What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 15
There were a lot of things that I learned in seminary that were of tremendous value to me. There was one thing they failed to teach me, however, that would have been particularly helpful as I struggled to come to a better understanding of my call. Let me take a moment and explain that thing they forgot to teach me.
During my seminary years, most folks talked as if there were just two kinds of calls to ministry. One call was to parish ministry (i.e. serving a local church); the other call was to serve outside of a local church (i.e. serving as a chaplain, teacher, non-profit director, etc.). I was clear that I felt called to serve in a parish – so I thought that was it: all calls to serve a local church were the same.
Over the years I have learned there are lots of different types of call to serve local churches. Some, for instance, feel called to serve local churches as interim ministers. Others feel called to serve local churches and build a particular type of ministry (i.e. a social justice ministry or a ministry of spiritual formation).
I too have a more specific understanding of my call that it has taken me years to figure out. I feel called to serve local churches on the brink and help them find their way back to a position of health and vitality.
Since no one talked to me about different kinds of calls to parish ministry, early on I thought that my call was to interim ministry. Now, I’ve figured out ways in which these calls are different.
In each of the situations I’ve worked, I’ve discovered there is one message that a struggling local church MUST come to understand if they have any hopes of making it. They must understand that at any given moment in their ministry, they have all the resources they need in order to become a healthy and vital community.
This is a difficult message for people in struggling communities to hear (much less believe). They have gotten so use to thinking, “If only we had more members, then we’d have enough volunteers to create wonderful programs.” Or, “If only we had more money in the bank, then we could do some exciting things.”
Those sorts of messages are exactly the kind of things that threaten the future of a local church. It’s only when the individuals in a local church learn to celebrate and use what they already have – and not focus on what they think they lack - that they can truly begin to turn things around.
I was reminded of that principle as I read today’s passage from Matthew. In that passage we heard the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 4,000+. Early in the story, we hear that Jesus – moved by his sense of compassion – told the disciples to feed the people.
And how did the disciples respond?
They said what folks in struggling churches say all the time. “Gee, we’d love to do it but we don’t have enough resources to be able to do that.”
Jesus had the world’s best comeback ever! Instead of buying in to their scarcity-based thinking, Jesus simply asked a question: “How much bread do you have?”
In other words, he shifted their focus away from what they lacked and moved it toward what they had. And wouldn’t you know it: God was able to use what they had to accomplish things they previously would have thought impossible!
Of course the principle I’m talking about doesn’t just apply to local churches. It applies to the lives of individuals as well. The more we focus on what we lack, the more we lose sight of what God is able to accomplish through what we DO have.
If you find yourself in a place of habitual scarcity-based thinking, today I challenge you to leave that thinking behind. Spend time in prayer/meditation today giving thanks for all that you do have, and trust that God can find ways to work in and through you to multiply those resources exponentially.
Til next time …