April 18, 2016

God's Inclusive Call

            The early chapters of Acts tell the story of what it means to live in the power of the resurrection.  People hear the good news in their own language; afflicted persons receive healing; apostolic faith calls persons back to life; and the outward spiral of the Gospel continues.  The Spirit of the Risen Christ now fuels new insight, new expressions of discipleship, and new communities, formerly excluded.

            The lectionary text for the Fifth Sunday of Easter narrates Peter’s awakening to God’s radical inclusion of Gentiles.  Indeed, chapters 10 and 11 of the Acts of the Apostles detail God’s desire to include the many deemed unclean.  His mystical experience of the great sheet from heaven containing all sorts of creatures transformed his understanding of God’s purpose, transgressing old boundaries through the larger understanding of the scope of salvation.
            I returned Friday evening from an important colloquy at Valley Forge.  Once a year the Presidents and Deans (or other representatives) of the closely-related American Baptist seminaries gather to learn from one another and consider how to craft collaborative initiatives. This meeting was especially meaningful.  Not only did we mourn the departure of the beloved president of American Baptist Seminary of the West, Dr. Paul Martin, but we also welcomed Dr. William Shiell, new president of Northern Seminary.  We strive to form thick connections and be a source of renewal for our ABC denomination.
            One of the most important aspects of our conversation was our reflection on the ways in which God continues to call persons to service, especially those creative leaders that propel the church to engage our broken culture.  We lament the reality that vibrant youth groups who are learning about service often fail to produce vocational ministers.  While it is very important that our Christian identity shape whatever profession we pursue, the church always requires new leadership.  What if we believed that a key index of congregational health is whether we are helping voice God’s call to ministry?

            Many persons do not feel worthy of becoming a minister; if one did feel worthy, it would probably indicate lack of humility and presumption.  Yet God includes persons who might seem unlikely candidates so that God’s own glory might be revealed.  Some do not pursue ministry because they have witnessed too little appreciation of their pastoral leaders, and the pay is not great, either.

            As seminary leaders we reflected on the practice of “noticing, naming, and nurturing” gifts and aptitudes for ministry.  God continues to call persons to become faithful leaders for the people of God, and persons usually discern this calling by the gentle guidance of those who observe their lives.  This is one more example of how God invites us to participate in God’s own mission; we voice that call in community, a wonderfully inclusive practice.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders to serve God, shape church, and serve humanity.

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