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The Ministry: A Call To Let Go

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 108

 
Browse--Don't Buy!
 
Browse...but don't buy anything! Often spoken by one spouse to another, these words are an invitation to look, consider and enjoy, but not to get too attached to whatever they see. If a spouse does anything more than just browse, the browser better be aware! He or she may find themselves controlled or addicted to the impulse of something that they just gotta have than they just won't be able to let go of no matter how hard they try!
 
Instead, Christians were not to own the world, but to simply "browse" through it. They could look, touch, and consider. They could gaze and be amazed. But whatever it was that they came into contact with, they, like the "browsing" shopper must be ready, willing and able to put down whatever they held or beheld at a moment's notice.   In short, it was a call for Christians to live a "letting go" lifestyle. This includes all Christians including ministers.
 
Certainly "letting go" is a major teaching of Scripture. Jesus' teachings to "give up your life so as to save it," to "don't put your trust where rust can destroy and where thieves can break in and steal," to the simple call, "Follow Me," are just some examples of that clear message of discipleship: Let go. Let go. Let go!
 
A Repetitious Message: Let Go
 
Being able to browse the world, to "be in the world but not of it" is not just a good idea. It is an essential identifying mark of the Christian. Though in the world, one was not to be tied to it, trapped by it, or seized by its objects of desires.
 
It's not just Jesus' words which urge this lifestyle. The teachings of the apostles and prophets also reflect the same message of "giving our lives as a living sacrifice" and recognizing that "our citizenship is in heaven".
 
Letting Go: The Doctrinal Core
 
In fact, the doctrinal core of Christianity is based on and permeated with a letting go. They all are based on the recognition that the greatest thing we can do is to let go. After all, since the reality is that without faith we cannot do anything, our posture of grace, of sanctification, of prayer and discipleship is all one of letting go. Consider how letting go is integrally interwoven in these basic Christian Doctrines.
 
1) Doctrine of Justification By Grace

What must you do to be saved? Not a thing. Your efforts can't do a thing to gain God's salvation. It's simply not in your control. So, if you're trying to save yourself, let go. It's God's work, not yours.

 
2) Doctrine of Sanctification

Why do you do good works? To be saved? To encourage, convince or persuade God to love you more? No. Good works are merely the demonstration of God's Work in our lives as proof that faith is living.

3) Doctrine of The Word

There is nothing we can do to make God's Word work. We don't control it, change it, soften it, manipulate it, or make it effective. All we do is preach it and proclaim it. Our calling is simply to preach it and let it go...and do as God intends.

4) Sacrament of Holy Baptism

The miracle of rebirth through water and Spirit is not our work. It's God's. He decided to connect His promises with the water. Adding or subtracting to he water avails nothing. Adding or subtracting to the ceremony avails nothing relative to salvation. It's simply God at work. We are merely the recipients. Since we don't control it, we let it go.

5) Sacrament of Holy Communion

Mere bread and wine remain mere bread and wine without the power of God. Indeed, unless the power of God's word was used, the bread and wine would never be the true fellowship with the real body and blood of Christ. In these simple elements He has given a miracle which is not within our power to create. All we do is to proclaim the instituted words and stand back to let God's Word and power work as He promised. Indeed, our greatest work is simply to let go.

6) Prayer

Prayer is not an act by which we control and manipulate God. Though called to pray as if to move mountains, the essence of Christian prayer is acknowledgement and surrender to God's will. Prayer is not an Aladdin's Lamb which, after rubbed, gives us total control of the Genie's power. Indeed, prayer is much the opposite. Indeed, there is no proper prayer which does not release everything we are, have possess, enjoy and experience to the gracious will of God. It is, after all, a letting go--giving God carte blanch in even the most guarded parts of our lives.

 
7) The Doctrine of Christ

Philippians chapter two speaks of Jesus' humbling of Himself to become human. Of this Paul wrote that Jesus did not consider being equal with God something to be "grasped." In other words, the first and greatest initiatory action of Christ for our salvation was to let go of His hold on His honor, His title, His majesty,   and the full use of His Divine power. Though He had the right to all this and   more, every aspect of His ministry was a letting go of His will to serve His Father's will. From His conception to His death, His entire earthly ministry was one characterized by His dying words, "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit." What most characterized His life also characterized His death: letting go of Himself for the will of God, His Father.

8) The Doctrine of the Resurrection

Death is the ultimate letting go. Those who die "most well" are those who release themselves into the loving arms of the Lord's grace. When all is said and done, death is simply a continuum of our lives...a letting go. For Paul, "for me to live is Christ, to die is gain." For Paul, once a Christian lets go, there's no difference between life and death. For life does not consist of things, Jesus said. They only get in the way...especially when we can't let go.

9) The Doctrine Of The Church ("Ecclesiology")

Despite the appearances, programs, buildings, task forces, and all other varieties of human effort in the church, such things do not really build the church. Certainly, they may be instruments which God has chosen. But in and of themselves, they do not build the church.

Instead, as Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 16:18, "I shall build My Church." Though He calls the church and its ministers to the greatest and most faithful exercise of service possible, it is Christ who gives the outcome. No matter how great, skillful, or magnificent the output, the outcome is always Christ's. He will build His church. Indeed, it is He who does it, not us. Let it go. You don't build it. You're only a reckless sower of seeds.

