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Calling, Passion, Freedom!

Recently, I have been studying some of Paul’s insights into what Kingdom ministry looks like, specifically.

Delving in 1st Corinthians 9, Paul talks about what it means to serve Jesus with the level of faithfulness that he sought to give. The context of this passage speaks to the relationship between a minister and the church that he is a part of. Paul’s overarching theme throughout the chapter is that the generous and faithful church should offer their support to those that lead the church. As Paul’s teaching and this conversation unfold, three tensions stand out that a faithful minister of the gospel must settle. These tensions will have a significant effect on the kind of ministry that we offer, the type of people being raised through us, and how far we can expand the scope of the kingdom of God.

Calling vs. Career
The first tension revolves around our core reason for going into the ministry. Are we doing it because God calls us or because we believe that it is a promising, God-honoring career to go into? Paul outlines some of the benefits of making a career out of following Jesus – there is some security (vs7-8), there is a little more stability (vs9), and in some ways, there is a little more support (11-12). These aren’t necessarily bad things, although in my experience – both personally and through looking into the lives of others – they can take the edge off our ministry impact. If these things are in place, they offer a level of threat to the amount of risk we can take, the size of the steps of faith that we make, and the courage with which we lead. Paul, though, is crystal clear about why he is following and serving Jesus. It is because he has been called. He says, “I am simply discharging the trust that is committed to me” (17). “Woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel,” he cries. Why? Because if he doesn’t do that, he is not faithful to the calling that God has weighed heavily on his heart. In the name of shaping the calling, we often put the called onto a career track. While I know that God has plans for us (Jer. 29:11), very rarely do those plans easily slide along a clearly defined career track. It is a ministry must that we serve God out of a sense of calling. We must constantly and continually ask ourselves, “Am I pursuing a calling or building a career”? If you are looking to build a career, I am pretty sure that your ministry will only operate at a fraction of what it could be.

Passion vs. Project
Closely linked to this is the issue revolving around our motivation for ministry. Am I doing what I am doing and engaged in what I am engaged in to complete an assigned project, or am I seeking to give myself entirely and passionately to the person of Jesus Christ? Paul’s language and the fear of what it will mean if the church compensates him to suggest that his ministry method involved thoughtful, strategic, and wise passion. As I look around the church landscape today, there are two kinds of leaders – those working to fulfill a project, establishing something, and executing it well, and those who are driven by the passion for getting something done and accomplished. Passion can fuel projects, and projects can fuel passion, but the two are not the same. There are many, and it’s an organizational management struggle that I often face, who want to complete an organized, efficient, and somewhat effective project rather than begin a journey of passion, using wisdom along the way, and seeing where God takes them. There are many projects in my life that I have completed and many more that I hope to, but I would much rather be remembered as a person of passion than simply someone who completed a project or two. What’s so great about Billy Graham, for instance, is not the number of notable projects he did but the passion with which he completed them. Leading from passion makes every day an adventure, it requires faith-based and dynamic leadership, and while it involves making some mistakes, it requires strength and leadership that reflects that of Jesus. Recently, I was in an airport with my wife. We needed to get to the other terminal, and Tracie wanted to find our destination by looking at the map, planning out the route, and getting there. I tried to look up at the first sign and follow it until we got to the next sign. Her way was more organized; mine was more fun. Ministering effectively requires that we minister from a place of radical passion, following the signs and trusting God. I believe in this strongly because I am not sure that there is a project outline or blueprint for where God wants to take his church.

Freedom or Slavery
In verse 19, Paul outlines another tension that ministers face – am I going to be a slave or will I be free? Paul says that “He is free and belongs to no one.” This means I believe that his livelihood is not dependent upon the decision or whim of a body of people for whom he works. He doesn’t have to compromise his pursuit of the gospel and its advancement because he has several bosses who feel he needs to serve the church differently. Does this mean he is not accountable? No. Does this mean he doesn’t want to serve the church or be its servant? No. It just means that while he is a servant of all, the church is not his master. A friend of mine taught me this principle in ministry a long time ago – “I am your servant, but you are not my master.” We have one master, Jesus Christ. When we submit ourselves to a master other than Him, then we can quickly put ourselves into bondage or use Paul’s language as a form of “slavery.” Freedom comes when Christ alone is our master – not a church dogma or desire. Ministers of Jesus Christ have to decide – am I going to be free before God, or am I going to be a slave before numerous others that I am called to serve? We are slaves of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone is our master. There is incredible freedom in this!

I realize that some of the explanations of these tensions are a little provocative and need more theological reflection. I have given it here. These tensions are so subtle and complex to discuss because there is so much overlap between the two tensions. I would suggest that I stand with Paul in this when I say that the ministry that we offer to the church should be birthed out of a calling, pursued because of a passion, and exercised in great freedom.

Three Ministry Musts: Calling, Passion, and Freedom.

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