Friday, March 28, 2008

Call to Minstry (Part 2)

[See the previous Call to Ministry (Part 1)]

Around 1997, in the midst of a conversation in which someone mentioned that I was going into the ministry, one man asked me pointedly, “Have you answered the call to the pulpit yet?” To my knowledge he was asking whether I had responded in my church to the ‘altar call’ by going forward and making public God’s call in my life to the ministry. I stumbled around the answer.

At that time, I had been in an ongoing conversation with two of the ministers in my church about my desire to pursue ministry and to attend seminary for education and training. God had been tuning my heart (I believe) to desire to serve in Christian ministry and I was preparing to move away to attend seminary. Had I received a call? Had I heard some audible voice? Had I arrived upon some verse of Scripture and removed it from its context to make it “mine” and claim it was given special meaning by God for me in that moment?

I am not exactly certain how the church has arrived at this present state and the expectations we have for those who would enter the ministry. It is common, though, for the expectation to be established that there is a mystical call to the ministry which one must “experience” before moving ahead. I wonder if this way of thinking has been carried on since the era of the traveling tent meeting revivals of the 2nd Great Awakening of the early 1800’s. Much of today’s commonly used language in giving “invitations” can be pointed back to this era, but it is only speculation on my part as to the origin of the language of being called to ministry.

Closely related to this is the way that the phrases “God told me…” and “God revealed his will…” and “God led me…” are tossed around with relative ease in Christian circles. Greg Koukl (Stand To Reason) deals with the use and misuse of such spiritual “trump cards” today in a three part series of talks entitled “Decision Making and the Will of God” (available only by purchase at Koukl strongly argues for the place of common sense and sound reasoning coupled with a person seeking God in his or her life as the basis for decision-making. Koukl pokes fun at the typical way in which people are supposedly “seeking God’s will” and are inclined to watch for small “clues” like license plates and subliminal words to put together the larger puzzle known as GOD’S WILL. As Koukl points out, it is somewhat silly to think that God’s will is hidden and that we have to somehow sift through little pieces of information which must be translated or else we are in danger of missing these clues and thus being “out of God’s will.”

Koukl similarly points out that the subjectivity of any person defending any decision which he or she makes by saying "I've prayed about this and God is leading me to ______________" produces a completely unchecked and unchallengeable statement in the church. When a minister makes a decision to leave a church, he inevitably will say "God has led me to this decision." If you are a minister, try that on the other end: tell a prospective church where you would like to serve that hasn't called you for an interview that God has led you to be their pastor. (They just might "call" you, but don't bet on it.)

Going back to Ortberg’s article as well as Manley’s writing on one’s call to ministry, both suggest that there is to be no “special” call which separates those who are to pursue Christian ministry as a career and those who are Christians who pursue other "callings" in life (there we go using that term again.) The objection may be raised that such a view is unspiritual and too, shall we say, practical. Does a teacher make the decision to become a teacher based on what he or she desires to do for a career and what they are gifted in while the minister is to pursue a call with some sort of blank slate waiting for God to give him a sign? Taking it a step further, are we to separate to such a great degree the position of "pastor" within the church body to say that he and he alone is "called" by God while all other members of the body and their absolutely vital roles in the body are relegated to their personal choice and current availability? (One must evidently be "called" to preach, but most churches will accept just about any warm body to teach the children's educational classes in the church. Talk about inconsistency...)

Does God guide individuals in their decisions? I think we should conclude that God absolutely does guide and direct people’s lives. However, the manner in which people try to make a formula which would spit out the answer should be questioned. I have encountered individuals who would seem to think that God may send them to do something which goes completely against their common sense and ability to think rationally. Someone who is highly allergic to cats is probably not meant to be a veterinarian. Likewise, someone who cannot teach is probably not called to be a teacher, at least not with their present ability.

In all of this, I believe the role of the church has been relegated to a meaningless position in the call to ministry. (Especially in the autonomous ways of Baptist churches.) Presently, it seems that a majority of the time an individual approaches the church and announces that he or she is being called to full-time ministry. (I guess having a bi-vocational ministry call is a separate and different calling.) What seems to be markedly absent in such a scenario is the counsel of the church. Any role in recognizing the spiritual gifts of those within the church today seems to have been removed from the church as a whole and placed upon the individual who is to wait for the call. (Again, we would agree that many other roles in the church body are fulfilled because we actively pursue people who we consider gifted in these areas.) Would a gathering of spiritual leaders in the church who wanted to encourage a young (or older) man to pursue the ministry because of the abilities they have witnessed in his life be sufficient to be called guidance from God? It would seem that such a statement should be much more weighty than a sudden feeling of restlessness that a somewhat pious young man determines to be the call of God in his life to the ministry.

