Charge to HU Ministry Students 2018
[On May 4, 2018, I was honored to give the charge on behalf of the faculty to graduating students of ministry at Harding University’s blessing ceremony. Due to time constraints, I offered a condensed presentation. The following is the longer, written version of that charge.]
Repeat after me: Communion. Community. Character. Calling.
Tonight, I draw my charge from the latter part of Acts 2. Now, if you graduate from Harding University and you don’t know what Acts 2 says, James A. Harding will turn over in his grave, Jimmy Allen will personally hunt you down, and Tom Alexander will force you to enroll in an Acts seminar this fall.
In his book Teaching for Reconciliation, Ron Habermas organizes Acts 2:42-47 around these 4 themes: communion, community, character, and calling.
You have all been through a 4-year baptism of fire, and will likely be showered with blessings by parents who have been set free from the law of paying your bills. “And there was much rejoicing.” In multiple ways, we—the baptized—have gathered. And you remember how the story goes when the baptized gathered, right?
First, they communed with God. The text says they continued in teaching, learning, prayer & praise. Second, they formed themselves into a community for God. Day by day, in the temple and in homes, together, they lived and loved and worshiped together. Third, they developed the character of God. They lived out of gladness, and generosity, and had favor with all the people. And finally, they accepted their calling from God. Seeing their possessions as gifts to be used, they sold everything they had, and gave it to anyone who had any need.
Tonight, in keeping with our year-long theme of reconciliation, I charge you to do the same.
First, commune with God. Is there any greater message of hope than this–that you and I and all the world can get to know God? “And this is the life eternal,” said Jesus, “that they might know you, the only True God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.” The Westminster shorter catechism asks what is the chief end (or ultimate pursuit) of life? And answers: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever! When it comes to reconciliation, it all starts here! In prayer, in praise, in pursuit of the Holy One. Brothers and sisters, get to know God! Habermas quotes Eugene Peterson who boldly warns us: “Any preacher who models the prophets preaching without modeling the prophet’s prayer life is an embarrassment to the church.” I charge you—get to know God. The latest gadgets and the gift of gab are no substitute for knowing God. And it will show. Be reconciled to God—truly know him—and all these other reconciliations will be added unto you.
Second, value the community. When the New Testament asks “who will be the bearer of reconciliation?” It answers back in the plural: “We—the people of God.” This is so much more than having an address on a business card. The local church is the greenhouse where reconciliation fosters and grows and it is the showcase where reconciliation is put on display. I charge you, be rooted in the church. In Ephesians, Paul prays that you, together with all the saints, might be able to comprehend that which surpasses knowledge. What can never be fully appreciated by any one person, we can see, share, and enjoy together only as a church. We need each other—and God designed it that way. Ryan Pemberton turned my attention to an interesting passage in The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, where Lewis reflected on a curiosity he found in the calling narrative of Isaiah. The text speaks of an assortment of 6-winged seraphim flying to and fro, declaring “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Why so many seraphim, and not just one? Because, Pemberton explains, “on its own, a single seraph would be insufficient for reflecting and declaring the fullness of Yahweh’s holiness. A community is needed to do this work.” Lewis writes it this way:
In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.
Never identify yourself apart from the church that shapes your vision, whose hands and feet you are, and who relies on you to shape their vision as well. Its what God intended.
Third, focus on character formation. I charge you to become a really good person. I know that sounds simple. But I think it’s the one most easy to skip. I don’t know what is the greatest temptation of young ministers, but surely somewhere near the top is the temptation to shortcut or even ignore inner transformation. Learn how to give the talk, observe how to project the image, get the degree, and play the role…but never really change who you are. Be as greedy, self-centered, ambitious, accolade-seeking, status-hoarding, fear-driven as the next person, but with a degree. Christianity is different: We are called to embody the character of the One we love. Someone once said the Greeks taught to know yourself. The Romans to defend yourself. Our modern world says to discover yourself. By Christ I charge you to deny yourself. Until Christ be formed in you.
Finally, accept your calling. I know “calling” and “accepting your ministry” are all the rage. But I believe there is a proper order here. First, be personally reconciled to God. Then be reconciled to your community (have an identity in Christ, as part of a community that shapes how you see the world). Then, by the power of the Spirit, clean the inside of the cup and become the kind of person God has called you to be. Then, finally, you will be ready to embrace your calling and engage in the ministry of reconciliation, fit for the master, useful for every good work.
Throughout Luke and Acts, when someone comes into the presence of Jesus and catches the vision—from Zacchaeus to the converts of Acts 4—they take whatever they have and they give it, freely, away! Now, college students can say with the apostles, “Silver and Gold have I none!” But what you do have is a degree. I charge you: Use it. Use your talents, gifts, and yes, even your degree, to serve the world.
It may not look like it. It may not seem like it. But I promise you, your work will not be in vain. Serve the world with an eye toward the new day that is dawning. In the words of Lewis, “all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour” that it shall be so!
Nathan Guy believes the passionate pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty culminates in Jesus Christ. He received formal training in philosophy, theology, biblical studies, and cultural & political ethics from Oxford, Cambridge, and the LSE. He lives in Florence, Alabama, where he serves as President of Mars Hill Bible School.