Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Challenging the conventional wisdom on Ministerial Calls

Carl Trueman posted a couple of shorter pieces on the Reformation 21 blog back in June (Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls part one and part two), in which he challenged our usual approach and practice to identifying a "pastoral call" in candidates and churches.

Trueman observes that the practice often is in conflict with similar practices in other parts of our congregational life:

I have often wondered why it is in Presbyterian circles (and probably other churches too) that we routinely call men in their twenties, straight from seminary, to be ministers when we would never dream of calling someone of such an age to be a ruling elder. It seems odd to apply the biblical norms only to the latter.

I think he is more right than wrong here. I know at Covenant Seminary, where I studied, there is a requirement that a man must have at least three years of pastoral ministry behind him before beginning a Doctor of Ministry program; I have wondered why a similar requirement is not made for those who would enter the ministry. Why not at least one or the other of the following: either several years of work experience in secular employment, or several years of ministry experience as an intern, pastoral assistant, or non-ordained ministry position?

Trueman goes on to point out that, too often, churches and presbyteries simply rely on seminaries to do their jobs for them, with regard to determining whether a man is fit for ministry. If they have completed seminary, the conventional wisdom goes, they must have some "chops" that make them suitable as a pastor. He makes the following point about that:

What is needed is a clear understanding that seminaries are not presbyteries: they do not make any judgment on suitability for ministry; they simply teach the necessary technical theological skills at the appropriate level.

He concludes with a poignant reminder about achievement and potential vs. fitness and qualification for ministry:

An MDiv degree, a congregational vote, an `internal call' and an act of presbytery do not mean that a man is really called by God to be a minister.

This is much-needed re-thinking. I know that our presbytery has ordained men on these bases, when in fact several of us have had serious questions about whether they were truly ready to serve the church as pastors-- or whether we were setting them up (and their congregations as well) for potential devastation.

Read all of the posts here:
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls I
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls II


nickg said...

Hi Ed, 3 things:

1. Like you, I think Trueman is "more right than wrong."

2. I was, in fact, called to be a ruling elder in my twenties, straight out of seminary.

3. In MoPres, we in Candidates & Credentials Committee ask candidates who are younger than 30 to explain why they are qualified for pastoral ministry at such a young age. In other words, we don't bar men from the ministry at that age, but we make them think about it.

Ed Eubanks said...

Nick, I like that a lot (what your presbytery does)— great idea! I’m sure I’ll borrow that for future presbytery exams.

I certainly know a number of capable and qualified 20-somethings who are in ministry, and wouldn’t (ever) argue that age disqualifies a man from any office. However, I think the caution offered here still stands: you’re a great example of someone who is, I believe, exceptional in your maturity, wisdom, and ability to serve as a Ruling Elder. In these cases, maybe it should be more exceptional than the norm, and it’s hard to say with utter certainty which one is the “norm” in our day.