Carrying out the mission of the Church of the Nazarene means we all will have to intentionally accept the task of making disciples.
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’”—Mark 16:15
I often have conversations with followers of Jesus Christ who tell me that it’s difficult for them to connect with people who don’t know the Lord. Their lives have become insulated by the church and Christian friends. While this is not necessarily bad, it becomes a challenge when we grapple with Christ’s commission to “go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19).
How are we to make a connection to those who may not share our same interests or who may embrace a very different lifestyle?
This is a challenge for those who serve in vocational ministry as well as laity. And yet, if we are to respond in obedience to the call of Jesus Christ, we must wrestle with ways in which we may intentionally engage with the world around us.
My husband and I have ministered together for many years, sometimes shifting roles and responsibilities. In the early years, I served the church as a layperson, working as a nurse to support our ministry. It was in this secular setting that I began to wrestle with what it truly meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. How could I take Jesus with me into the hospital or the patient’s home?
Our mission is to “make Christlike disciples in the nations,” and as we embrace this mission, we recognize that the discipleship process forms us into the image of Christ. This means that when we enter the workplace, we are Jesus for those with whom we work. In this way, laity and bivocational pastors have some of the best opportunities to be Jesus in hospitals, offices, stores, warehouses, restaurants, classrooms, courtrooms, media, government positions, and many more capacities.
God’s people have many opportunities to influence this world for Christ and to engage in the process of making disciples.
These days, we have ever-increasing numbers of bivocational pastors, and there are some who would lament this fact. While there are certainly underlying economic factors at play, maybe God is using these conditions to provide us with more significant opportunities to connect with our communities.
I would advise bivocational pastors not to think that their ministry and work are separate. Consider the Apostle Paul and his life as a tent-maker. I can’t imagine that he ever wasted an opportunity to tell someone about Christ. During the time that he was in Corinth, there was a major sporting event held nearby. Each athlete had his own tent with unique colors and symbols. I imagine that in the middle of the excitement was Paul, rubbing shoulders with the greatest athletes of his day, designing their “colors,” and talking to them about Christ. Who else would have had this kind of access?
Bivocational ministry provides an avenue for evangelism that is not available to full-time pastors.
These unique opportunities allow the bivocational ministry to take the gospel to hard to reach places.
The challenges of bivocational ministry are very real. There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done, and this means that the local church members must adjust their expectations. If our pastors are going to be bivocational, then the rest of the congregation must embrace the disciple-making role as well, helping to shoulder the work of the church. The beauty of this arrangement is that it provides the opportunity for more people to be discipled and mentored into places of leadership.
I saw this in action when I was in Africa, where many of our district superintendents are bivocational, also serving as a local church pastor. More often than not, these individuals leveraged their sometimes challenging situations to the benefit of the church and the district. Because the district superintendent couldn’t do all the work, he or she had to delegate responsibility both in the church and across the district. Typically, the local church was used as an incubator for leadership development as others took on the responsibilities of the church and of disciple-making.
We have a world around us that doesn’t know Christ. As we continue our mission of “making Christlike disciples in the nations,” may we embrace every opportunity God provides to take Jesus into all the world.
Carla D. Sunberg is general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, May/Jun 2018.