Called to lead: But, where?! How?!

Rachel Held Evans was a Christian writer and blogger who said, “Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.”[1] What a wonderful challenge as churches seek to minister to the community, neighborhoods, nation, and the whole world around them. The church is one of the places in people’s lives where they should be able to fully be who they are. It is a sacred space where everyone should be able to bring their strengths and brokenness, struggles and triumphs, all without fear of judgment. This is certainly a gift in a society that regularly tells people to act, dress, and be a certain way. The outer pressures are mounting and yet, Christian sanctuaries should be a relief from the worldly pressures as well as laboratories to explore who we are called to be.

Healthy congregations today are able to adapt to the needs that are around them. Congregations often reminisce about the mid-twentieth century heyday of American Christianity: a time when the doors would open, and people simply walked in wearing their Sunday finest. It was a time when denominational ties were an important identity marker and, for the most part, everything shut down when Sunday morning worship took place. Perhaps these easy successes led to the complacency to equip leaders, gauging relevancy and vitality simply by annual membership and attendance numbers rather than discipleship and ministry.

This changing Christian landscape requires an expanded understanding of ministry—one that makes use of the unique gifts, talents, and possessions bestowed to each person. The church will be led to new places when they are willing to follow the Spirit, hearing the voices of all God’s people (including those who share visions that seem impossible, improbable, and outright crazy), and responding with trust to God’s call in their life together. If anyone can make the impossible possible, surely it is God!

New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York, realized that, though several different community groups utilized their building each week, they didn’t know much about them. They looked at their assets and realized that their large parking lot could be more than simply a place for cars. They dreamed up the idea of a farmer’s market as a place to tie together all of these communities and groups. In the first summer they welcomed 50–60 people each week. More than eight years later, hundreds come through their parking lot to connect with and fellowship alongside others in the community.

The farmer’s market not only connected the church with those who use their building, but it also drew them out into the neighborhood. It pushed them outside of the sanctuary walls into the lives of those around them. It succeeded not only in adding to the church’s ministries, but also creating spaces for all who walk onto the parking lot to dream of the ways they contribute to the community.

One Sunday morning at a church in New Jersey, a seven-year-old boy hesitantly approached the front of the sanctuary in the line for communion. As he neared the front of the line, the pastor knelt down and looked him right in the eye with a smile, “Jonathan, this is the body of Christ for YOU!”

He took a tiny crumb (as so many adults before him had) and started to walk toward the chalice, aware that he shouldn’t hold up the line behind him. But the pastor said urgently, “Take more! A piece as big as God’s love for you.”

He skipped away with a smile on his face and two big hunks of bread dripping in grape juice in either hand.

Even the youngest among us have a place at Christ’s table.

Ordained leaders—whether deacons, ruling elders, or pastors—are the front line that invests in the lives of the youngest to the oldest, the long-standing member or the first-time visitor, and every single person who walks through the church’s doors. They are called to encourage them to seek the life to which they are made in Christ, just as they seek to do the same in their own. Elders do this with attention to worship, education, and governance of the whole congregation. Deacons focus on the spiritual and physical needs so that people can be whole. Pastors preach, teach, and lead in ways that equip and engage those around them.

One’s call can be as big as planning a farmer’s market or as simple as reminding a child that there is a seat at Christ’s table for them, too. It can be just as daunting as it is exciting and inspiring to say, “Yes, I will serve!” What comes after the commitment to the ordination vows before the gathered congregation in worship is a testimony to the beliefs, hopes, dreams, and faith of the one who offers their service.

No one walks this journey alone. Fellow ruling elders and deacons can discern the way forward together, walking through the boundaries of committees’ autonomy and efficiency to engage in collaborative ministry with others. The pastor or pastors serve as resources and guides for the church’s vision, both in the present and for the future. Presbytery and national office leaders can provide denominational resources and trends that may enhance your ministries. All leaders should pray often, read Scripture as a daily practice, and familiarize themselves with the history, confessions, and polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). These acts will be foundational to the call to serve the church for such a time as this.

The encouragement Paul offered to the church in Ephesus is a touchstone for all Christians, but especially congregational leaders: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph 4:1).

For Reflection and Discussion:

How might your community of leaders engage in collaborative ministry and engage in this ordination vow together?

[1] Rachel Held Evans, Seaching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.