By Kevin Kindelin
So I’ve been thinking lately. Better lately than never. No, seriously…with Pastor Tom’s recent announcement on his retirement, I wondered what made him want to be a pastor in the first place. What inspired him, or any other man or woman for that matter, to make that leap of faith to go into the ministry? As I looked further into it, I discovered that it’s not really a decision one makes. In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” The only decision the Called individual has is to answer yes or no.
What is a Call? Simply put, it’s a gift from God. Ah, but what is a Gift from God? You know, I could give you the standard by the book answer laying out all the blessings and gifts He provides to us, but in this respect, it means a Pauline-like thorn in the side. “Thanks God, what am I supposed to do with this?” a Called person might ask. I have an idea of what He might answer: “My grace is enough. Just do my work. I’ll let you know along the way.” Yeah, that thorn may hurt, but consider at all the good that can come from it.
I asked our deaconess and our pastors (Immanuel’s pastoral team) what it meant to them to be Called and how it was that they came to ministry.
In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” The only decision the Called individual has is to answer yes or no.
Deaconess Suzanne: “Every Christian is called (small c) to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and to share the love that He has for us so that they too may be saved and have that promise of an eternal life. Those who serve in areas of ministry in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, such as teachers, pastors, deaconesses, directors of Chris an education (DCE), directors of Christian outreach (DCO), and directors of Parrish music (DPM), believe and trust that they have a special Call (capital C) to serve God in their particular area of ministry. When I received my Divine Call to serve at Immanuel, I trusted and believed that the Lord was Calling me to serve his people and his church in Palatine. I never planned on going into full-time ministry. At the beginning of my junior year of college through a series of circumstances, I ended up in the teacher program at Concordia University River Forest. I can’t say that I felt strongly that God was leading me to be a teacher in a Lutheran school, but somehow through God’s leading, I ended up teaching for 15 years before going back to school to become a deaconess. Lutheran ministry and my Divine Call are all I have ever known and that has never wavered. I believe to this day that God has put me in ministry for a purpose. While I may never know the impact of my service on the lives of the people that I worked with, the babies that I held, and the hands that I prayed with as they were dying, I strongly believe that Jesus has walked with me and the Holy Spirit has guided me every step of the way.”
Pastor Donald: “I feel that being Called into ministry is having that sense of God Calling you. For me, in my time I felt like I was being Called into ministry with youth. I know, at times that people think of a youth pastor as somebody just there to play games and babysit (so to speak). But to me, there is much more than that when it comes to serving in youth ministry. Youth have so much stuff going on in their lives, whether it’s coming from a broken home, temptations, not feeling like they fit in, and so on. They need to know that there is somebody out there that cares for them and wants to see them succeed. They need to be reminded of God’s presence. Youth need somebody to minister to them just as much as adults. And ultimately, I’m always reminded of what President Meyer (of Concordia Seminary, St Louis) said at my Call Day service, ‘Guys, just love your people.’ I think that is the best thing any minister can do, is just love their people.”
Pastor Warren: “Being Called by God into the Holy Ministry is clearly the action of God leading you into service for His people, for which He designed and purposed you from the very beginning of your life. It requires recognizing God’s plan for your life, understanding His direction, and taking the steps of faith to follow Him, by denying yourself and your own plans to serve Him in His kingdom. I personally began to understand God’s calling for me through the encouragement of many people saying that I should be a pastor when I became Immanuel’s Congregation President. These encouragements came when the concept of being a pastor was not even on my radar. I was happy with the direction my career was going, but when people whom I barely knew, along with those closest to me were saying the same things, then I felt like God was trying to get my attention. After spending some time thinking, praying, and seeking counsel, God revealed more clearly His plans for me. I had many concerns that I kept giving God as I contemplated this possible new path, many of which I did not have answers for. God used these concerns to teach me more about trust and dependence upon Him. Over time God removed these concerns by opening doors to take care of those concerns for me and my family. When I saw how God was clearing the pathway, there was no denying His intention for my life.”
Pastor Tom: “Divine Call – The agreement between a pastor and a congregation, which describes the responsibilities of each. The Call, issued through election by the congregation, is not a mere ‘contract’ but an agreement prayerfully entered into by God’s people acknowledging the work of God the Holy Spirit in the choice and the acceptance. Our understanding of the Call and the pastoral office can be found in Ephesians 4: 11-13: ‘It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ As for how I came to be a pastor, I had an inner feeling as a child and was encouraged by a couple of pastors as I got older. I got married very young, and my wife encouraged me to attend seminary at the expense of her own plans.”
In researching this article, I think I’ve come to understand the difference between a Divine Call to Ministry and the call to service a lay congregation member might hear. Let me put it into perspective. I think I’m a pretty good guy. I’ve even been called a “Godly man.” Never once did I consider entering the ministry. Never once in my life did I actually say, “yes, Lord! All that I have and am is yours.” Sure, I volunteer for this, that, and the other thing, but I’m not all in like those who have heard the Call. I really can’t speak for others, but I think this is true for most of us. I have also learned that the authority of the Call is Christ’s alone. When the Call is undoubtably Divine, then it’s a selfless one. Sure, the Called person carries human thorns into the very ministry he or she enters, but I’ll bet you already know the answer to my next unasked question. Right…grace.
Thank you Deaconess Suzanne, Pastor Donald, Pastor Warren, Pastor Tom, and all other Called teachers and staff. Thank you for being “all in.” That may seem like a simple characterization, but I’m a simple guy. Pastor Tom…I know you don’t want any fuss about your retirement, so I’ll just say this: Thank you again. Thank you for your teaching, your guidance, your leadership, your mentorship, and even your acerbic, yet somehow still silly, sense of humor. Thank you for sharing your Gift (capital G). Most of all, thank you for answering the Call.