The Preacher and His Call

September 1, 2015

by Dr. Randy White

**This article was previously posted by Dr. Randy White HERE and is used by permission. 

For many years, the “call” has been presented as the essential ingredient to a Pastor’s success. Without this call, he would be “…as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. (1 Cor. 13:1b)”. Without this call, discouragement would doubtless set in and he would drift away from ministry because he was never called to it in the first place. Without this call, he would be miserable in the profession of ministry, harming himself and many others in the process.

But what is this call? What is the Biblical basis for this call? How does a young man know if he has had this call? What if a young man wants to enter ministry but never had “the call?” With the modern “call” theology, these questions are almost unanswerable, and any answer we give is one we’ve simply made up, or repeated because we’ve heard it so often that it has become true. What if “the call” itself is actually an extra Biblical concept that has been made up. What if the concept of “the call” has no Biblical basis and actually hinders Christian men from relying on Scripture alone as a guide when considering becoming a pastor?

The Biblical Basis for the Call
If you begin to research material and sermons about “the call,” you’ll find reams of supposed justifications for this inner experience coming from the anecdotal evidence of various calls throughout Scripture. Moses was called by God who spoke to him from within   a burning bush, Samuel was called by a voice in the night, Isaiah was motivated by the “Whom shall I send?” question from God, and Paul was called by Christ with a bright light on the road to Damascus. Many conclude then, that all men in the pastoral ministry must have a Call experience.

The problem with all this Biblical justification is that it is a poor use of Scripture. To take a historical incident as a foundation for a normative experience is poor exegesis on any occasion, and is also the ingredient of a thousand heresies.  To build the doctrine of “the call” from these historical accounts is a slightly cleaned up version of name-it-and-claim-it theology. For example, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon a group of believers and they began speaking in tongues. This is repeated in _Acts 10:46 when Peter preaches the same gospel as in Acts 2 to Cornelius, and in Acts 19:6 when Paul lays his hands on some who had only heard of John’s baptism.  If we make this into a normative practice, we have built a doctrine out of an historical account. We like to pick-and-choose the parts of the historical accounts we want to use. We love to ask people to repent, but never in sack-cloth and ashes. We love to ask a ministry candidate to share his call, but would be alarmed to hear him talk about burning bushes or voices and bright lights from heaven.

What the Bible Really Teaches
Christian practice should be built upon passages of Scripture that give instruction for Christian practice. When one uses this criteria, there simply is no Biblical basis for the inner call to ministry.

In fact, Paul tells Timothy that if anyone aspires the office of overseer, “it’s a fine work he desires to do” (1 Timothy 3:1). This word aspire or desire (KJV) is hardly a spiritual word. It is the same word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 6:10 when he talks about the love of money, and “some people longing for it have wandered from the faith” (NASB).

The only call to the preaching and overseeing ministry of a Pastor that we see in the pages of the New Testament is the selection of Pastors by Paul and Barnabas, and the instruction given Timothy and Titus to do the same. How did these men know they were called to ministry? Chiefly because the church voted on them! In Acts 14:23, Elders (Pastors) are “appointed” (NASB). This word, cheirotoneo, is literally “to raise the hand,” or “to vote.” It is also used in 2 Corinthians 8:19. Literally Paul and Barnabas, and perhaps others in the congregation, voted upon the selection of the Pastors.

The Mystical Nature of the Call
With the creation of a mystical inner call, the call of the local church became secondary. In years past, the “calling out” role of the local church was instrumental in the selection of men who would serve as Pastors, and the ordination council was used to determine the candidate’s qualification. The call was given by the church, through the ordination council. Even in Biblical days, Paul admonished Timothy not to neglect his spiritual gift which was bestowed not by the Holy Spirit in a mystical experience, but by “the laying on of hands by the presbytery” (1 Timothy 4:14).

Today’s ordination council cannot do much outside of asking a candidate, “Tell us about your call to ministry.” After hearing the young man talk about feelings and promptings and eerie coincidences, the council must say, “Well then, you must be called.”  In times past, the council looked for evidence of ability, practice, effort, and intellect that was conducive to the fulfilling of the pastoral role, then they tested for doctrine to see if the candidate was fit for the office. If all these qualifications were met, they considered the Biblical qualifications stated in the Scripture. Meeting the Biblical qualifications and having the necessary abilities, the man was voted upon, and a call was given.

