Blog - Supporting Believers
Meshing Sunday and Monday: CommissioningSunday, October 24, 2010
When Daniel Rooney arrived in Ireland as the U.S. Ambassador, what would always remind him of the importance of his work? The official ceremony when Hillary Clinton swore him in. A public swearing-in event also recognized the value of Ben Bernanke's work as Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System. And each man, before the ceremony, had been publicly confirmed by the Senate.
In the early church, neglected widows needed food-servers. How did the church emphasize the significance of that task? Through the equivalent of a public swearing-in ceremony—prayer and the laying-on of hands. For centuries, churches have stressed the significance of the pastoral role in public ordination services. In a missionary commissioning service, you might hear the congregation repeat words like these: "With our support and encouragement, we commission John and Jane Doe to this ministry.”
How does your church recognize the importance of the firefighters, fingerprint technicians, and school teachers who represent Christ in your community?
Don R. Thomas, a San Francisco business development entrepreneur, said: "I am praying for and can envision a time when there will be a commissioning service every month for people in specific marketplace categories (from shoemakers to surgeons), to give each of them a sense that their church has affirmed them as ministers in their marketplace." (Quoted in Billy Graham's online Decision Magazine.)
Consider the commissioning testimony of Jim Stockard, a consultant for low-cost housing development. He recalled the event in a chapter he wrote for the book, The Laity in Ministry: The Whole People of God for the Whole World:
"For nearly forty years, Sunday church school teachers, leading laity and denominational leaders have been saying to me ‘Make your faith a seven-day-a-week way of life.' But I first heard those words in a life-changing way six years ago. They were spoken to me by a fellow member of the laity, in the midst of a worship service in our own church community. My own work was being lifted up in a special ceremony. In the space of this ten-minute celebration, I felt more challenged and supported than I ever had by any eloquent sermon, forceful Sunday church school lesson, or dynamic author. My own ministry was affirmed . . . . That ceremony, known as ‘commissioning' in our church, has nourished me over the years. I return to it periodically, read over the words, even discuss specifics with members of the congregation. Others in our community who have been commissioned tell me that their experiences have been the same.”
Why should your church even consider commissioning people in everyday jobs? Two words sum up the answer. First, affirmation. Christians "out there” need to have their work affirmed by their brothers and sisters in Christ. All week long, surrounded by unbelievers working for all the world's reasons, such Christ-followers can draw strength from public confirmation of their callings. Second, accountability. If my church publicly appoints me as an ambassador of Christ in, say, the local hospital, I will sense my responsibility to report back how the ministry is going and how fellow believers can pray for me.
Several years ago I attended a training conference held on the campus of a large church in Fresno, California. As the congregation drove out of that church parking lot Sunday by Sunday they saw this sign: "You are now entering the mission field.” That sounds very much like an assignment. I wonder, though, if any of those people had been publicly commissioned as representatives to their various mission fields. Had the assignment been followed up with affirmation and accountability?
But how might a church go about commissioning people who are not on the payroll as pastors or cross-cultural missionaries? In his book, Equippers Guide to Every-Member Ministry, R. Paul Stevens includes a suggested format for such a commissioning service.
Have you been commissioned or taken part in such a service? If so, please tell about it in the comment space below.