In the end, I absolutely believe in the providence of a sovereign God in all things. But how are God's ways to be identified and discussed? While I do not take the following list as absolute, certainly these are a few of the things for one to consider:
  • Are you a believer in and follower of Jesus?
  • Do you have a strong and comprehensive knowledge of the Bible (probably not true of any newer believers)?
  • Have you demonstrated faithfulness in the Christian life and even in the opportunities for ministry so far?
  • Do you have skills in the specific areas of ministry that you desire to pursue (such as teaching or explaining the gospel)?
  • Do others verbally and clearly affirm that you have the skills to serve in this ministry?
  • Do you want to? (Yes, I do think that the desire of one's heart should affirm his decision, but there are obvious dangers in relying on one's feelings as most who in pastoral ministry would tell you that there are many days in which they find themselves wishing they were doing something different because of the nature of their work and service.)

Such an evaluation as this one might be essential for clear thinking for the individual who is considering Christian ministry and also for the church who is seeking a pastor. One who describes a fantastic experience of a call to ministry but is unable to demonstrate that God has equipped him for such a role might need continue to weigh his options with the God-given reasoning and understanding he possesses.

[In 'Part 3' I plan to examine a few additional, related topics - one being the manner of ordination to ministry, another being the number of ordained ministers in existence in our American society, and a third being the active roles of local churches in training and teaching those who would be entrusted with a role in ministry.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Christian Cruise

What should one make of the phenomenon of the Christian cruise?

By Christian cruise, I am referring to the "floating conference/vacations" which feature one or more prominent Bible teachers and sometimes a musician or group and which is promoted to Christians who have the money but may not be taking a trip to the Holy Land this year. (Okay, so I've already shown my hand a little there in my description.)

I received a new one in my inbox today from Ligonier Ministries featuring, of course, R. C. Sproul. The ones that I seem to receive news about weekly usually feature David Jeremiah, who must do all of his public speaking on boats, and many other extremely photographic people. The other most-recent one in my inbox features Jerry Vines, Johnny Hunt, and some other "celebrities." Everyone's invited and the package starts at $795.

[Excuse me...I'm feeling a little sick.]

[Okay, I'm back.]

Okay. I enjoy going to great conferences and know that they can be extremely helpful, challenging, and refreshing in one's Christian life. So, I'm asking myself if the Christian cruise is basically the same thing, just that you stay on a boat instead of in a hotel...and you visit tropical or Alaskan places in your free time instead of museums and coffee shops...and you live, eat, and sleep in your own little utopia for a week or so.

The whole idea seems so removed from the reality of both real life and the church. The notion looks so much like the world but with a Christian twist on it that I cannot help but think of other things like all those Christian t-shirts that look like other name brands but have some silly Christian lingo instead or of the attempts to create Christian theme parks and Christian communities and so on and so forth.

Maybe I'm way off base here. Maybe I'm just jealous or something. Maybe my views are just too narrow (yes, I'm against church league softball, too, but it's hardly worth arguing about.) Maybe if I were invited to be one of the featured speakers on one of these cruises I could enjoy being paid to hang out and preach my favorite sermons next to Johnny Hunt, James Merritt, and Bobby Welch (some prominent Southern Baptist guys with nice hair and nice suits, in case you don't recognize the names.) Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Call to Ministry (Part 1)

An article by John Ortberg at brought me to a topic which has often been brought up not only for my life personally but in the lives of several friends and also several within the church where I serve. Ortberg touches on the commonly held views today of a "calling" in regard to ministry which is so often described in very sudden, mystical, and vivid terms. Even among people who have a fairly sound theology concerning God's speaking through Scripture tend to promote such a view that being called to ministry is the one time in life in which a real, audible-but-not-audible, voice of God speaks in some sort of direct revelation. The article, God's Call Waiting, does not necessarily debunk the notion so much as establish that such is not absolulely the norm, as Ortberg, a pastor, identifies for his own life and experience.

Ortberg writes
"But I never got marching orders. Partly, I think, it may have been because God knows that I will grow much more as a person if I have to figure things out and exercise judgment and make a decision and accept responsibility than if I just got a postcard and followed directions. Another reason may be that I don't think God separates people into "pastor" groups that have to get calls and "non-pastor" groups that are call-free."

