Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Genius sometimes comes with a price tag. . .

I will admit that it is hard to erase from my memory the impression of Mozart from the incredibly good movie but poor biography, Amadeus.  Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (that was his name on the baptismal certificate) was a musical genius and a child prodigy -- of that there is no doubt.  He was also vain, insecure, jealous, argumentative, brash, and difficult.  There is no denying that his financial and critical success suffered because of an insufferable personality.  But who could forgo the Jupiter or the string quintets or the piano concertos or the operas (at least The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, and Don Giovanni).  No, the man deserves every credit for his musical genius.  The problem with Mozart lies elsewhere.

Genius often comes with a price tag. Those most gifted seem consigned to also be those absent some of the most common sensibilities and manners that would have certainly aided their genius had they been present.  On the other hand, some of those whom history remembers well are those who lacked the genius but who had the people skills to get things done.

I oft remember Pres. George W. Bush's suggestion that even a C student can get there.  Yes, he or she can.  While it might seem that we want the smartest people to govern us, they are seldom effective leaders.  I remember a friend saying once that he was undoubtedly the smartest man in the room.  Indeed he probably was.  But he ended up with little success in his chosen vocation -- that calling did not require genius but it did require a personality.  He was a Pastor.

I have known no shortage of people smarter than I am.  Indeed, it often seems to me that everyone I know is smarter than I am.  I think I am telling the people who know me nothing new when I say that my bravado often covers some serious intellectual weakness and not a small lack of personal discipline.  That said, I do like people, even difficult ones.  And for all my other weaknesses, I truly do try to be gracious as I deal with people.  Sometimes that contributes to my ineffectualness but mostly it aids it.

Pastors are seldom required to be geniuses but the pastoral calling does expect some manners, some graciousness, and love for people -- even those hard to love.  As important as this is to the pastoral vocation, it is also one of the things hardest to discern of the candidates who feel called to the office.  Seminaries can easily tell you a candidate's grades in a given class but they do not always know how to speak of his personality, his demeanor, and his aptitude in dealing with people.

Once our church body required candidates for the ministry to begin as high schoolers in boarding schools throughout the Midwest, mainly, though a few were sprinkled elsewhere as well.  Through this high school experience and then church college, the powers that be got to know the person as well as the intellect.  In addition to shaping the man, er, well, boy, by the curriculum, they shaped his personality as well.  By the time the candidate got to seminary, he was a well known quantity.  Those in the position to judge, could discern not only scholastic aptitude but also personal qualities essential to the pastoral vocation.

By the time I got to college, the boarding high schools (except for St. Paul, Missouri) had gone the way of all flesh.  Still, junior college, the Senior College, and Seminary did give more than a mere glimpse into the person who would be a Pastor.  Now, some 41 years after I entered St. John's College, Winfield, KS, we have even less time to get to know and discern the qualities which contribute toward pastoral ability and make it possible to judge vocation from among the candidates seeking the Office of Pastor.

The decline of the church college franchise as the exclusive domain of pre-formation and the desire of many to find quicker and cheaper routes to ordination have all left us with but one solid marker to use in judging pastoral vocation -- intellect and grades.  Sadly, genius often comes with a price tag and intellectual superiority may be desirable but it is not as essential as a personable individual who loves and loves working with people.  Preachers do not preach in a vacuum.  Most of the work of Pastors is not done in the lecture setting.  So we are left with less experience to judge the individual's qualifications and less time to make the call.  With SMP and other short-cuts to ordination, we are also left with a wider pool of people who are contributing to the judgment but who, themselves, may not have the full or accurate picture of the person on which to base their judgment.

My point is this.  For the Church to discern the calling of the candidate, we need more than a report card or an IQ score.  Aptitude for the ministry is multi-faceted and it is easier to judge who is not than it is to say to the church this man is apt for the Office of Pastor.  And that is one call I, happily, do not have to make... even as I pray for those who must make it...


Janis Williams said...

This is the age when "pastors" (evangelical ones, at least) boast about their lack of seminary training. The Spirit makes up for what they lack (or so they think).

Some of the more traditional churches still prefer seminary education - "the Holy Spirit has to have something to work with..."

No. The man must have education enough to discern that the Holy Spirit isn't his lackey.

Nothing can make up for the education that gives the ability to know and understand the doctrine-the Faith once delivered-which is his "tool" (couldn't come up with a good word).

The knowledge of the man that he is the lackey fosters the humility which allows development of the skills needed to deal with the flock. IMO

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, Rev. Jonathan Fisk was not an "A" student by any means.

How does a seminary go about attracting the right kind of individual?