We have been watching the video series Ed's Story in Sunday School. Ed is Ed Dobson who was the pastor of a fairly good sized church in Michigan until he found out he had ALS (known as Lou Gehrig's disease) about 12 years ago. He got it in the prime of his life and ministry at 51. He was forced to resign from his church and was told he had 3 - 5 years to live. He has lived longer but today his body is virtually useless. His last book was written with the aid of a voice activated computer. I was thinking about Ed and other pastors/church leaders/theologians I have known who became disabled or even died in the prime of their ministries. It seems like such a waste. I remember one guy who worked with Inter Varsity and traveled speaking about the intersection of Christ, the Church and culture. I was in my first ministry assignment when I heard him speak and read one of his books. He was a brilliant writer and captivating speaker. Then another friend of mine called to tell me he had been speaking at some meetings and gone outside to jog and died of a heart attack. He was not yet 40. What a waste I remember thinking. Why, God, did that happen? He was such a good one. The Church needed him. Obviously, I don't why. But, it does get me thinking we tend to invest ourselves with much more importance than seems appropriate for the terms of our condition. As a pastor, I am used to another idea we hear in the Church a lot. The word is "call", as in he or she was called to this church. I have heard something like this: we are so glad God called you here. Your calling was an answer to prayer. It can make you feel pretty special to think you were singled out from many others and chosen by God for this particular job. Of course, it can work the other way too as in we were mistaken. We see now you were not the one God called to this place! You're fired!
"Calling" is a strange idea. Is the pastor the only one called to a particular church? What about the youth leader or one of the deacons or the person who heads up the music every week? What about the person who stands at the door and greets or who sees to it the bathrooms are clean every week? Does God call us for certain periods of time and then we are no longer called. What happens when the one called gets sick, or gets ALS or dies or decides its time to retire. Do you even get to retire if you are called. How do you know when your call is up?
I tend to think God calls us to faith in Christ and then there are all sorts of ways to work out that calling. Every one called is spiritually gifted for ministry. Calls are different but no one is higher or better than any other. When I was young we heard the phrase used, "he was called into full time Christian service", but is there any other kind of Christian service?
Ed Dobson was still called to full time Christian ministry even when he got ALS. His new ministry didn't look much like what it had before but his calling never changed. That's the way it makes sense to me; we are called to be followers of Christ and the way that gets worked out is different for each of us. It's not up to us and what's important is that we get to be part of what God is doing in our part of His kingdom.