Feeling Called isn’t enough pt 1
When the church takes a backseat to the self.
Peter just graduated from seminary. He aspires to a noble task. He put in his time. He’s trained and ready. Now, he needs to float his resume. He’s a blue-chipper. Who wouldn’t want a young, intelligent, degreed, well-spoken, family-man who’s “called” to pastor. He may have to settle for a part-time, bi-vocational gig, but surely it’ll be short term. Fulltime, vocational ministry is the calling. It’s God plan for his life. Or, is it?
There’s a well known stat in ministry circles that pastors average about three years before moving on to another church. Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, addressed this phenomenon in his book Breakout Churches and in a shorter article. I think it’s worth digging in a little deeper. Could the assumed inward call of a pastor and the lack of assessment by a local church correlate as culprits producing the three-year “new calling” pattern?
Diagnosis: Inward Call > Outward Call?
There's a flaw in our typical definition of "calling." Unfortunately, our seminaries often don't help much. Many churches with their pastor search committee also promote this defect. I think the primary weakness is that most believe a calling to pastoral ministry is essentially between the man and God, the inward call, with very little emphasis on God's provided means of discerning and extending the outward call, the local church. Many functionally have divorced the inward call from the outward. A proper biblical view would recognize both the inward call and the outward call. In the outward call, a congregation submitted to the Spirit and Word observes and examines a man to see if he is qualified for pastoral ministry and extends an outward call as God leads. The church, with Bible in hand and candidate before them, observes and assesses the man’s character, confession (doctrine), commitment (reasons and desires), competency (God-given gifts), context (where to pastor), and circumstances all culminating to affirm, or not, a calling. Best case scenario, the man is evaluating his sense of an inward call along these same lines while the church is evaluating him, and together they hear what is God's direction after sufficient time.
10 Pastors You May Know
Here are some of the results of a pastor candidate’sinadequate understanding and the resulting imbalance of inward over outward evaluation and calling by the church.
1. Entitled Pastor (Credentialed Pastor): “I've earned my calling and affirmation through what I’ve done, see the plaque on the wall? I walked the aisle, prayed the prayer, and surrendered at camp.” This unhealthy view assumes that a ministry position is earned and de-emphasizes the outward evaluation of the local church. This view also lends toward men not seeking further growth, education, accountability, or submission to mentors after they've received their "credentials."
2. Celebrity Pastor: “I've got the skills and the following as attested to by Facebook, Instragram, and Twitter. By the way, when will my sermons start livestreamming? We need to get our online campus running ASAP! And! Can we talk about our first satellite campus two towns over?” In our social media age, it’s relatively easy to amass a following, or at least think you have. We can assume our personality and charisma are the most essential factors in a call, and de-emphasize the authority of local church in recognizing calling.
3. Upwardly-mobile Pastor (Ladder climbing): “I'm working my way to the top. My calling is bigger than this church.” We all know the guy who’s starting low and working up. The local church is a means for his platform. “’Feed my sheep?’ ‘Let’s be honest, not all sheep are created equal. Some are “more equal” than others.’”
4. Church-less Pastor: “I don't need a church to know I'm called to be a pastor. God placed a call on my life. Of course, I have a side ministry. I’m just in between churches and still trying to find a church that will partnerwith my ministry.” How can we say the inward call is legit when the very God-ordained means for its evaluation is so unimportant?
5. Vocational-only Pastor: “I’m called to full-time ministry. It’s a special calling. I wrote it in my Bible the day I got the call. Some guys are called to part-time work. That’s just not me. Not only do I have the right to be paid for my pastoral labors, but I must. Don't muzzle the ox! Am I right!?!” Sadly, as there’s an increased hostility to Christianity, these men will find themselves as Church-less pastors. Pastors have the right to receive compensation. But, that’s all it is, a right, not a requirement of the church. Paul laid the right down.
