Chapter 1.
The Call to Serve

"Believers must let the full implications of the salvation work out into every area of life. Each must respond to Him as Lord over all of life, for it is how He who will be walking in the life of the believing, causing them to want to do his will and then working in their life to enable them to do it."

—Henry Blackaby

Those who grew up in traditional church settings often hear the call to serve more easily than others. Attending children's Sunday school and youth classes helped them learn and apply Biblical principles to their lives. They didn't instinctively know what "working out your salvation" meant. However, years later, they appreciate learning those seemingly insignificant lessons, particularly the salvation that is at work in Christ's followers.

Associate ministers who come from a traditional church background know some of the unwritten rules. Those who did not grow up in church learn by trial and error. Regardless of background, every associate minister must remember that he or she is still a church member and must be subject to the Pastor.

Below are a few of those unwritten but expected pulpit etiquettes that can be found in predominantly African/American churches:

The Rev. Jesse Voyd Bottoms, Jr., in his book, "A Training Manual for Associate Ministers," adds to the protocol listing, "Never try to preach a "pastoral" sermon. This is so, because associate ministers don't have a "flock." Never try to discipline, correct or give administrative instruction in your sermon. Never spank anyone else's children, at least until you become a parent yourself. Never accept a preaching engagement or enroll in a course of study without prior approval and advice from your pastor. The path to the pulpit goes through the Sunday school, Bible Class, Prayer Meeting and the Tithe Box, and don't be a "church hopper associate."

According to Paul, the instructor differs from the pastor /father as one who is tutoring as a schoolteacher instructing a child in academics. This process cannot prepare them for the real world of spiritual dynamics.

The pastor imparts to the associate to gain life skills, knowledge of virtues, Bible doctrine, personal convictions and biblical interpretation. The pastor assists in the reading of the chart that God has mapped out for the associate minister. It is then up to the associate as to how far they really want to go.

In his book, "Pastors of Promise, Jack Hayford suggests that, "A distinct mission that is within the privileged call of a pastor is the call to father the men."

The significance of pastors is that they help associates focus on the satisfaction of following God's divine will instead of "success in ministry." While we should all strive for progress under leadership of the Spirit, we must never forget Paul's admonition that, "Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ... that I may gain Christ...(and) press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:7-8, 14).

In the service we do for Christ, it must be made very clear that we serve God as we serve people. Luke 16:13 records our Lord Christ warning us as Christians and as ministers not to look at the service to others for the purpose of gain, but as pleasing God only. "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (NKJV).

The call can be answered by people of different ages. The pastor, in single, as well as multi-staff settings, welcomes the new minister, because there are always needs in the local church where the associates may be used.

The associate minister can be a former pastor who has moved from another city or who wanted to go to school. This person's seasoned life can be of great benefit to the pastor.

Chris Platt, the Teaching Pastor at Crestwood Baptist Church, Crestwood Kentucky, had served as senior pastor for 10 years, when Troy Dobbs invited him to partner with him in the ministry at Crestwood. After much prayer, Chris sensed that God was calling him to become Teaching Pastor at a church expected to grow dramatically in the coming years. In the past four years, they doubled in worship attendance to 1,300.

The structures of many churches today have what is called a "Pastoral Staff," functioning in a targeted area of ministry like a small church within a larger one. There is usually a senior pastor who oversees the process and whose job description is executively detailed for that congregation. In some church settings, when the term "pastor" is invocated on young, inexperienced ministers, it can have effects that hinder the relationship between the church and senior pastor. Because of immaturity, there can be an attempt to interweave oneself within the church family and challenge the senior pastor's vision or authority. Chris and many others who are called into a multi-pastoral staff must have clear and mature convictions of their calling and position.

The term associate may also be applied to an assistant pastor, in which case there is a definite job description, which is agreed upon by the pastor and church family. The associate ministers, after preaching their initial sermons, should be placed on a training track that will identity and develop their spiritual giftedness. There is sometimes a rare occasion when a person is called to rededicate their life to the Lord and may have a call to a specific area of ministry. It may include specific areas of ministry in the church but not exclusively preaching or pastoring. One may be called to teach and assume that it is a call to preach. This is why your pastor and church family must prayerfully walk you though the process of discerning what the Lord is saying to you.

The call of God should transform your thoughts to be like His. It should transfer your desires from things of this world to the benefits of the Kingdom.

Lastly, the call should transmit the Word of God to your mind, so at any given moment you will be able to tell others about His grace and mercy. This transformation should also refine the sensitivity of the minister to the listener.