Nearly all churches, many seminaries, and many mission organizations today place such a high emphasis on "calling" that other skills with which one may be gifted are only secondary. An expectation has developed in this regard which seems to be something of a product of our times and Christian culture. I have often used an article by Basil Manley, Jr., written over 100 years ago to bring peoples' thinking back to a strong point of reference. The lengthy article by one of the founders of The Southern Baptist Seminary, is titled "A Call To the Ministry." In Manley's detailed description, nowhere does he refer to a moment or some mystical instance in which a man is called by God to the ministry. Rather, Manley focuses on the abilities that God has granted to each person and the way in which each person should employ these. Some should employ their gifts of learning, communication, and piety in the faith to the ministry; some should pursue other "careers" equally in serving God and with a biblically-founded, gospel-centered purpose.

Manley does clearly debunk the "mystical" call to ministry as he writes:
"To make the call to the ministry consist in some supposed indubitable, irresistible, divine afflatus, of which no evidence is found except the confident impressions and assertions of the candidate, is clearly to open the door to all kinds of extravagance, imposture, and fanatical abuses. Nor is it sustained by a single passage of God’s word."

Wow! How many pastor search committees and seminary admissions offices act in agreement with that statement?! Manley suggests, rather, that the call to ministry should be quite logical and in keeping with common sense as to one's abilities.

I think that many would agree that the language we use is misleading at best. However, a paradigm and an expectation has been established that requires ministry candidates to claim such a call or else forfeit what makes them credible in the eyes of many. In addition, the language of "God is leading me..." has become the spiritual trump card especially for those in ministry or pursuing a position in ministry. (I will explore this aspect more in Part 2.)

Against the backdrop of such a system, Ortberg's practical explanation of his experience and "calling" is helpful.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"Family Driven Faith"

Book: Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham.

Rarely do I read a book that challenges my thinking to the extent that Family Driven Faith has over the past week or so. Coming from a fellow Southern Baptist, I did not expect anything too drastic from Baucham. In fact, halfway through the book I was mostly in a mode of appreciation for Baucham's well-presented arguments for family worship and discipleship. But then the book picked up steam...

Baucham's arguments move in the latter half of the book (and especially the final two chapters) to the church and how the church is failing to be biblical in its approach to families. He makes a strong case for what he terms a "family-integrated church" which is more about men being the kind of fathers they need to be than about youth and children's programs.

As Baucham admits, though, such an approach by pastors to the church is likely to get them fired in an age that is so enamored with programs, events, and "professional" nursery care. The idea of families worshiping together not only in the home but also in the gathered worship of the local church is so absent from today's Christian thinking that the suggestion is staggering (and, according to Baucham, not often well received.)

Why is such a biblical idea not palatable? I think it is because it requires something of men that is noticeably absent in most men: a real spiritual life - a true walk with Christ.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Homeschooling: The Only Wrong Answer

Dr. Al Mohler: Overt Hostility toward Homeschoolers

Once again, for the liberal, all views are equally valid except the view of the conservative.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Change of Southern Baptist Climate

This week a group supposedly representing the Southern Baptist Convention (I am still unclear as to their identity) released a statement on global climate change entitled "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change." As far as I can understand, the main author of the declaration is a seminary student. The declaration comes with 46 signatures.

Three points:

1. I've read the full text, and I have no major objections to the wording, except maybe to the degree that global warming is considered primarily caused by humans. I agree fully that Christians should be the first ones in our society to promote a biblical view of environmental concern. Reduce, reuse, recycle...and take only pictures.

2. The media seem to be picking the story up as if it is a position change for the SBC. (i.e. CNN: Southern Baptist Leaders Shift Position on Climate Change.) While I expect that this will again be an issue during the one week of the year in which Southern Baptists do have a "convention," the current document can hardly be promoted as the new view of Southern Baptists any more than if my previous blog entry suddenly had 46 affirmations from people in Southern Baptist Churches (including such "weighty" names as James Merritt.) (Yes, a resolution on Oceanic Airlines may be in the works for the next convention.)

3. The main thing: the gospel of Jesus Christ. It seems that the SBC (read: 'the dominant voices within the SBC') always wants to walk a thin line when it comes to making political statements and "world-changing" declarations on behalf of the 16 million-member-strong denomination. (There will be 6 million, maybe, in gathered worship this week - you do the math.) It completely befuddles me that any statement at all should need to be made about topics which are not central to the purpose of the SBC: to cooperate toward a unified effort in the missionary task of spreading the gospel.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

LOST Direction

Wondering where the TV Show 'LOST' is going? So do the writers.

