Do you have any daughters?”

“Two,” I said. “And one son.”

She put her hand on my arm and hit me with the haymaker.

“Don’t over-promise to your daughters. Teach them to depend on Jesus.”

Her comments caught me off guard. When did we start talking about me? Tell me some more stories about covert church gatherings and the spread of the Gospel in these Muslim strongholds.

But God was using this persecuted Christian girl to remind me of something vital. As a father, I am my kids’ protector, a provider and covering, an imperfect reflection of God placed there by God.

But not to replace Him.

The greatest gift I can give my children is to “teach them to depend on Jesus.”

I don’t ever want my girls to be forced to walk the road this young, persecuted Christian girl has been forced to travel. But I sure want them to be able to. If I remove every hardship, resolve every problem, allow them to side-step every suffering, in whom will they place their trust? In me or in Jesus?

It’s such a delicate balance and discernment, isn’t it? To be their protector and lead them to The Protector. To be their covering and lead them to The Covering. To be their hero yet lead them to The Savior.

Let’s take the challenge of this beautiful, young, persecuted believer.

Teach them to depend on Jesus.

Nothing

Sometimes things don’t work the way we planned.

After nearly 40 hours, an overnight airport delay, and two itinerary reroutes, I found myself cuing in a mass of disgruntled travelers in the Addis Ababa airport waiting for our now twice-delayed Ethiopian airline flight to board for Nairobi. Our original team of twenty had been split up twice already, and my wife and three kids were the only 4 left with me. We were trying to count that blessing as my children, travel novices at best, were questioning why we ever left our quaint Midwestern suburb for dad’s claim of a life-changing missions adventure. In all my travels, I had never experienced anything quite like this. We were exhausted, we were hungry, and we were stuck in one of the least desirable airport terminals in the world. And to top it off, I was powerless. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

So we pulled a few snacks from our carry-on bags and tried to keep each other in good spirits as many of our irate East African co-passengers argued with the gate-check agents in unknown tongues about the unexplained delays and lack of communication. The intensifying scene was already beginning to make me a little uncomfortable when I glanced down at my 11 year old son. He had been complaining of an upset stomach since we arrived in Addis, but now his face had grown a bit pale, too.

What happened next unfolded in slow motion. His knees stiffened, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his body tumbled backward like he was doing the Nestea plunge. Had it not been for his oversized backpack, his head would’ve certainly cracked hard on the concrete floor. His sister’s scream silenced all other activity and conversation in the buzzing terminal, and we found ourselves on our knees tending to our unconscious son surrounded by a circle of curious and concerned Ethiopian onlookers.

This was not the beautiful journey I had promised my kids for the last 6 months.

Thankfully, he had just passed out, the result of extreme fatigue, lack of food, and airplane dehydration. After convincing the airport officials he was not suffering from some horrific communicable disease and in need of quarantine, we were finally allowed to board the plane to reunite with the rest of our companions (although I can’t say as much for our luggage).

This was not the trip I had planned. It was nothing like the picture I had painted in my head. But there are unexpected blessings to encountering moments of complete powerlessness.

Many of you know my son’s personality. He’s a strong-willed negotiator, never content with an answer he doesn’t like. On many occasions I’ve told my wife, “I wish he would just listen to his dad sometimes. I wish he could find rest in my decisions, that I know what’s best, that I can be trusted.”

This terrifying moment deeply impacted him. In this new unknown environment, he’s humbly asked a lot more questions, he’s paid attention to my instructions, he’s literally clung to me physically as our days have unfolded here in Kenya. He falls asleep grasping my arm. As a dad, there’s nothing you long for more, even though the circumstances that got you here could not be desired less. He’s sought refuge in his father, and together we’ve both found refuge in The Father.

Powerlessness can be a gift. It can connect us to God in unmatched ways, draw us into His covering and protection, and tap into a strength so much greater than our own. We were made to find our rest in the Father, but to get there we usually have to walk the uncomfortable road that leads us to the end of ourselves.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
–Matthew 5:3 (MSG)

So here’s to powerlessness. It just might be more powerful than you think.

3 Stories of

My phone seems to blow up daily with news of yet another horrific terrorist attack somewhere in the world. Each new atrocity births endless socio-political pontification on how to end the violence, from dropping bombs, to building walls, to endeavoring to understand and appease the hatred of the killers.

These are scary times. Yet from the shadows of 24-hour fear-filled news cycle emerge three hope-filled stories. Stories that won’t be celebrated by the masses, but stories that illuminate the only Solution to the underlying problem. It’s not “the culture of the West is better than the culture of the rest.”  It’s not Christian moralism trumping Islamic moralism. It’s not our version of self-righteousness finally defeating theirs.

It’s the transforming work of the Gospel – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the promised work of His Holy Spirit in the lives of broken people humble enough to surrender themselves to a holy and loving Power greater than themselves. The Gospel isn’t just something “they” need, it’s something we all need. It’s not just healing for “them,” it’s healing for me, too. This is how we fight radical terrorism.