The searching eye of the Holy Spirit looks at the hurts and pain of the congregation, as well as the reason to rejoice and celebrate. This is not just for the new preacher but all that proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Eddie Long was on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) one evening. He told the story about a lady who had come into his office grieving because her friend had committed suicide, and she was having a difficult time working through it. Bishop Long asked when it happened. She told him that she was in church on a particular Sunday when he preached. Bishop Long remembered that Sunday, because he thought it was one of the greatest worship services they had experienced at the church. He even remembered the sermon as one of the best messages and deliveries he had ever done. While he was preaching, and the church was electric in praise and worship, shouting and glorifying God, there was a young man at that service, who was trying to hold onto dear life, while the shrill dissonance became an independent filament that had burned for the last time. Some time after that service, the young man committed suicide. When our celebratory times are so intense, there should also be the discernment incorporated with them that identify a specific need in the congregation.

The point was clearly understood by Bishop Long and all who listened, that we can become so caught up in our calling, our preaching, and our worship and praise, that we may miss the point of the healing process of the power of God.

Then, on Bishop Long's program, "Behind Shut Doors," on New Birth Churches, broadcast July 25, 2004, he was in the middle of the preaching service and suddenly had people to stand who had been thinking about taking their own lives.

Many stood and were encouraged by his words. It is unfortunate that the young man died, but because of his death many now live and are set free by the healing power of the word of God.

The discernment of the Holy Spirit should be so sensitive in the worship that He may be allowed to interrupt the preacher when there are specific needs within the congregation. The preacher should have pure discernment about what is happening or miss what God is doing. The preaching moment has less to do with your abilities and more to do with your availability to the moving of God's Spirit. Much preparation can be given to the sermon and much prayer about the service itself, but the power can only come through the Living God who creates the entire drama of redemption.

The Church's Function

The major functions of the church are to:

With these aims in mind, the local pastor's job is to oversee the alteration of lost souls from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. As the challenges and needs of the people in a local church increase, the Lord sends the pastor assistance to care for the congregation.

This principle is seen in Exodus. After leading Israel out of Egypt, Moses was staggering under the weight of trying to judge every dispute that arose among his people. Once his father-in-law, Jethro, watched this procession, he asked, "What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?" Moses answered him, "Because the people come to me to seek God's will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws." Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him" (Exodus 18:14-19).

Jethro wisely showed Moses he had too many people to manage by himself. He needed to find leaders in each family to assist in gathering the people and leading them to the Promised Land. Likewise, associate ministers are part of the church family first, then a preacher of the gospel.

No matter what rules a particular church establishes for its associate ministers, the guiding principle for such leaders should always be to understand that God holds the Senior Pastor responsible for the flock. This respect should permeate throughout the entire church.

No matter what one's position in the church, our prayer should always be that God will help us appreciate the necessity of His body functioning together without division and bitterness. We should be looking through the eyes of God, so we can see that our purpose is to point others to God, not at ourselves.

The church is one of the world's greatest wonders. It is the spiritual shuttle that takes believers from their past failures to the present hope in Christ Jesus. All our monuments and trophies, both physical and mental, are stripped from us as babes in Christ by the hand of God's word and exchanged for the manifest triumphs that come through the cross of Calvary. The church has relocated and seated us into the heavenly realm. I know that there are some "church folk" who still have darkness in their souls. It may appear they act out of that darkness rather than the kingdom of light, but it is through the renewing of the mind that people change. We are born with a language of darkness, but we don't realize it until it is revealed to us through the light of the gospel.

Our second son, Shawn, was just learning to walk, and he was using a walker, which enabled his legs to go in any direction he wanted. Amelia had baked some pies and set them on the dryer to cool. Shawn went into the kitchen where the dryer was, and we followed him and watched from a distance. Then, at once we saw the beginning of the knowledge of good and evil at work in him. He looked around to see if anyone was looking, and then he reached for one of the pies. He pulled one down and placed his whole face in it. Out of ignorance, we laughed at the event, not realizing this was the time he was aware of right and wrong choices. It was the time when the darkness of his soul was being established. Darkness had entered his little mind, and suggested that he pick up the pie, but to first see if anyone was looking. The language of darkness was now speaking to him and setting up its foundation. Darkness reveals itself by sinful acts, and we assume that it is our own thought process that is doing it and not the darkness that is in the mind, will, and emotions, better known as the soul. Once sin is revealed, the choice is to relish it or reject it. The church's position on sin should be a policy of zero tolerance. Because of the darkness (better known as the carnal mind) that comes into the local church by way of compromise and active sinners in leadership, tolerance numbers seem to fluctuate higher than they should, because of circumstances and people who have yielded to darkness for so long. It seems like it is right or at least non-compromising to them.

Stronghold means a fortress, something built up to defend and protect territory. In spiritual terms; the stronghold is a lie, yet someone believes it is true. Thus, a stronghold develops because of continued acceptance of an action or attitude in a certain area, which influences the need to compromise the truth of God. Yes, all have sinned and come short, but the power of the Gospel is intended to save, heal and deliver us from darkness into his marvelous light.

