How does a church discern its call to ministry—creating ministry space that lines up with its mission and vision? Often believers and churches seem to be waiting for God to strike them with a lightning bolt, to reveal what he wants them to do through some spectacular event. But God isn't a genie who pops out of his bottle if we rub it hard enough. A church that waits passively finds itself beset with ministry paralysis.
Then there are the churches that show a degree of life and energy and have significant percentages of the local body engaged in ministry, yet what they do is routine and ineffective. Call it "ministry calcification." Maybe what they are doing was effective five years ago or even last year, but communities can change rapidly. Many churches are ministering to people who have long ago left the community. The missional church constantly assesses what God is doing in a community and what needs are emerging—and adjusts its ministries accordingly.
Do I believe God reveals himself and gives us direction in life? Yes, absolutely. But I also believe he reveals himself more specifically as we obey the commands he has already given us. In other words, God will show us how he wants our church to minister to the community when we act on the directives he has already given us.
Four of the last things Jesus said to his disciples in his final days on earth are a good place for his followers and his churches to seek direction:
1. Jesus reminded his followers they have been sent just like he was: "As the Father sent me, I am sending you" (John 20:21). Now, if he stopped there, it could still be pretty confusing. He didn't specifically tell them where to go, what to do, what to say, or what to accomplish. He just told them they were being shipped out to serve in his spiritual army.
2. Jesus continues to clarify the vision and mission he has for his followers and churches: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). Going out to all the world and proclaiming the Good News was to result in new disciples among all people groups. After that, Christ's followers are supposed to baptize new disciples and teach them to follow everything he commanded.
3. Jesus isn't finished yet. Before he ascends, he tells them: "Thus it is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:46-49). This clarifies the Good News they are to announce: Jesus died in our place so we could repent and be forgiven of our sins, and he rose from the dead so we could live a victorious life. In order to be witnesses about these things, however, they needed one more thing: the power from on high promised by the Father.
4. The last thing Jesus communicated to his disciples picked up where his previous instructions ended. He laid out a strategy for things to move forward: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). A good place for his followers and churches to start is to be witnesses in their own communities and then move out from there, as he leads and opens doors for ministry.