As my wife and I were doing a little comparing of a scene from this week's episode, "The Other Woman," to the first episode of Season 3, "A Tale of Two Cities," we noticed a few things the scene where the "Others" in their little neighborhood come out and see Oceanic 815 breaking in two in the air. Here are two:

First, Goodwin incredibly changes shirts in the blink of an eye (at the 22:53 point in the program.) His original light blue shirt is from the original scene. Too bad that one was probably eaten by a polar bear or the black smoke, because he then appears in some sort of checked shirt not even that similar to the first except that maybe they both have buttons. [Watch for yourself.]

Second, Harper magically appears in the newer episode in order to be able to make dramatic eye contact even though she was previously not present in the broad shot of the scene. I know, I know - the time warp and the island's powers and all - of course this can happen.

So, the biggest question we all have can be answered: Do the writers have a plan? Judge for yourself.

Personally, I have become less frustrated by the lack of any forseeable end (or consistent plot for that matter) because I have fully adapted a philosophy of just enjoying everything as it unfolds. If LOST gets all wrapped up, what am I going to watch on TV? Dancing with the Stars?

I think that the dialogue between Locke and Ben about the lack of a plan on Locke's behalf is actually some insight into the internal wrestlings of J. J. Abrams' thinking through the show's direction.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hermeneutics Quiz

I scored a '50' on Scot McKnight's Hermeneutics Quiz. (Take the quiz yourself if you like.) I'm not usually an online quiz taker, but then, when one is right in line with one of your favorite topics, what can you do?

The quiz is challenging in the way that McKnight makes you think about why you interpret one text of Scripture absolutely literally and another with a different approach. According to McKnight, a '50' places me just under the conservative threshold of 52. McKnight comments that the difference on the "progressive" side between a score in the 60's and one in the 90's is a great difference. The same should be said on the conversative side. Considering my own position to be a conservative one, it is interesting the way that I would be inclined to view the person who would score anywhere near 20.

I clicked on the notable persons to see what Dan Kimball had scored. He scored a 62, which places him in the moderate category (just barely, though.) I'm not sure how McKnight determines what scoring ranges are to be considered conservative-moderate-progressive, but it is interesting that the moderate category is such a slim one (53-65.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Charles at is serious about education, and his latest thoughts on the problems and possible solutions is quite interesting.

Christianity Light

People who prove to be faithful, available, and teachable in churches today seem to be too few. I see many who display one or two of these qualities, but very few are fully F-A-T in their Christian lives especially as they function within the body of Christ.

Looking specifically at the area of teachability, I think this quality is essential to continuing spiritual growth. Seemingly, though, many Christians are satisfied with some level of understanding to which they have attained. It seems that many are comfortable with a very light does of biblical Christianity.

In a related area of teaching and learning, it seems that within conservative circles of Christianity, personal knowledge of God has taken a backseat among those who are interested in learning as they prefer to build up their understanding of topics which would fall more into the category of apologetics. (There is nothing wrong with apologetics, of course.) In practical terms, this person is the one who desires to substantiate his or her position as a "defense of the faith." The ability to defend Christianity and certain tenets of the faith seems to have become the primary motivation of many today. Truly knowing God is of secondary worth in many minds. I am often reminded of J. I. Packer's now famous words: "A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him."

Many Christians display an openness and desire to learn about "hot topics" which dominate the public debates like abortion, the Bible and homosexuality, or evolution/creation. However, the desire of many Christians seems to stall at having a somewhat removed, second-hand knowledge about God that provides them with the necessary answers to questions. I liken this to knowing everything about the movies without ever sitting in the theater to watch a movie. It would be shallow to know all the facts about what films Sean Connery has appeared in and to have never actually seen any of them.

There seems to be a cultural taboo against true Christian spirituality, by which I am referring to one's personal knowledge of who God is which comes through the reading and study of God's Word, the Bible. Maybe the taboo is only perceived, but I think it is real.

I was standing in a two-story bookstore the other day peering down at the aisles and shelves of books. The view was shocking because of what stood out so clearly on all those shelves: "Idiot's Guide to ______" and "_______ for Dummies" was everywhere - the orange and yellow framed covers standing out. In seemingly every section of the bookstore the sum total was there in one of these "dumbed down" versions.

In Christianity today, it seems that what many desire is merely the dumbed down version. People do not want the Bible; they want to have a summary of it. People do not want to know God; they merely want to know enough about God to get by.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Weather Channel, Where Have You Gone?

Weather Channel Founder Blasts Network; Claims It Is 'Telling Us What to Think'

My favorite part of this article is that John Coleman not only calls out the Weather Channel concerning global warming, but that he also calls them out for all their "non-weather" shows and reporting. As I like to say, "Please tell us about the weather right now, not in history or somewhere in the future."