The church has been delivered from the penalty and the power, but not the presence of darkness, through the blood of Jesus Christ and translated into the image of the Son of God. It is through the church the Word of life is extended to the believer, and the responsive action will gradually transform that person into a beholding image of the Son of God. Through the renewing of the mind, our thoughts lead to the change of emotions, which eventually leads to the change of our actions.

The church is able to receive the pre-eminent divine acts of God who gives the believer life as He brings truth to a living format rather than just a verbal concept. When we are active in the Body of Christ (the church), we are in His holy presence, and our lives become tortured wonders. That which angels have experienced throughout eternity past, we in our human bodies may experience in eternity present. It is a paradoxical splendid measure of worship, prayer and praise, the splendor of His presence versus the misery of the limited human experience, which can only limit the amount of His presence. The greatest way to experience this transformation is to have a child-like confidence in the God of our salvation. A trust, which becomes a daily avalanche on our presumptions and removes our fears from existence, can only be received through the preaching of the gospel of deliverance in the church. The church needs discernment to fulfill this task. I would also recommend that the local congregation be taught the gifts of the spirit as a corporate body. This will make the members aware of their giftedness and where they will fit into the body. The darkness can also be exposed through the biblical teaching of spiritual matters from God's word. The associates who have gone through the spiritual gifts' analysis may assist the rest of the congregation in the same process. This will also allow the church family to see their own darkness and be able to expel it from their own minds. The central position of Christ in the history of the world is to exist victoriously in the lives of his saints. "As religion is the deepest and holiest concern of man, the entrance of the Christian religion into history is the most momentous of all events. It is the end of the Old World and the beginning of the new."

"The number one issue of many churches is their need to change... to adapt to the communities needs."

- T. Vaughn Walker

"An African/American church must register a healthy pulse, be of sound mind and purpose and have a strong pastor if it is to serve as a change agent for the community," a professor and pastor said.

"A healthy church is a change-agent church. A healthy church is always growing," says T. Vaughn Walker, a Professor of Black Church Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor of First Gethsemane Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

"The number one issue of many churches is their need to change—to adapt to the communities' needs," Walker says, adding African/American churches come from historical and traditional backgrounds, "the churches that have the hardest time changing."

Many abide by such creeds as, "We've always done it this way," Walker said. "The goal is simply to perpetuate the past Change is almost always seen as a negative, and stagnation is interpreted as stability"

Walker said he takes many of his precepts from Rick Warren's Book, "The Purpose Driven Church." "I don't know of a book that has impacted me more. I've read it three times, and I'm on my third copy, because I keep giving my copies away."

From Warren's book, Walker gives the five-part strategy for developing a healthy church:

"It must be warmer through fellowship,

It must be deeper through discipleship,

It must be stronger through worship,

It must be broader through ministry,

It must be larger through evangelism."

Responding to the Call

Before going further in this book, it is worth pausing to examine God's calling and its nature. God's calling features three distinct characteristics:

In addition, this call gives us hope. It is a hope that springs from faith and is founded on belief in God's truth, the only sure foundation. It is also a sober hope, drawn from the source of God's truth, the hope of the gospel. What is the hope of His calling? Those who have left the world behind to follow Christ have already obtained enough to reward them for obedience to God's call. Christians possess eternal riches, such as:

Our main possession still lies in hope. We carry a bag of spending money in our hands, but the bulk of our wealth is deposited in the Bank of Hope. What then is the Christian's hope?

(1) The hope or belief of being under divine protection forever and the object of eternal divine love despite the storms of life, because Christ is at the helm, His children know security. Sustained by this hope, they dread no labors and fear no difficulties.

(2) With solid evidence, the hope after death the Day of Judgment to stand before God justified and righteous.

(3) The hope of absolute perfection. The God who has changed humans' hearts will continue His good work until He has removed every desire and possibility for sin in His follower's lives.

(4) The hope that his or her body will be perfected. Once raised, Christians will be identified as always, yet be different.

(5) The hope that being cleared in judgment and made absolutely perfect, infinite happiness will be enjoyed.

(6) To look ahead to even more, reigning forever, to be in a condition of power, honor, and close relationship with God the Father. This is the ultimate hope of the Christian's calling.

God is so good that He has given us riches that are far beyond comparison to the richest oil sheik or computer software magnate. God loves His children in abundant measure and has spent riches of love upon them, for He loves them, poor, sick and sinful as they often are. The Lord has also spent a wealth of wisdom on His saints, which enhances their value in His eyes. There's more.

