Saturday, September 10, 2016

The choosing God. . .

When I went to junior college (an antiquated term that only emphasizes how old I am), there were more than thirty pre-sem students in my classes -- learning Greek and German with the classic liberal arts curriculum.  I did not originally plan to become a pastor and instead had the idea I might be a doctor -- an old fashioned kind of family doctor or general practitioner in a small town.  Then the campus pastor for St. John's came and preached at a parish anniversary (he was a son of my congregation and his father, a pastor there for twenty-six years, was buried in our cemetery).  When I got to Winfield, pre-sem seemed to be the program and I signed on the dotted line.  It did not take long for me to discover I was not the brightest bulb in the room but one of the dimmer.  I was surrounded by gifted and talented people whose learning, erudition, and single-handed desire to be a pastor embarrassed and shamed me.  But many of those fine candidates for the ministry left within the two years and more after the senior college and only a quarter or so of those who began graduated from seminary and were placed into congregations, ordained and made pastors.

It is, of course, a terrible injustice.  Perhaps the best Greek student I knew ended up a farmer in Kansas.  And the best thinker I knew ended up in the foreign service as a diplomat.  And the most talented guy in our class ended up spending much of his life in a wistful pursuit of an end never found.  Some of the most ordinary men in our class are the ones who now are called Pastor by their people.  It is patently unfair and wrong.  I should have dropped out and done something else.  They were far more capable and pious than I was or am.  But the mystery of the Lord's will is that He called me -- not because I was the smartest or the most pious but for His own wisdom, will, and purpose.

Comparing qualifications and abilities ends with Christ’s words to His own apostles, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16).  Those who are called into the Lord's service are not chosen by God for His purpose -- they are not better people but those whom He has chosen.  There is no justice or injustice in who the Lord calls.  There is no fairness or lack of fairness in His will and purpose.  The ministry is not won through having the right skill set or by the most impressive resume or a spectacular interview. We can all be agreed that there are indeed many men and women with pastoral capacities exceeding those whom the Lord has called. As I learned from my experience, even those who go through seminary are not guaranteed place as a right owed them. God does not reveal why he chooses some rather than others to serve the Christian people as priests and ministers.  It is His Church and His will and purpose.

The greatest in the Kingdom are not the ministers but those to whom the ministry is directed -- the  saints washed in baptism for whom Christ died and in whom Christ lives.  The path to the ministry is not ours to define but to discern, not ours to change but one of the means through which we are changed, and not ours to dispense but whom the Lord calls.  We are not given the right to innovate a new ministry or to invent new prerequisites of those who serve, or to apply earthly conceptions of justice and fairness as if this were something earned or owed.  It is the Lord's grace and we discern His bidding and that is enough.  The Church is merely the steward of Christ's office and seeks with prayer and wisdom to discern His will in those whom they call to fulfill that office.

I am certainly not whom I would have chosen.  I know that others were better students, better thinkers, and more erudite and eloquent but the ministry is not a prize.  It is a gift.  It is for the candidate to discern the Lord's bidding for himself and for the Church to discern that calling for the whole and then to prepare, examine, call, and ordain.  It is not a business decision and it is not a an equal opportunity employment program.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16).   Call committees would do well to consider this when calling a pastor, pastors would do well to remember this also, and those who were not called should remember this, too. 


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Indeed, you are so correct in your observations. God chooses "whom He will" and gives His chosen vessels the gifts needed to carry out His will. The Bible clearly shows the ordinary individuals He raised up. Besides Samuel, and Joseph, and the prophets and apostles, legions of His saints became missionaries and evangelists and His witnesses to the generations of their time. Being a pastor is such an important calling, and I say with sincerity Pastor Peters, it is a pleasure to read your insights and those of others posted on "Pastoral Meanderings," I also enjoy reading the comments and remarks of your readers. I have learned much from both. I believe many readers have been blessed by this website, and by the discussions and ideas generated. I think, Pastor Peters, you are exactly where God wants you to be, and doing what He prepared you to do with your life. In a sense, no soul who loves and serves the Lord in both small or significant ways is really "ordinary." No better title or description of a person exceeds the words, " a servant of the Lord."

Christopher D. Hall said...

I love this post. I kicked against the goads all through seminary, and even to now--16 years since ordination wonder why God put me under His yoke. Add to your list of better qualified are all those saints who are more compassionate, caring, thoughtful and gentle. God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the wise, after all.

Thanks again. I needed to read this today.