6. CEO Pastor: “Look. The search committee and the church recognized me and did their part in my ‘outward call’, as minimal as it was, now its my show. They brought me in because of my vision. They need to get on the bus or get run over by it. Are you with me?” When leadership skills take the place of mutual submission between pastors and church, the sheep become customers and resources to be bought and controlled. “They don’t know any better anyway, or they would be in charge.”
7. Susceptible Pastor (Puffed-up Pastor): “Folks, my calling is MY calling. Who are you to question what conviction God has given me? I heard from God. I felt the call, and read the circumstances.” If we don’t submit ourselves to the accountability of the Word and church, we are susceptible to the dominant power groups in the church if, and when, our game plan begins to crumble.
8. Schizophrenic Pastor: “Did you see the latest resource toolkit from Always Relevant! Looks like that’s the direction and kick in the pants our church needs right now!” Six months later . . . “Sheldon, bro, the latest vision kit from Always Relevant just dropped. Check it out. I just downloaded it. That’s where we’re going.” A man not submitted to the accountability of the Word and church, is susceptible to being led by the whims of culture, dominant programs, philosophies, and emotional appeals of others.
9. Youth-ministry-transfer Pastor: “I loved youth ministry, but it was time to keep the party going at the next level. It’s pretty similar now as pastor, I just have to put in a little more time at the office. But, the benefits are better. That membership to the golf course is where it’s at! There’s no time to work hard when you’re hardly working. But, hey, that’s the calling and somebody’s gotta do it.” Who’s to question the inward call? If we start thinking ministry is according to our own agenda, and the church doesn't step up and disagree, then they’ve made the bed they’re lying in.
10. Underserved Pastor: "I've been trained. I've been mentored. I've got a call. But, it seems churches in the past and even now don't have a very clear vision for pastoral formation. Can they help me discern not only my calling, but also the biblical qualifications, and nature and expectations of pastoral ministry?" Many have felt this urge and need. Lean into this, brothers.
Could it be that one of the reasons for the three-year leave trend is because a pastor’s inward call has been exhausted and a new setting is the needed B12 injection to give life to a one-sided, or dare we say, no-sided call? As a friend observed, “Now he's off to the next church with a resume not a mandate! A man . . . not undergirded with a real call and a real recognition by a local assembly is simply a educated stick for the all consuming flame of the church grind” (Travis Bennett).
Inward Call + Outward Call
A local church could well serve a man sensing an internal call by developing a process for discerning whether sufficient evidence exists that God is making him a pastor. The whole church prognosis family ought to observe evidence of God’s grace to them in a pastor. Areas for discernment of the call would include the aforementioned: character, confession, commitment, competency, context, and circumstances. In evaluating these areas, and having a vision for pastoral formation, the local church could then discern God’s inward call and, if fitting, confirm with an outward call.
Thankfully, during and coming out of seminary, a faithful, local church challenged and assessed me in these ways. Often, these realities--needing outward evaluation and calling--are better caught than taught. No doubt, when a church steps up to test a man, it can strike against our pride, but that’s a big part of God’s purpose in the church’s role in pastoral formation. May God shape a new generation of pastors who submit to God’s ordained means for evaluating the inward call, the biblically faithful local church.
1. Rainer, Thom. “The Dangerous Third Year of Christian Ministry” http://thomrainer.com/2014/06/dangerous-third-year-pastoral-tenure/
Part 2: Prescription: A Vision for the Local Church in Pastoral Formation
In the article to follow, I will share a vision for how churches could take a greater role in pastoral formation. Particularly, we’ll walk through the six previously mentioned C’s and give tangible examples for each.
(Dusty Deevers manages a pharmacy, pastors a revita-plant, FBC Elgin, OK, coaches two baseball teams, and has five children 12 to 5 yrs, a sixth due in November, and he and his wife, Christina are living the homeschooling dream. Dusty has an MDiv with Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He can be reached on Twitter: @DustyDeevers or on Facebook)