Saturday, June 9, 2012
This isn’t a talent show....
When we talk about why some men are Pastors or approach the subject of women's ordination, the discussion inevitably goes to talent or ability -- as if Pastors were born and the job of the Church were merely to recognize those who possessed the requisite abilities or talent for pastoring. But the Church is not running an American Idol or America's Got Talent competition. This isn't a talent show (borrowed from Pr. Rick Sawyer). It is not as simple as can this man (or woman) do the job. Would that it would be such an easy thing to discern -- ability. But the issue here is calling (and by calling I do NOT mean finding a congregation willing to call somebody to be their Pastor). When using the term calling, I am speaking of vocation.
The Church teaches, forms, and prepares men (women entered into this arena only recently and not out of any theological necessity or integrity) but then the whole equation shifts to calling discerning the call of God. Some times the Church gets is wrong, I am sure. Probably more often on the side of rejecting than on the side of accepting. But I am not given than responsibility so I will not presume to apply this individually. I speak only in general. I speak to the general peculiarity of thought that reckons ordination as confirmation of ability or talent. Can he or she do the job? If ability or talent is all we need to reckon, then the age old history and the Scriptural guidelines can safely be jettisoned. We have matured beyond the need of the Spirit and we have attained a spiritual level which allows us to go beyond the Biblical warrant and the faithful legacy of our forbearers. But that is precisely my point. We have not. We have no authority and we dare not presume the will of God beyond what He has revealed to us.
Some of the mightiest of those who have worn the red stole of ordination would have been rejected if the objective were simply functionality. Those whose voices have raised generations through faithful witness, proclamation, and pastoral care are not called because we recognize in them an ability. True, Scripture does call us to see that these are apt to teach, that they have the respect of those whom they serve (in and out of the Church), and that their moral character does not betray the office being conferred upon them. But this is not the same as choosing because of ability or talent.
The call of God recognized by the Church, the office conferred in ordination, and then the local call assigned by the Church judge on things more than ability or talent. This is not like the school yard choice of those who will serve on your team (in which the talented are chosen first and the less than talented left to the end). Pastoral formation is not recognition of talent or ability nor is it an academic achievement suitably noted in a grade assigned. It is a lifelong process of formation for the Office as much as for the work, for the calling as much as for the functions.
We do not call by a preach off of some other moment in the spotlight for which the candidate may shine. We do not call because of a good interview as a head hunting committee might seal the deal after qualifications, talents, and ability have been vetted. We call prayerfully, invoking the same Spirit who has been promised to the Church to counsel and guide her, not in the least of which includes those whom she will confer the solemn authority of the Word and Sacraments. It is this aspect that seems more lacking today. We look for ability both at the seminary and congregational level. We want doers more than thinkers or pray-ers. We want doers instead of theologians. And if God is just, He will give us what we seek (to our shame). But since God is merciful, we pray that He will look past our silliness and seek the right man, to stand in the line of many men whom the Lord has called, the Church has discerned and ordained, and the churches have joyfully elected. This is not a talent show, folks. Let us keep from turning it into one.