Mark Batterson | January 29, 2014
Behind my desk hangs a large photograph of a cow pasture in Alexandria, Minnesota. That’s where I felt called to full-time ministry during a prayer walk when I was nineteen years old. That’s my burning bush. When I get frustrated or discouraged, I spin my chair and look at that photo. It’s a constant reminder of why I do what I do. It’s also a reminder of who called me. I may get a paycheck from National Community Church, but I work for the King and His Kingdom.
Regardless of church governance, you are not called by a church board, senior pastor, or denominational leader. You are called by God. And for the record, he’s the only one who can un-call you. You can get fired, or get burned, by a human employer, but they cannot un-call you.
Let me share seven hard-lessons I've learned about calling...
1. Live for the Applause of Nail-Scarred Hands.
If you live for popular opinion, you’ll have as many ups and downs as the Dow Jones Industrial average. You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time. Deal with it.
2. Think Long.
If you’re going to dream big you better think long. You also better pray hard. God doesn’t call us to start strong, as much as He calls us to finish well. It’s not about what you’re doing as much as who you’re becoming. Before God can grow a ministry He needs to grow you. So stay humble and stay hungry!
3. Thou Shalt Offend Pharisees.
I believe pastors are called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And the second-half of the job description is harder than the first-half. It’s your job to challenge the status quo. If you aren’t being criticized then you probably aren’t doing anything that is truly making a difference. One thing is certain: Jesus didn’t shy away from the Pharisees. Stop and think about it, he could have healed the man with the withered arm on any day of the week but he chose the Sabbath. Why? I think he wanted to confront their hypocrisy. He also knew it would be a lot more fun.
4. Don't Play the Comparison Game.
That’s what got Saul into trouble. He kept a jealous eye on David. If you compare yourself to other leaders, you can always find a favorable or unfavorable comparison. One road leads to jealousy. The other road leads to pride. But both roads lead to a dead-end in ministry.
5. Be Yourself
When I first started out in ministry, I was trying to be a pastor. Now I’m trying to be myself. And there is a world of difference. God gave you a personality! Use it. Use it in your preaching, in your counseling, in your staff meetings. National Community Church has to have one of the highest laugh-per-meeting ratios of any church in the country. Why? Because we don’t hire people who don’t laugh at my jokes! And I’m not kidding. Life is too short and ministry is too hard not to laugh together.
6. Get a Life.
If your sermons are boring, it’s probably because your life is boring. For too many in ministry, church becomes the end-all and be-all. They have no life outside the four ways of the church. My advice? Coach your kid’s team. Get involved in the PTO. Cultivate friendships with people who you do not pastor. Pick up a new hobby. Don’t just get a sermon, get a life!
7. Your Primary Ministry Isn’t to People.
As a priest, your primary ministry is to God. I’ve learned that if I spend too much time with people, I add very little value to their lives. If you try to be all things to all people, you’ll end up being nothing to nobody! Spend more time with God than you do with people—in His word, in His presence. That’s how you stay centered, stay balanced, and stay motivated. That’s also how you decrease so He can increase. And that’s the ultimate objective—to make His name famous, not yours!
I promised seven hard-evened lessons, but let me throw in a bonus.
God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. Do your homework! But if you wait until you are ready to pursue God’s calling, you’ll be waiting the rest of your life. Why? Because you’ll never be ready! You’ll never have enough education, enough resources, or enough experience. One of our mantras at NCC is this: Go. Set. Ready. When God gives us a green light, we go for it.
Prior to becoming Lead Pastor of NCC, I had one failed church plant and one summer internship on my resume. That’s it. I was totally under-qualified, but I knew God was calling me. So I answered. But even with seventeen years under my belt, I still feel like a nineteen year-old kid in a cow pasture called by God.