I spend several hours each month working on tasks that have only indirect if any benefit to the ministry of the congregation that employes me.
At least once a month I awaken an hour early to drive for an hour and a half to attend an all day meeting before arriving home typically ten hours after I leave in the morning. Some months I take part in two even three of these long meetings at which I speak only a few words. In between these meetings I do associated tasks including long teleconferences and writing various documents. On average, I work about 7 hours a week on these tasks.
I suppose I could decline these meetings and not volunteer for additional tasks between meetings. Several of my colleagues avoid similar opportunities.
Instead I perceive these tasks helping other congregations as my call to ministry. An opportunity to further God’s kingdom in the world.
The first chapter of the Gospel According to Luke records Mary answering God’s call to service.
Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”
In order for Mary to agree to conceive and give birth to a son, and name him Jesus, God had to allow her to say “no.” I cannot recall any instance where God imposed a duty on an unwilling person. Several people ask for and receive signs verifying angelic announcements. Several ask if God has called the right person. But God commands no one to serve against their will.
In order to say “yes,” to agree to serve, saying “no” must be a possibility.
How have you said “yes” to God’s call to further the Kingdom of heaven?
Many decades ago I had served my home town as a volunteer emergency medical technician. In addition to a few hours a week of volunteer service, often in the middle of the night, I had completed hundreds of hours of training, at my expense. The firefighters in our community were also entirely volunteers. In the course of this training we learned of Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37) laws intended to protect volunteers.
Increasingly communities can find fewer people willing to volunteer their time to aid their neighbors. Each year training programs become increasingly more complex, take longer to complete, and more costly to the volunteer. Increasingly volunteers do not complete the training or cannot meet the physical requirements. Or perhaps those might volunteer would rather pay someone else than take those courses and relinquish precious volunteer time.
At a church training event the leader talked about traditional church dinners where members brought casseroles, salads, and pies they had made at home. Older women in her congregation had complained that younger women no longer baked, but had resorted to store-bought items. This pastor and her husband both managed full-time careers and a family. For her, and many of her peers, adding a few items to her shopping cart made better use of her time than an hour or more in her kitchen. For her family, it made cents to pay someone else to cook.
Are we becoming a nation of “Innkeepers,” people providing hospitality for a wage rather than as an act of charity?
Admittedly hiring professionals has significant advantages over volunteers:
Regular and frequent experience teaches much that a few hours of class can only begin to cover.
Paid help can be scheduled more readily and more reliably.
Store bought food is more likely to meet health department guidelines for cleanliness and contamination.
But much is lost as well as we shift from supporting one another to buying a service from a paid employee. How will we maintain connections with our neighbors that will unite us a nation?
Yes, I realize that the social question –Are you ready for Christmas?– merely inquires about decorations, parties, and presents. This question merely opens an opportunity about finding the perfect present for one’s spouse, hiding long sought for games from increasingly inquisitive children, and putting up a display that rivals one’s neighbors. A time to ask: “Would so and so understand a gift of fish that might help build God’s kingdom?”
Yes, I am ready for the rush of worship services that involve children and adults who do not normally participate in worship. For that annual flurry of religious excitement and renewal the planning and writing and recruiting began weeks ago and is now largely in place. Although these events will produce anxieties up until all the candles are extinguished.
But no, I am not ready, at least not on a personal level. Mary’s unplanned pregnancy had troubled her and it had troubled Joseph. News of Jesus’ birth had troubled Herod and all Jerusalem with him, compelling this new family to relocate to a foreign land. The birth of Christ should trouble us unless we are unaware of its significance, like the magi, or have nothing left to lose, like the shepherds. It is like the line in a movie when the bad guy says: “Prepare to meet your Maker!” Or when the final exam proctor says: “Pencils down. Close your test booklets.” Thus the glitter and pageantry distract me from the reason for the season and interfere with making time to ponder: “Where is Christ in all this?”
So, no, I am not ready. I am troubled that God has much service for me to do before I will be ready to sing with Simeon:
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:30-32 (NRSV)