Sunday, May 24th, has been declared as "Encourage the Call Sunday" in our Indiana Conference. It is also Aldersgate Sunday – the day we remember and celebrate John Wesley's so-called "Aldersgate Experience" when he personally discovered God's grace and found his heart "strangely warmed." The two days belong together, because any heart-warming experience of God's love and forgiveness always leads us to discover God's call to faithful discipleship and service.
Now let's be clear: Not everyone is called into pastoral ministry or into the work of the clergy of our church, so "Encourage the Call Sunday is bigger than just looking for persons who are being called by God into ordained ministry. As United Methodists we believe that all Christians are called by God into some form(s) of ministry – and our baptism is our certification of being called to serve God. Too often in the past we have focused so much upon God's call to pastors that we have given the wrong impression to laypersons. They have been left thinking of themselves as the "audience" or the "consumers" of the ministry. Not so! Everyone has a calling from God to serve God and God's people and the whole of God's creation. And that calling changes and evolves over a lifetime. Some are called to parent young children, but then later in life they are called to be leaders beyond the home. Some are called to be servants of God in their so-called "secular" careers, bringing the Spirit of Christ into their work. Some are called to be lay leaders inside the church, others are called to be lay leaders outside the church and to help the church become more outwardly-focused.
We have a whole variety of "ministries" for people to serve God: Stephens Ministers, Supply Pastors, Local Pastors, Deacons, Elders, Extension Ministers, etc. In fact our United Methodist Church provides a rather confusing array of ministry options, mostly because anytime people have felt called by God we have tried to create new categories of ministry. One could look at that and see a mess (and sometimes it looks like that to me), or we could look at that variety and see the creativity and diversity of the Spirit at work.
The point is this: Everyone is called by God, and we must encourage one another to listen, to hear, to follow and to fulfill our calling.
I hope that on May 24 many of our pastors will share their own sense of calling into ministry, but I hope they do that in a way which is inviting and not limiting or pompous. The calling to ministry as a clergy is indeed "special" and "holy" – but so is the calling of every other person to find God's direction in their life. More and more I see "sacred" and "secular" as a false division in our world. All of creation belongs to God, and every "job" can be a way of fulfilling our Christ-like ministry.
So on Sunday, May 24, Aldersgate Sunday, encourage one another. Ask other persons, "Where is God calling you to make a difference in the world?" And ask that question of yourself.
God is calling all of us and each of us. May we discover, discern, and respond to God's call in our lives. And may we encourage one another to do the same.