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
–Ephesians 6:12

These 3 stories come directly from friends on the ground in the Arab World. I wrote them down exactly as they were shared with me. No extra details and no embellishment. When the news sends chills down your spine, remember that the Gospel is at work in this world. Here’s some proof that true hope has nothing to do with which party wins the next presidential cycle.

Backstory:

Eight years ago, there was a man connected to Hamas who worked in the mosque as a librarian. His job was to approve every book that found it’s way into any of the mosque libraries. Through a series of events, he gave his life to Christ and was discipled by one of the workers in his city. He began to share his newfound faith with his muslim friends, and slowly many of them also became believers in Jesus.

As their numbers grew, they used the same organization techniques he learned as a member of Hamas, formulating groups of no more than 6 people. Those six did not know who the other six were so that if one group was compromised, the underground church could still continue to flourish and grow. These small groups meet weekly, not in hiding, but in the open courtyards of the community mosques all over the city! They sit in study groups, they talk about the bible, they take up an offering, and they give it to whichever one of their members is most in need.

They call themselves the “Jesus-ites,” and they are slowly reaching critical mass. Last year, they baptized 140 new believers. And this year, they’ve already baptized over 300. Altogether there are close to 500 believers in this Middle Eastern city. It is out of that context that the following three stories have unfolded.

egypt2

Story 1:

This group is becoming very bold in their witness and has begun passing out bibles in the streets of their community. One day, a radical muslim approached one of the believers, grabbed the bible from his hand, and began ripping out the pages. As he’s throwing the pages into the air, his arm freezes above his head. Stuck. He can’t pull it back to himself.

More than a little freaked out, he takes off for home (with his arm still stuck in the air) and the believers follow him. When they get to his house, they offer to pray for him with the understanding he will declare that Jesus is God and forsake Islam if God heals him. And that’s exactly what happened.

The believers want to baptize him in his bathtub but he declines, declaring “I disgraced Jesus publicly by tearing up that bible in the street, I must profess him publicly as well.” So they walk back into the center of the city, find an old tub, use buckets to fill it with water, and baptize him in the center of this strict Muslim city.

egypt3

Story 2:

A young man shares his newfound faith with a man in his community. The man gets so violently angry he beats the young Christian and kills him. The believers gather together to discuss how they are going to respond to the death of one of their own. They set out as a group for the old man’s house, grab him, and tie him to one of the cement pillars in the center of his house (I don’t recommend this). Then, one by one, they force him to listen to the testimonies of how each of them came to Christ. The man is violently angry, spitting and yelling at them as they speak (but hey, where is he going to go?).

When they were finished, they untied him and left. But the next day they returned, laid hands on him and prayed, and the man gives his heart to Jesus. Now he is one of the believers in the underground church.

egypt1

Story 3:

A woman and her grown son from this same community come to Jesus. The husband comes home one day to find his wife listening to a chanting of the New Testament story of Christ in their home. In his anger, he begins to beat her. His grown son intervenes, but in his fury the father throws him against the wall, he hits his head on the concrete, and falls to the floor unconscious.

The mother rushes to the aid of her son, but as she’s bent over his body her husband grabs her from behind and attempts to slit her throat with a butcher knife from the kitchen. In the struggle he misses, yet still slices her chest from clavicle to clavicle. The neighbors hear the commotion and intervene. They take the woman and her son to the hospital, and the father to the authorities.

At the police station, the man simply states that his wife had become a christian and they let him go. No further questions asked. At the hospital, they stitch the woman up, and the believers once again gather to decide what they are going to do.

So they get a copy of the Gospel chanting the woman had been listening to, put it into printed form, and head to the hospital to visit the woman as she is recovering. While there, they begin going from hospital room to hospital room disbursing the message to each muslim patient and asking, “does someone deserve to have their throat cut for this teaching of Jesus?”

The woman recovers, but when she’s released she does not feel safe going back to her husband. Yet she feels the conviction of the Holy Spirit to forgive him for what he has done, and to share that forgiveness with him. So she goes to visit him and says, “I want you to know that I forgive you for what you did. I love you, our son loves you, and Jesus loves you.” And then she leaves.

Without collusion, her son also visits his father and also says, “dad, I want you to know that what you did was wrong, but I forgive you. I love you, mom loves you, and Jesus loves you.” 

That same night, the man had a dream. Jesus appeared to him and said, “you wife loves you, your son loves you, and I love you.”

The man gave his heart to Christ, was reconciled with his family, and is now a member of the Body of Christ.

Conclusion:

It’s taken 8 years, but the seeds of the Gospel are beginning to grow in this spiritually arid land. Regardless of what you see in the media, never question that God is at work around the world. You can’t stop the message of Jesus.