God has placed His exceeding greatness on those who believe. In the conversion, preservation, and salvation of just one soul, God exhibits power as great as He manifested when He raised Christ from the dead. No man can be saved by his own strength.

God Himself orchestrates the call as a union between His word and your life, believing God can use anyone to do His will. Madam Guyon says it like this, "We come not to the ultimate state of Christian experience. This cannot be brought about merely by your own experience. Meditation will not bring Divine Union. Neither will love, nor worship, nor devotion, nor your sacrifice, nor does it matter how much light the Lord gives you. Eventually, it will take an act of God to make union a reality. Your life will not know the experience of union with His life. Even your most exalted prayer must first be destroyed before union can come about. All prayers that proceed from your mind are merely preparation for bringing you to a passive state. Any and all active contemplation on your part is also just preparation for bringing you to a passive state. They are preparations.

They are not the end. They are a way to the end. Charles Haddon Spurgeon in his, "Morning and Evening Devotions," paints an awesome comparison between the personalities to whom we have looked up for many years and how we can live in the remembrance of the blessings He has given. "Forget not all His benefits" (Psalm 103:2).

"It is a delightful and profitable occupation to mark the hand of God in the lives of ancient saints, and to observe His goodness in delivering them, His mercy in pardoning them, and His faithfulness in keeping His covenant with them. Would it not be even more interesting and profitable for us to remark the hand of God in our own lives? Ought we not to look upon our own history as being at least as full of God, as full of His goodness and of His truth, as much a proof of His faithfulness and veracity, as the lives of any of the saints who have gone before?"

A Rich Inheritance

If church members, in general, and associate ministers, in particular, better understood the riches they already possess and the security of their future, they would spend less time bickering, complaining, and jockeying for position. We should not be like the world, where humans literally rush to court to recover every last dime of a monetary inheritance that they reason is rightfully theirs.

The inheritance God keeps for us is glorious. We are only passing through this earth en route to an eternal home, one where the streets are paved with gold. Worldly riches and prestige are mythical pictures. While they appear to promise happiness and fulfillment, they are without lasting substance. As long as we are on this earth, we should pursue the only inheritance that lasts.

A few key characteristics of God's inheritance:

(1) If He has a rich and glorious inheritance in His saints, then He must take pleasure in it. Although this delight may be disturbed by sin and sorrow, it exists without human variation. It is stable and consistent.

(2) God will not forsake His inheritance. His special title and claim to it, use of it, care of it and delight in it, are all reasons for retaining it. God has the capacity and ability to retain it. Human inheritances will all eventually die, fade away or change, but God never changes.

(3) Because of this glorious inheritance, His saints should think, feel, speak, act and live in harmony with their position. Those who receive an unexpected financial windfall or sudden social prominence often do not understand all that is required of them. Likewise, saints should learn to appreciate their position gradually, through the Holy Spirit's instruction.

Christians should care for themselves for God's sake. To defile, degrade or debase themselves, or to waste their energies and talents, is to waste God's inheritance The truth of a lasting inheritance is important for associates to understand. Lasting rewards will not come from how high a position they ultimately hold, how large a church they serve, or how much prestige, salary and honors they grasp in their hands.

The questions God will one day ask:

Those who serve God cannot be deceived into pursuing the same goals as the world. Some people think they will go to heaven because they repeated a prayer acknowledging Jesus as Savior. If they didn't mean this in their hearts and never live under His Lordship, their eternal destiny is in question. Just as a wise man will not leave a monetary inheritance to children who will consume it with riotous living, neither will God leave His inheritance to one who loves pleasure and profit more than the King. Pray that God will open the eyes of your understanding. Ask Him to give you a heart to love and trust Him. Then you will see Him, not only through the works of His hands, but in all the events of life.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Explain what "working out your salvation" means to you.
  2. What is God's call on your life? What three practical steps are you taking to respond?
  3. What characteristic of the church do you find frustrating? What characteristic do you find rewarding?
  4. How could you be more effective in supporting your pastor?
  5. How could your pastor more effectively help you respond to God's call?
  6. List your three leading ministry goals.
  7. Where do you see your ministry going in the next five years?
  8. What steps are you taking to assure that this vision will materialize?
  9. Will you be open to change if and when God wants to do something different?
  10. Do you have a developed confidence in public speaking?

Notes

  1. Henry T. Blackaby and Kerry L. Skinner, Called and Accountable: God's Purpose for Every Believer, (Birmingham, Ala., New Hope Press, 2002), 35.
  2. Jack Hayford, Pastors of Promise, (Ventura, Calif: Regal Books, 1997).
  3. R. J. McGhee, M. A. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Bible Soft Pub. Madam Guyon
  4. S. Martin, D.D. I.S.B.E. Bible Soft Pub.
  5. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia PC Study Bible, 1969