Titles & Calling
My name is Roy and I have never felt called by God to ministry.
Amongst the many glimpses of the public and private lives of Lilian and Martin, these are two that caught my attention: titles and calling. The topic of titles comes from the chapter, “What Shall I Call You?” and the topic of calling is from various chapters throughout the book “This Odd and Wondrous Calling”.
Let me begin with “titles”. As we have heard in class, some full-time Christian workers take their titles very seriously. Titles and names are removed and misspelled (in church bulletins and websites) at your own peril! It was helpful to be reminded by the author that reverend is an adjective. We live in a Singapore church culture where this adjective reverend is so tied to the surname that what God has ordained let no laymen put asunder.
Titles are however not unimportant. None of us would ever want to be operated by a doctor who does not have a genuine title. If we take such care to ensure our physical well-being, it is then a matter of wisdom that we want to learn from the best pastor-theologians. The problem is not with titles themselves but when individuals base their identities on their titles. We live in a world that is constantly defined by our doing and not our being. We see this all the time when we introduce ourselves to one another. In meeting someone new, inevitably we will talk about our vocations. And how often do we allow the knowledge of one’s vocation to influence how we interact with one another. Our identity is in Christ alone, not titles.
When I return to serve in church, I will I probably be in the role of a preacher. So I will called preacher Roy. Talk about being identified by your function! I am very eager not to have this ‘title’ next to my name. So what should people whom I minister to call me? I am happy to to called by my name. I am thankful that over the years, one of the youths began addressing me as P.Roy, p. being short for pastor. That name has since stuck with me and many youths address me simply as PRoy. I think it works. I feel it allows me to relate closer to my youths. At the same time, it reminds me of my responsibility to by teaching and shepherding them by the Word of God and prayer. I do not think that PRoy will work with the rest of the congregation. I will have continue to build good relationships with the congregation at Living Praise. As I do so, may God help me to remember that my identity is secured in Christ alone and not any title, whatever it may be.
What is your calling? Do you feel called by God? I will take this opportunity to confess that the question is one of my pet peeves. I think these questions are confusing and not helpful in making decisions regarding ministry work. Please allow me to explain. Whenever I hear this question, my first half-joking response is, “If God calls, you better answer”.
Biblically, the word call is used over 300 times primarily in two ways: first, we are called to be Christians, second, we are called to be holy.
The problem is when we extend the use of this word call to our vocations, especially paid full-time gospel ministry work.
Do we not notice that most people are not worried about whether they are called by God to be a doctor, lawyer, hawker, etc. But when it comes to Christian ministry work, suddenly everyone is very concerned that you have heard God’s call. The open house for Singapore Bible College is titled, “Discerning God’s Call”. In applying to be a student, the question of God’s call is asked. In interviewing for a ministry position in a church, the question is also asked.
By the way, this question never leaves once you have entered ministry. It keeps coming back. As we have seen from the book, your calling is continually questioned. And of course, during some of your toughest ministry days, you yourself will question whether God has really called you into the ministry. For others, calling is something that is also used to justify or deny one’s involvement in Christian ministry. So the question of calling in decision making is simply not helpful. It is often over spiritualised and confusing. I think it is not the right question to be asked primarily because Scripture does not.
I have been in full-time Christian ministry after I completed my studies in Business in Nanyang Technological University in 2001 and I have never heard or felt called God. I joined Singapore Youth for Christ in the Performing Arts ministry because school took out the desire for me to be in the business industry and I thought it might be cool travelling to countries in Asia and playing in a band for Jesus. I continued doing that seven years. I did not hear any call. All I heard was music playing and I enjoyed that I could use that to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Since then I joined a church to serve in the music ministry followed by the youth ministry. I was previously from a Brethren church where there are no full-time pastors. The preaching was done by the lay elders. In my new church, I saw the wonderful privilege and responsibility that pastors have to care for the congregation through their study and preaching of God’s Word. I was edified through the ministry of the Word and saw the need for many teachers of the Bible to be well trained to handle and herald the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Please do not misunderstand me. I think all the things that we are doing to ascertain whether a candidate is suitable for Christian ministry is useful. We need discernment. But we do not have to call the decision-making process “calling”. What do we call it then? Well, now it becomes an issue of wisdom, aspirations, desires, duty etc. I believe that this will encourage more Christians who might be otherwise uncertain to consider the possibility of full-time Christian ministry and discourage laziness in Christians who might otherwise be serving because of the excuse that they are not called.