A New Look at an Old Call
Let’s rethink the call. Let’s demystify the call. Local churches should be on the lookout for young men in the congregation who have the faith, commitment, Biblically sound doctrine, and the ability to serve as a pastor. Those churches should call those young men out, encourage them to consider entering ministry and, in time, present  them before the ordaining council, who will recommend they be ordained. In many cases, the local congregation should make sure these young men are able to be trained in the ministry through Bible colleges and seminaries that are closely associated with the congregation, and after their time of preparation, these churches should be involved in helping to place the young men in ministry positions that fit their skills and experience level.

Your thoughts?

 

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Scott Shaver

Good insight in the face of some pretty hardened traditions.

Perhaps the sacred cow of a clerical guild bites the dust?

Bill Mac

I’m not usually in agreement with Dr. White but this is an exception. I’m not a cessationist, but I’ve always been uncomfortable with the pseudo-mysticism that creeps into our doctrine.

Andy

Yes! Excellent word!

Bill Mac

Interesting and a little disappointing that this post hasn’t generated more discussion. I suspect there are a good many who are normally on Dr. White’s side who are reluctant to disagree with him on this. Despite the nature of the blog, I would hate to think that anti-Calvinism articles are the only posts that merit a conversation (well, let’s say argument).

    Andy

    Realistically, I’d probably say that’s because most people don’t REALLY approach it they way Dr. White lays out, at least they don’t describe it that way: “If a man says he’s called, then he must be called, case closed!” Nobody says that…but even in my church (in which we would verbally agree with Dr. White’s article…if someone expresses interest in pastoring, we generally give more encouragement than testing.

    On another note, Perhaps we should address the common phrase: “I feel that I am called to FULL-TIME VOCATIONAL ministry!” If current trends continue, there will be much less demand for full-time vocational ministers…does that mean God’s plan and calling for their life has been thwarted by shrinking churches? O perhaps God’s plan is for them to be a minister, but also have another job? Not many young preachers want to consider that, but it’s a growing reality.

Lydia

“This word, cheirotoneo, is literally “to raise the hand,” or “to vote.” It is also used in 2 Corinthians 8:19. Literally Paul and Barnabas, and perhaps others in the congregation, voted upon the selection of the Pastors.”

Thank you. I hardly ever see that taught anymore. Great article.

Robert

Hello Randy,

You made some very good points in your article, in my opinion the key lines were these:

“In times past, the council looked for evidence of ability, practice, effort, and intellect that was conducive to the fulfilling of the pastoral role, then they tested for doctrine to see if the candidate was fit for the office. If all these qualifications were met, they considered the Biblical qualifications stated in the Scripture. Meeting the Biblical qualifications and having the necessary abilities, the man was voted upon, and a call was given.”

What you are calling “In times past” in my opinion is the way things ought to go.

However if this were a card game, I would raise you one, by suggesting that if things were up to me, I would go even further. It seems to me that if local churches were really healthy, they would make seminaries obsolete. Church leadership would be “homegrown” and developed from within the local church. Those who exhibit faithfulness, character, effort, aptitude to be future leaders would be trained by the leadership already present at the local church. Put another way, leaders would reproduce themselves in their congregations. In this way, everyone in a local church would know who is being trained for leadership as well as know who these men are when they are fully trained. If that were happening then why would you need to send people off to seminaries? Another problem this would avoid is this whole candidating procedure/”dating game” where people unknown to the congregation are being considered to be their leaders (so the pastor does not know the people nor do the people know the prospective pastor and everyone has to go through this time of getting to know each other/”honeymoon” period). I doubt these ideas will catch on, instead things will proceed as usual (or some local churches will train future leaders only to see them sent off somewhere else). As long as local churches are not training future leaders to be leaders in their congregations, the seminaries will still be needed, and the “dating game” will continue :-).

Bill Mac

We’ve gotten to a point in evangelicalism where a Christian cannot say “I want to”….We have to imply God’s imprimatur on our actions.

Randy McLendon

Excellent point, Dr. White. I think we know why there isn’t much interaction. If one agrees with Dr. White’s premise here, that might mean rethinking all one has been taught with regard to the call. I think Robert makes some great points as well. I don’t know if seminaries should be obsolete, but I think a more biblical position would be for seminary professors to be pastors first and teach at seminary on the side. That way, the emphasis is on the local church. These pastors could take young men and train them in the classroom and give them much needed practical training in the church context. Too many pastors have had little to no real training. There first experience in ministry is when they are called to a church (who really doesn’t know them) and it’s often a rough situation after the honeymoon phase. Churches should rarely have to call pastors…. existing pastors should be training someone to come along in the event of his death/departure. But their should be less departures for bigger and better jobs….but I digress. Thanks again, Dr. White.

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