I work with a Chaplain. We have had some good conversations, shared thoughts on theology, you know, the kind of conversations one would expect to have with a Chaplain. I have never seen her in action other than to say the blessing at the beginning of a meeting, but I don’t doubt that she does a great job with our elderly patients. One day as we were talking she made a comment about pastors who don’t have the appropriate education and credentials.
In our world the almighty degree has become the gold standard for credibility. Why? I understand that there are professions where a degree, a solid base of knowledge is warranted; the medical profession, for one. But I also believe there is room for all manner of people, with all levels of education in most businesses; the pastorate being one of them. In my life I have heard pastors who have never darkened the doorway of a college deliver some spot on God-inspired messages and others who have spent years in seminary who don’t have a clue. Who’s to say because you have the appropriate letters behind your name that you are any more qualified than another who does not? I know full time musicians who have the degrees to prove their talent, and I know self-taught musicians who can play circles around someone who has a framed piece of paper hanging on their wall declaring their talent and aptitude. I am in the medical profession, and through the years have taught new employees, or those wanting to enter the profession and I have always said I can teach any skill, but I cannot teach compassion. There are medical professionals out there who do not possess one ounce of empathy for their patients, and there are those with wisdom born of years in the field and a double dose of compassion. Sometimes degrees don’t matter.
Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah when He walked the earth; Simon Peter, the Rock on whom the “church” was established, Moses, the adopted son of a slave woman led the Hebrews out of Egypt, Matthew the tax collector and author of the first book in the New Testament; all people whose names we recognize today, thousands of years after the fact, none of whom had the appropriate degrees.
Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “Furthermore, he gave some people as emissaries, some as prophets, some as proclaimers of the Good News, and some as shepherds and teachers. 12 Their task is to equip God’s people for the work of service that builds the body of the Messiah, 13 until we all arrive at the unity implied by trusting and knowing the Son of God, at full manhood, at the standard of maturity set by the Messiah’s perfection” (The Complete Jewish Bible) In a nutshell, God chooses those He wants to do His work on the earth until we all are on the same page. Nothing is said about what degrees are necessary, the schools one should attend, or the like. If God is doing the “equipping” that should suffice.
In my life I have talked to lots of people in the course of a workday, in my personal life, in churches I have attended, places I have gone, and very often conversations turn toward the spiritual. I don’t know why, but I have come to believe that God has “sent” them, so to speak, that our meeting isn’t accidental, that God has used me to say something to that person he/she needed to hear. Most of the time I am not aware of what that message may be, and sometimes during further conversations the person will say, “I was thinking about what you said the other day”, or “I really needed to hear what you said the last time we talked”. Is there anything special about me? Not as far as I can tell. I bumble through life just like everyone else.
What I am is available, and God is looking for available. Some of those God called down through the centuries didn’t realize they were available; Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, was knocked off a donkey when Yeshua appeared to him and “equipped” Paul for ministry. Now whether the story is allegory or not is beside the point, I am of the opinion that this part of the story is likely another word picture for us to better grasp the meaning of Paul’s conversion. As a side note, within the degreed ministry there is a lot of controversy as to whether Paul was knocked off a donkey or a horse, if he was riding any animal at all, and if Yeshua (Jesus) actually spoke to him in an audible voice, etc. Is it really necessary to focus on donkey vs horse, audible vs spiritual voice? It’s a good way to miss the point, however! The point of the story was that Saul was doing his best to persecute those who called themselves “Christians” and God decided He had better use for Saul as Paul. Knocking Saul off his donkey was necessary to get his attention to strongly encourage him to be a bit more available! Paul, though an educated man, was sent to teach Gentile and Jew alike about Yeshua, of which, in the beginning he knew little about!
Ministry, the gifts we are endowed with, is about using those gifts in whatever capacity they are needed, whether it be a kind word someone going through a tough time needs to hear, an arm around the shoulders of someone who is grieving, a meal or visit to a shut-in, or a worldwide ministry teaching thousands. Ministry is also this silver-haired, beaten-up-but-not-knocked-out-by-life nurse/ordained minister who wants people to know that Yeshua will meet them wherever they are, in whatever condition they are, on any given day, and journey with them, loving, and accepting them always.
So often we only think of ministry in terms of those who stand in a pulpit, those we see on television preaching before the masses, but ministry happens wherever God’s work is being done. I have told people many times in my life, we never know in what way we have touched another person; someone we know very well, or a stranger in the checkout line at Wal-Mart that needed a kind word or a smile. Do I always get it right? Nope! But, little by little I am trying everyday to do a better job of being available, and just being aware that people need God in small and big ways. We are all called to minister; He calls some to be pastors, and teachers, some to mentor, and others to prophesy. What is your gift? Better question; are you available to use that gift…..?