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What’s My Line?

I preached this sermon today, October 27, 2013, at Trinity United Methodist Church in Hackettstown, NJ.

In the early days of television, there was a game show called “What’s My Line?” It was hosted by Gary Moore, and featured Kitty Carlisle, Bennett Cerf, and other celebrities. (If you are asking yourself “who are they?” then you undoubtedly do not hold an AARP card! But there are some of us who remember them as celebrities.) Any way, the game involved a contestant who tried to stump the panel as to what the contestant’s line of work was. The panel would ask questions such as “do you deal in a service?” and try to guess the job in a set amount of time. It was a hot show way back when!

“What’s My Line?” also had a celebrity segment where the panelists tried to determine who the celebrity was by asking questions about what the individual did. The celebrities were anonymous to the panelists until they asked enough questions about their activities to identify them. The celebrities were identified by their deeds. They were known by their actions.

As Christians, we are engaged in a continuous game of “What’s My Line?” with the world. The world seeks to know, and judges, us through our actions. But our experience is more complex than the TV show, for the world may be looking at us, but the real person whose identity is the central issue is not ours, but who we serve…Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the gateway to the Kingdom of God, and we are his face. So when the world looks at what we do, the question is will it identify us as servants of Christ and know him through us?

Jesus calls each of us to ministry and gives to each of us gifts and talents that enable us to serve. We are called to use the gifts and talents to serve his Kingdom, to be stewards of his Kingdom, each in our own unique way according to those gifts and talents. To be in ministry we must first recognize our gifts and talents and measure those against how we have been called to serve. But we must answer the call. We must serve. We must act. For none will know us as Christians, or know Christ through us, if we do not.

I’ve been asked, “How do you know when you are called to a ministry?” It is a tough question. I don’t think there is any formula. It is akin to being in love. You just know when you are in the right spot. You have to first know what you do well and what you do not. It also helps to know what your spiritual gifts are. If you’ve never completed a spiritual gifts inventory but would like to do so, I can direct you to some resources. I believe I’ve mentioned before though that one of the truest measures for me as to a call is when I feel a strong pressure, internal, external, or both, to do something that I really do not want to do. It is easy to decide that you are called to do something you want to do, and to convince yourself that you are called to it, when it is something you want to do. But it is also easy to confuse your agenda with Christ’s and head down a path where you have not been called, and may not have the skills, gifts, and talents to walk that path, just because it is a path you want to follow. I don’t mean to suggest that you should not listen to your interests, because interest and desire are also useful ways God’s defines our calls. But for me, I trust those that I don’t want to do much more.

I carry a little card in my Bible to remind me of what I see as my ministry. It is battered, worn, stained, and dog-eared. It is something I wrote down when I finally realized my call. I suppose now its condition has also become a good descriptor of my ministry…well-used but still of some service. That card states: “I am called to be a minister of Christ and proclaim His Good News.” The reason the Great Commission was read a few moments ago is because that is the scripture on which I ground my ministry.

So I want to tell you the story of that card. It starts a long time ago. When I was young, I was afraid to speak or sing in public. Oh I did it…parts in plays, solos in church, etc. But I did not like it. Nevertheless, I developed a strong desire to be a trial lawyer. I guess I just did not connect that, as a lawyer, I would spend my life on my feet talking. In my senior year of high school I was talked into delivering the sermon at my church for Youth Sunday. After that I received a fair amount of encouragement telling me I should preach, but I did not want to do that. I was going to be a trial lawyer. And that was what I did. I did what I wanted to do. I followed my dream. If I was being called to preach, I was not going to listen.

I also got over the public speaking thing. I worked to become a lawyer, succeeded, and spent almost 15 years as a trial lawyer. I learned to present structured written argument, and to speak both formally and extemporaneously. I wasn’t brilliant, but did OK.

