International Ministries

Kelseys in Italy-Can the Call Ever Be a Wrong Nunber?

February 20, 2012 Journal
Join-the-network.sm Tweet

The young man had finished his sermon; it was his first attempt at preaching.  It was a terrible sermon. No one wanted to discourage him, but the sermon had been painful to listen to.  He now stood at the door shaking the hands of the parishioners as they left.  The people were embarrassed and didn’t really know what to say.  One old man said to the young preacher:  “What makes you think you’re called to preach?”  The young man explained:  “I was out working in the field, and I looked up at the sky.  Right there, above me the clouds formed the letters ‘GP.’  I took that to mean that God was telling me to ‘Go Preach.’”  The old man shook his head and said:  “I think that meant ‘Go Plow.’”

I thought about this story last week as I led a course on church leadership for the elders at a Ghanaian church close to Parma.  We were talking about a sense of God’s calling to ministry and the church’s affirmation of that calling.  One of the elders asked what one should do when somebody stands up in the church and declares himself (in this church it would inevitably be a man) to be a pastor and then starts a church, and nobody else can envision this person as a pastor.  I told him that this was a very difficult problem. 

 Certainly, all ministry begins with a sense of calling, be it ministry as a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, or the one who makes coffee after the service.  We do not want to be found frustrating the calling of God in people’s lives.  Our African congregations here in Italy have a very “charismatic” understanding of ministry.  Extensive training is simply not possible for their leaders, and there is no central organization among the immigrant churches that formally recognizes church leaders or facilitates the placement of pastors.   It is a situation that can encourage people to misinterpret the call of the Spirit.  People can hear what they wish to hear.  It is a difficult thing to question someone’s perceived sense of  calling.  Our churches must tread very carefully.

Nonetheless, Paul writes about the qualifications of church leaders.  So, he assumed that churches would choose leaders based upon certain criteria and the shared wisdom of the community.  I shared with this group of leaders the importance of the affirmation of the Christian community as people sort out the call of God in their lives.

There are constantly new immigrant churches being planted in Italy, and there is a dearth of trained, experienced church leaders.  Thus, an important part of our work is supporting and encouraging churches as they sort out their leadership issues.

Among American Baptists, with our more comprehensive structure, there is a lot more help for people and churches sorting out issues of calling and leadership.  One avenue of help is the Hear the Call conference taking place May 18 to 25 at Green Lake Conference Center.  The event is being jointly sponsored by National Ministries, International Ministries, and the Ministers’ Council.  On May 18 to 20, the conference will help people who feel called to a wide range of ministries, both in the US and internationally, both ordained and lay ministry.  Then May 21 to 25 the conference will continue with a focus on what God is doing globally through International Ministries and her missionaries.  You can attend one or both pieces as your interest dictates.  For more information visit: http://www.internationalministries.org/read/38513-may-2012-hear-the-call-  All Christians are called to ministry, our role is to listen well and follow in faith.  This conference is designed to assist in that process.  Debbie is coordinating the Monday-Wednesday evening sessions, and she would love to see you there!

I was completing a nine-month seminary internship at a church and had just preached my last sermon in that place.  As the congregants left the sanctuary, many of them shared with me kind and encouraging words.  One elderly woman took both my hands in hers, but she seemed to be struggling to find something to say.  Finally she said:  “You pray a really good prayer; keep that up!”  Over the years I have continued to work on my preaching.  But I have taken her advice and have kept up the praying as well.

May God bless you as you fulfill your calling wherever you are,

Jim Kelsey (along with Debbie, Ben, and Luke)

As you pray, please remember:

-Our fellow Baptist brothers and sisters in Vietnam as they spread the Gospel in their homeland.

-The conference on March 16-18, where Italians and Africans will come together to talk about how we can build strong multicultural churches.