Called and Gifted

March 02, 2016

by Rev. Janet Fisher Dixon, Pastor, Mount Carmel United Methodist Church, Monroe NC

The first sermon I ever preached was entitled, “We Are All Called.” It was the Sunday of annual conference weekend at Ardmore United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem in 2000. I still believe that is true. We are all called. Not everyone is called to be clergy but everyone is called to ministry. And everyone is gifted with all that they need, to do what they are called to do and to be what they are called to be.

I tend to think, the biggest obstacle to living into our calling is, in most cases, our own selves. We do not always recognize our gifts and even if we do recognize them, sometimes we have trouble knowing how to best use them to be a help, to empower and not to hinder or be an obstacle to others.

As clergy, we are often given the opportunity to take various personality tests in an effort to help us identify both our gifts and our growing edges. These tests can be helpful but if they lack guidance for what to do with this information, how to apply it, well, they can be almost totally useless.

For me, one of the best tools for understanding the gifts given to me and how to best make use of them was participating in the Called and Gifted To Lead Workshop offered by our Conference and led by Janice Virtue. What makes this workshop different from others and a very valuable resource, is, that it not only helps the participant identify gifts and growing edges but it takes it a step further, having each participant meet with a coach and make goals for professional, spiritual, and personal growth. And the workshop gives each person the motivation to follow through on these goals, by offering a scholarship to help fund the expenses involved with achieving the goals.

I chose to use most of the scholarship to attend the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center’s Clergy Mediation Skills Training. It was a week-long workshop that was pretty intense. One of the first things the Center’s Director, Richard Blackburn, talked about was the fact that people tend to be anxious. This is a nice way of saying we live in fear.

There are different levels of intensity in the fear spectrum. If a person is living in the most intense level of anxiety and fear, everyone looks like, smells like, and sounds like either a predator to be fought or something to devour. Needless to say, a person experiencing this level of anxiety can be difficult to befriend. This person is thinking in the lowest level of brain function which is a survival mode of thinking.

A level above this most basic mode still includes some amount of anxiety but also includes the capacity for nurture, compassion and love. At this level, there is the capacity to see others independent of our own needs and desires. There is an understanding that we can act outside our own basic needs to help others.

A higher level exists that can be achieved through the Power of the Holy Spirit, which enables thinking and functioning above the anxiety and fear (the anxiety is still there but we are able to mute it). At this level we are truly able to achieve selfless acts of love, mercy and compassion.

People living in intense anxiety and fear need a non-anxious presence in their midst who will point to the One who gives peace and grace to calm our fears and strengthen our hearts. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, those living in fear and anxiety can be empowered to take the steps, yes, even a leap of faith to act in unselfish love and to push the fear to a less dominant level.

As clergy, we can be this non-anxious presence. (Laity certainly can be as well) We cannot change the level of anxiety on our own, but we can be vessels for the movement of the Holy Spirit in places of tremendous fear. And we can continually point to the Source of all we need.

However, it is impossible to be a non-anxious presence when we are full of our own anxiety and fear. In striving to manage our own anxieties, we teach others how to do the same. This workshop offers the participants practical, tangible ways to not only understand our own strengths and challenges in managing anxiety but also how to help congregations understand their own strengths and challenges and how to use these strengths and challenges to build a bridge between us.

This workshop brought new understanding to me. As I reflect on my experiences in ministry, I see how so many of our struggling congregations are not only in survival mode, but are experiencing intense anxiety. I also recognize the anxiety I have carried into these settings.

I am excited to have new tools available to me to use in my current ministry setting. I have great hope that whatever challenge might present itself, I am now better equipped to use the challenge to build a bridge rather than allow it to separate one person from another. I hope to use my new understanding to equip congregations and clergy with bridge building tools as well.

We are all called and we are gifted with a variety of gifts that can be used to build bridges and connections between us, as we serve the Lord.
Follow Jesus. Make Disciples. Transform the World.