In the early 1990s I shifted careers from the practice of law to claim management within the insurance industry. I was still using my legal experience, but now I had to learn to lead, organize, and motivate people and in so doing added a new set of skills and talents. Around that same time, the call to preach began again, first with people in my church, and then from my wife. God’s voice often rings truest to me as the voice of my wife. But I would have none of it. I had decided years ago that I did not want to be a preacher and I still did not, and was not going to do it.

So I resisted the call. I had an excuse ready as to why I could not take lay speaking classes and made sure I was unavailable whenever a course was scheduled. I recognized that my career had prepared me with gifts and talents for the ministry that I had previously believed I did not have. I also could see that much of my life God had been molding me for this ministry. But I did not want to do it and was not going to do it. God also had formed me to be just a little stubborn. Jonah could be my patron saint!

Even though God had been entering my life in some fairly dramatic ways, I still resisted. But as with Jonah, I found out that God can be relentless. My son and I had scheduled a college visitation trip during one of the lay speaking courses. That was my excuse for that one. I can’t recall why, but for some reason we came home early and that evening, I believe it was a Thursday, I received a call from the leader of lay speaking telling me they had a cancellation and wanted me to fill in that weekend. Nuts! I was supposed to be away but now was home and had nothing planned. I did not have an excuse! And my wife knew it! What was I going to do?

I decided to accept and get it over. I’d take the class, prove that I wasn’t supposed to be a lay speaker, and move on. When the class started each person in the room related why he or she was there. I heard wonderful stories of those called to serve. But when they got to me and I gave them my answer there was an awkward silence. For my answer was that I did not want to be there, I did not want to be a lay speaker, and I was there just to get everyone, including God, off my back. And that was the way I approached the weekend.

At the end of the class the final exam was to preach a 5-10 minute sermon to a panel of three pastors. Mine was about the ten lepers. When I finished, the panel commented that they had never heard my interpretation of the scripture before and found it most unusual. That was great! They were going to fail me. I was going to finally get out of this! But much to my chagrin, I passed. But as a latecomer, I had not completed all of the written material so I had to give my word that I would finish. I did.

The next day, a Monday, I was on a plane leaving for a business trip and reading the remaining course materials. The woman sitting in the seat next to me asked if I was a pastor, so I explained what I was doing. She explained that she too was a Methodist and had heard the most meaningful sermon of her life the day before. I asked her to tell me about it. It was the same, supposedly unusual, message as I delivered in my practice sermon! I may have decided that I really was not called to this ministry by the response of the panel to my sermon, but as I said, God is relentless.

So I completed the work, received my certificate, and was a newly minted lay speaker. But I still did not want to be one. Finally, my church asked me to preach one Sunday. I was in a box. I could not say “no”. So I said yes, but the old fears about speaking in public returned. When the day came I was nervous as a cat and still convinced I should not speak. I think what it all came down to was that I just did not believe that I was good enough as a Christian to proclaim God’s Word to others. I was a sinner. I would be a hypocrite acting like I could tell others how God wants us to live when I was not a good disciple of Christ. But a funny thing happened. When I walked to the pulpit and opened my sermon notes, just as I began to speak, I was overcome by a sense of peace I had never known before. I knew that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to be. God was going to use me, despite being a sinner, to proclaim his Word. I had finally surrendered. And in surrender, I won.

So that is the story of my card. I made it at the end of the beginning of my lay speaking ministry. What’s my line? “I am called to be a minister of Christ and proclaim his Good News.” It was a long wrestling match with God before I would serve as called to my gifts and talents instead of how I wanted to serve. Now, whatever way I am challenged to be in ministry, I ask myself do I have the skills and gifts to serve in that way, and does the service enable me to proclaim the Good News of Jesus?

