As we enter the month of October, it is evident the seasons are changing with the colors on the trees. October is also a month of celebration throughout the life and ministry of our United Methodist congregations, with many homecoming and church anniversary commemorations. October is Clergy Appreciation Month, Church Staff Appreciation Month, Children’s Sabbath, and Laity Sunday 2023. I hope congregations will be intentional about recognizing the lifelong call and service of our dedicated clergy. In addition, I hope our congregations honor the powerful witness of the faithful laypersons with Laity Sunday. I hope through the observances and sharing of accolades, there is a sense of honor and a reconnection to the call of God.

The understanding of God’s call, is best quoted by Theologian Frederick Buechner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Additionally, I am reminded of 1 Peter 2:9-10 (The Message): “…But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do [God’s] work and speak out for [God], to tell others of the night-and-day difference [God] made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted…”

As we continue in this evolving season within The United Methodist Church, there have been many claims regarding the perceived shortage of clergy in the Indiana Annual Conference. Yes, I know there are some congregations who have had to rely on pulpit supply for several years, but that is not because of a clergy shortage; there are many varying factors that lend to that reality (including location and church financial sustainability). Yes, each year at Annual Conference Session, we celebrate large classes of retirees and small classes of ordinands; these are the only public recognitions. I would invite us to open our minds to the possibilities that we do not acknowledge the continued conversations taking place in District Committees on Ministry meetings among those who are responding to God’s nudge and making faithful steps into the unknown of call. We do not publicly witness the hard work of our licensed local pastors who are, at times, juggling the demands of ministry, while taking Course of Study classes to retain their license, and maintaining another full-time job (much less caring for families and self). We do not acknowledge the faithful laypersons who are committed to their personal discipleship, who are engaged in Lay Servant Academy and other faith formation opportunities. These are persons, lay and clergy, called by God, and are essential to the ongoing ministries across our districts to ensure the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ moves forward.

So, friends, if there is a perceived leadership shortage, it points back to us as Christ-followers and members of the local congregation, and begs the question, “ARE YOU ENCOURAGING THE CALL?” Please remember, the persons who are serving as pastoral leaders started as laypersons in local congregations, and someone identified their gifts and graces for ministry. Those laypersons who are tirelessly serving as leaders of committees and teams, did not just appear; this happened because someone encouraged the call by inviting them into service. The responsibility points back to members of the local congregation asking young people if they are considering a lifetime service to pastoral ministry. Or, it comes around to the consistent commitment of inviting new voices/faces to the leadership tables, so they can lend their skills, gifts, and abilities to this Kin-dom work.

IF there is a leadership gap, WE have work to do, collectively. It is time we reclaim the culture of call in our congregations, and the call does not have an age limitation. It is time that we take on the challenge to educate ourselves around the understanding of God’s callings for laity and clergy. It is time for us to open our eyes to see God’s abundance in our midst and respond in being one of the laborers in God’s service, because the “harvest is plentiful.” It is time for the most seasoned saints to begin inviting, mentoring newer people, and moving aside to create space for leadership opportunities. And it is beyond time for the Body of Christ to pray for God to continue tugging at the hearts of God’s people, and for God’s people to obediently respond… “Here I am Lord, send me!”

As we read stories throughout the Old and New Testament, the raising of godly leaders began with God’s nudge, but it was consistently nurtured by God’s people. The question remains, how are you encouraging the call, for yourself or someone else?

Encouraging the Call and Celebrating Service,

Here are additional resources for greater awareness: