Friday, February 23, 2007

The importance of the Body

I know a guy who has been going through a "crisis of calling" recently. He's about transition from seminary into ministry after beginning seminary five years ago, and he's only now facing hard answers to questions that should have been asked years ago.

My friend has had his sights set on a particular area of ministry since early in seminary, and as he has moved through his training he has focused on that almost exclusively-- taking elective classes in that area, serving with a church that is distinctive in that area, and even beginning his search by focusing on opportunities in that area.

A few weeks ago, he went to a conference to get some training in that ministry area. While there, he spoke with some experienced, wise leaders about his desires to serve in this particular area of ministry.  Their counsel surprised him: having spoken with him at length about his experience, training, personality, and passions, their assessment was that he was not really a good fit for the area of ministry he had in mind. Further, they strongly discouraged him from continuing to pursue it.

To say the least, this man is discouraged. More than that, however, he now must entirely re-evaluate the candidacy opportunities he has been exploring-- and he's already told me that the one he was most excited about, and that he had the most traction with, is out of the picture.

I feel bad for my friend, but not as bad as I would if he had not received such wise counsel in time to prevent him from taking a position that was a bad fit. Frankly, I'm thankful for the strong words of these leaders-- I'm only sorry that he wasn't told this earlier.

One of the real benefits of Field Education, Internships, and simply being active and involved in ministry through a local congregation, is that it allows men (and women) to test their sense of calling and get valuable feedback about the direction their ministry is headed. The feedback of the Body is an essential part of a seminarian's a sense of calling.

My friend has completed an Internship, and has even been serving in a leadership role in his church. Why hasn't he received the kind of feedback he needed? Why didn't one of those that he served with suggest that he should re-consider this direction? Why didn't one of his close friends speak honestly with him about it?

(It's worth saying here that it takes a very good friend to have this kind of conversation. Another friend once told me that one of the best things a friend ever told him was that he should give up on songwriting-- he just wasn't good enough, and he had talents elsewhere. What a hard word to say and to receive! But what a value in a good friend!)

When I first began to sense a calling into the ministry, my Pastor asked me three questions to help me assess it: what does my heart tell me? What does God's Word tell me? And what does God's people tell me? These have been North-pointing compass questions for me ever since.

Sadly, it sounds like no one ever asked my friend the last question until recently.

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