We all have limited time, skills, and physical and emotional resources. We simply cannot do everything put into our path, so we must follow our ministry prayerfully and thoughtfully. I, for example, have learned to avoid teaching positions, unless my wife helps. I am simply not skilled as a teacher and have to trust that Christ has prepared others in this church to be teachers. It does not do any of us individually, Trinity UMC, or Christ’s body, the church, for us to expend our energies and burn ourselves out trying to do everything the church asks even when it does not fit our skills, physical or emotional resources, and most importantly our ministries. Nor does it serve when we pursue ministries that we want to pursue even though we may not be called or equipped for those ministries

That frankly concerns me about our church. This week for example; a week as all others. Meetings were held, worship services planned, music rehearsed, classes taught, a talent show produced, and a host of other small and large tasks completed. All because the people of this church who are involved have wonderful hearts for serving Christ.  Each and every one of you involved in any of this church’s ministries should pause for a moment, in the midst of your exhaustion, and just be at peace knowing in your heart that you are not just doing, but that you are serving. We celebrate your service and stewardship.

There is a corollary to my concern though. That is, that all too often it is the same people planning and producing the special events, teaching the classes, and attending the meetings. Very frequently the same faces are everywhere. The Great Commission emphasizes that we as Christ’s church are to be active in fulfilling the ministries of the church. It is not sufficient to live in Christ just to be a worshipping church. We must be “doers of the Word.” That means each of us must examine our hearts, look at our skills and experience, and prayerfully define what our ministries are, and what they are not. We are not individually called to be the “doers of everything,” but are called to be “doers of something.”

Today we begin our focus on stewardship, but today is also a sobering reminder that the laity is the church. Our pastors and staff may lead us as members of the laity, but we are all the church. Christ calls each and every one of us to ministry. Each one of you has an important part to play in the ministries of this church. God has equipped you for your ministry and has put you here to fulfill your ministry. And he has equipped others and put them here to fulfill ministries to which you have not been called. But we are all called to know and fulfill our ministries. We are all called to be the face of Christ; to be the face of God’s Kingdom.

As I said earlier, I believe the real issue about my resistance to lay speaking was that I thought I could not serve because I was not a good enough Christian. I’m really not sure what that means now, frankly, because being a Christian means submitting yourself to the saving grace of Christ. We don’t serve him when we are ready by our standards. If that was the case, no one would ever serve because none of us measure up and deserve Christ’s grace. It is exactly our own sin and inadequacies that lead us to Christ. And it is exactly those inadequacies that he uses to transform us. Christ has prepared you to serve in the church. Your life skills and experience have prepared you for ministry. You are always “good enough” in God’s eyes.

We are all interdependent parts. We are all members of this glorious band called TUMC. When we do not live our ministry, or try to fill a ministry role for which we are not equipped because someone who is equipped has not answered the call, the music we play is off key; the ministry of the entire church suffers. But I can also tell you from personal experience, that when you serve within your ministry, you know peace in a way that you will not have experienced before you did. Your life will feel in perfect rhythm.

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan to the Promised Land, they had to first step out into the river before God revealed to them the dry land for their crossing. If you are sitting here today wondering what your ministry is, wondering how you should serve, take that first step of faith into the river. Your ministry is still a journey, not necessarily a destination, but when you take that first step and put yourself in God’s hands, he will begin the process of revelation for you. He will help you find your place in his Kingdom. It is a wonderful journey and connects you to Christ in ways you cannot yet imagine.

May God bless you with ministry that fulfills your gifts and talents. May God continue to bless the laity of this church as we, as stewards of God’s gifts and talents, continue to fulfill the ministries to which God calls us. May the world see in each of us the answer to the question, “What’s My Line?”



  1. Dave Trezise on November 9, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Tom, The question of listening to your call and serving within your God given talents and abilities is not unique to the UMC. We baptists have a difficult time getting people to do the less than desirable but so important ministries but can find lots of people called for the higher profile things. Ask someone to go with you to a place populated by drug addicts/dealers, alcoholism and sexual predators and watch the response you get. But these are also God’s children and need to hear of the saving grace of Jesus. I only ask that they prayerfully consider their calling. We may resist but the call is always clear. I’m proud of your brother and proud to be your earthly brother as well as in Christ.

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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