There we sat, Tom and I, just married a few months, in front of the pastor we were told to see to help us decide our future. Bubbling with excitement and eager anticipation of a great new journey ahead of us, we said to the man sitting behind the big desk separating us from each other;
"We want to serve the Lord full time with our whole lives. We want to help people find salvation and a life in Jesus, as we have", we said. "What should we do?"
His unenthusiastic reply was: "Well, Tom you need to go to seminary or Bible school, as you need theological preparation before you go anywhere or can be used in ministry full time".
"Okay, what about me? Should I go too?" I said eagerly.
I was told it didn't matter if I went or not, since I was a woman and in a supportive role to Tom's calling. (Yes, I really was told this, and it was only the first of many more such comments to come to me over the years, but that is another topic to someday write on).
He suggested nursing school for me, or something else that would supplement our income if we needed it.
He continued on, oblivious to my obvious deflation, directing us onto the mission field as a "better fit" for us with:
"Then, you'll need to pick a country to go to and live in. Find a place, people group or culture and get prepared in what you'll need to set up a ministry there. You also need to begin to raise the monthly financial support you'll need for years, so start cultivating relationships with those who will give financially to you and your ministry."
We didn't follow his advice, and someday I'll share what we did instead. But for the sake of this topic, let me summarize the advice points that he had given us:
1. Training and education are required preparations for Christian ministry
2. Ministry is seen as a profession
3. Men are seen in the primary and crucial ministry role, women are supporters to that role
4. You need to "go somewhere" to live to be considered a missionary
5. Relationships are sought out and cultivated so they will financially support your professional ministry
Humans like systems. We like to organize our beliefs into workable and manageable systems and then set up our strategies to achieve them effectively. At some point in history, we began to do this with the Kingdom mandate to "go and make disciples of all the nations" that was given to all those who believe in and are followers of Christ.
In our created system of religion, we formed distinct ministerial jobs; professions of service and positional status and accessibility. We separated men and women, young and old, trained and untrained, usable and unusable, the really important roles from the not so important roles.
A few such categories I'll list are; " Missionary" (full time or short term).
"Pastor" (Executive, Worship, Senior, Children's, Youth, Women's, etc) . "Full time" (important ministry) vs "lay" unpaid (less important ministry).
In Frank Viola's book, Pagan Christianity, he covers much of this. I would recommend it to you for further biblical study on the subject, so I won't go into all it's history and formation. Instead, I want to relate the negative affect this theology has had upon our seeing each member in the Body of Christ as a "sent one" (apostle), an ambassador and full time representative of Jesus and His Kingdom. Each one necessary and having all the qualifications needed because each one is filled with the Holy Spirit who has all that we require.
As Neil Cole, Alan Hirsch and others have written about so much better than I could ever do, we are infused with the DNA of Christ when we become believers. All that we need is found in that Jesus DNA. It's not Jesus AND education, Jesus AND credentials, Jesus AND .....whatever gives us qualification and credibility.
Sure, we can add education, training, and all the systems of organization and classification we want. It doesn't necessarily enhance us, in fact, I think it can hinder us because we begin to rely upon our heads, our training, our qualifications, over the Holy Spirit and His empowering.
I've been writing the last few posts on some people I know who are living out being sent ones. Sent ones everyday, in all the contexts of their lives in obedience and in love.
These are not people who are professional missionaries, pastors or in any way would meet the criteria that the pastor years ago instructed Tom and myself with. And yet they are incredibly anointed and fruitful in ministry. Their lives are impacting people around them with Christ.
The story of the Samaritan woman illustrates this so well. Not only was she a woman (highly unqualified in that culture), she was also a Samaritan (low in stature), and a woman likely held in disdain for her many husbands and boyfriends. She was about as unqualified as a person could get, and yet in her short contact with Jesus, she became a missionary. A sent one with a message that she delivered to her village, and they responded to it. She had the DNA.
I'm not in any way, criticizing those who call themselves full time 'missionaries' or 'professional pastors' who serve here or live in other countries through the endorsement and financial support of others. However, I am wanting us to rethink our paradigms of missional calling.
What should be natural and a part of normal life for all of us should not be made into a professional job that only the few are called and trained to do.
My desire in writing on missional life, is to bring some balance back into our lives and theology. We have separated mission from our lives in Christ for too long.