“Come over and help us”
It has always interested me how Abraham “went, as the Lord had told him” (Gen 12:4). I guess if the Creator of the universe taps you on the shoulder and says you should go with him to a new place, it wouldn’t be wise to disobey. Jonah disobeyed God’s instruction and got swallowed by a huge fish! The nation of Israel disobeyed on numerous occasions and ended up in exile! On the positive side, there were also a number of fishermen who dropped everything to follow Jesus when He called them to “follow Him.”
This brings me to a skype call I received from a rather frustrated elder in a distant vacant congregation. This elder’s frustration was centered around the calling process of ministers. In more recent years it has been the practice of vacant churches (because they wish to be courteous), to ring a minister to see whether he would consider a call if one were to be extended to him. This particular elder’s frustration was that some ministers say they are “not interested – don’t bother trying” before a call is extended.
Of course, there can be good reasons why a minister might reply in this fashion. When we were at College we were told to be mindful of the family when shifting to a new congregation. The minister usually settles the quickest, followed by the children and the wife takes the longest.
And then there are some practical issues. Just the thought of ‘shifting’ is daunting enough on its own. The inconvenience of packing and unpacking is painful enough, even when some of it is done for you. But the pain doesn’t end there.
Why go through the pain of leaving a loving Christian community to start a new work where you don’t know many people? Not only does the minister need to start working with a new Church Council and Committee of Management, his children and wife also need to build new friendships. Thankfully, new congregations are most welcoming, yet it does take time. And then there are other family considerations such as schooling of your children and unfinished church programs or projects you are involved in.
Having said all the above, I can still understand the frustration of the elder. Is there a godly way forward out of this dilemma? Is there a way to make the ‘calling,’ a process whereby God’s Name is honoured and the receiver of the call will again see it as a call from the Lord of the church that is being made through His saved people? It’s difficult, for there are occasions when ministers decline calls for good reasons and we shouldn’t suggest for a moment they are refusing God’s call. That would be very unfair.
However, the elder’s frustration is that ministers are saying “not interested – don’t bother’ even before a call is extended. How discouraging! Perhaps the way forward is to go back to the ‘old’ system of calling.
If a local leadership feels a certain minister and his family would be well suited for their congregation, then they should just present his name to the congregation and vote to extend a call. They don’t need to have him come across – they can listen to sermons online; they could speak to members of his current congregation to determine his strengths (or weaknesses). And should the vote to extend a call be successful, it should be extended. It’s only when a call is actually extended that a minister can consider the call prayerfully and they may indeed be led to ‘come over and help’ should the Holy Spirit convict them of that call.
Thankfully, our Saviour wasn’t reluctant to obey the call of His Father in heaven. Despite great adversity, even to the point of death on a cross, He obeyed fully and we His redeemed people are forever grateful that He came and helped us. JZ