 
10) The Doctrine Of The Ministry

You didn't decide to be a pastor or minister. Oh, you may think you did. But really, you didn't. Human beings did not make the ministry nor did they decide to whom God would extend the call. Called servants and Christian churches merely acknowledge and recognized the calling of God by extending calls to God's servants as He moves them.

Indeed, Jeremiah and Isaiah's call experience--as well as so many others such as Paul, the disciples, King David, et al--demonstrate that God's calling is even before the creation of the world. It overtakes us without our cooperation, without our consent and contrary to our sinful nature. But God's call comes to us anyway. It wasn't in our control. It isn't now, either. Never was, never will be. You are a minister who will be led as God chooses. Quit trying to manipulate and wrest control away from God as to who and what your ministry will serve. Let it go. It's not yours anyway!

11) The Unity Of His Church ("Fellowship")

We don't create Christian fellowship nor do we create agreement with other Christians. The only agreement, the only unity which is real is the unity which God has given. "The Lord knows those who are His" Jesus declared. The Lord knows who they are because He created, named and choose them in the first place. He brought them into unity. What part did they really have? Nothing really. when they let God, God used and unified them for His glory.

12) The Doctrine of Last Things ("Eschatology")

Who of us knows when Jesus will return again? Who of us can cause it to happen sooner...or be delayed longer? Jesus will come at the time appointed by His Father. All we do is wait, and that patiently. Though we passionately and expectantly await His coming, each moment we do we are reminded that at any second Jesus can come to deliver us from this world. Therefore, we don't hang on too tightly to what we have. Indeed, our calling is to let go.

 
Consider Your Ministry
 
Often pastors begin a ministry or set out to carry out certain accomplishments in their ministries. So often, however, such plans are sidetracked, discarded, or reconstructed into something radically different from what we intended. It appears that the only time we really, really know what God's calling to us is in retrospect. What we set out to do initially may, in the last analysis, undone.
 
We can't control our calling. We can't really control the main direction of our calling either. All we do is respond to the burning within us to move as God has directed us. To move contrariwise is to risk taking a long trip in a very big fish (cf. Jonah)!
 
At the end of our lives, we will look back on our ministries from God's perspective. Most of us, frankly, will be quite remarkably surprised. What God did through His calling to us was much different that what we wanted to accomplish for Him. If we're faithful to His calling, we won't even try to control or manipulate our calling toward our selfish ends.
 
When your calling does not do what you though it should have done, don't be disappointed. It may not have been your calling. Maybe the failure came to remind you that you're not in control of your calling, God is. God knows where you are. He really does. He knows what we need to see, what we need to receive, what we need to experience for effective ministry. Most of all, he knows that we need to let go and be faithful to Him.
 
It's All A Letting Go
 
Whether its grace, the power of the Word, the Sacraments, the doctrines of Church and Ministry, or your calling, all Scripture points to the same thing: one must let go. That's why God made the world ex nihilo (i.e. from nothing). If He made it from something, we'd have to hold on to something. Since it's made from nothing, that's exactly what God calls us to hang on to: nothing. After all...
* We don't save ourselves, God does--with nothing in us but sin
* We don't earn God's favor, God gives it to us via faith
* We don't empower the Sacraments, we just passively await and receive God's promises and follow God's commands relative the sacraments.
* We don't empower the Word--God empowers it. We only rejoice that God has given us "beautiful feet" by which to "publish peace."
* We don't control the result of our live and ministries--we just sow the seed and let it go.
Pastors Must Let Go!
 
So many times pastors will mistakenly base their ministry and self-esteem on how large their church is, whether the budget was made, how well they preached their sermon, the number of conversions, etc.
 
Though proper stewardship of the church will seek to utilize every single appropriate God-given resource for the extension of the Lord's ministry in the greatest and most effective manner possible, the Christian pastor must not rely on these worldly indicators. Plan? Yes! Develop visions, objectives and goals for ministry? Yes! Move out in faith toward ministry goals and opportunities? Yes! Yes! Yes! But don't attach your sense of worth to them. Don't attach your happiness and contentment to them.
 
Be like the mother bird nurturing her young chicks in a nest. Do all you can to nurture, care for and encourage ministry. But, when the time finally comes, be willing to pick it all up and throw it out of the nest into the wind. The efforts may "fly" or they may fall. Either way, the result has no necessary bearing on your ministry, your faithfulness or your value to the Kingdom. The Lord merely gave an opportunity. You gave it back for Him to use as He see fit. Blessed be the Lord.
 
Isn't this foolish? Not at all! St. Paul, in I Corinthians 1, said it was the highest wisdom to let go.
 
Does this mean we ignore the ministry tools as our disposal? Does it mean we neglect training's, programs and resources available to the church from both the kingdoms of the Right (religious) and left (secular) hands?
 
By no means! Rather, as we aggressively utilize what ever opportunities God has placed before us, we do so with conviction and vitality. Remember though, whatever the results, the results are not yours. They're God's! Just as they are God's training's, God's programs, God's resources. If they "work," simply rejoice that these things have been released for God's use. If they fail, simply rejoice that these things have been released for God's use.
 
Let go! The ministry, it's results, it's fruits, it's failures and successes. In the last analysis, they're not yours. They're not in your control. Let Go of your ministry and let God be evident in His ministry of which you are a part.
 
Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:39 PM