Peter just graduated from seminary. He aspires to a noble task. He put in his time. He is trained and ready. Now, he needs to float his resume. He is a blue-chipper. Who would not want a young, intelligent, degreed, well-spoken, family man who is “called” to pastor? He may have to settle for a part-time, bi-vocational gig, but surely it will be short-term. Fulltime, vocational ministry is the calling. It is God’s plan for his life. Or, is it?
There is a well-known stat in ministry circles that pastors average about three years before moving on to another church. Thom Rainer, former President, and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, addressed this phenomenon in his book Breakout Churches and in a shorter article. I think it is worth digging in a little deeper. Could it be that in our most influential circles we are inverting the ordo momenti (order of importance) between the inward call of the man and the outward call of the church?
DIAGNOSIS: INWARD CALL > OUTWARD CALL?
There is a flaw in our typical definition of “calling.” Unfortunately, our seminaries often do not help much. Many churches with their pastor search committee also promote this defect. 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 and abilities), 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 PASTORAL “CALLING” IMBALANCES
Here are a few results of a pastor candidate’s inadequate understanding and the resulting imbalance of inward over outward evaluation and calling by the church.
- Entitled Pastor (Credentialed Pastor): 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 have received their “credentials.” “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.”
- Celebrity Pastor: In our social media age, it is relatively easy to amass a following or platform, 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 the local church in recognizing a calling. “I’ve got the skills and the platform as attested to by Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. By the way, when will my sermons start live-streamming? We need to get our online campus running ASAP! And! Can we talk about our first satellite campus two towns over?”
- Upwardly-mobile Pastor (Ladder climbing): We all know the guy whose plan is to start low and work up through the ranks. The local church is a means for his platform. “I’m working my way to the top. My calling is bigger than this church.” “‘Feed my sheep?’ ‘Let’s be honest, not all sheep are created equal. Some are “more equal” than others.’”
- Church-less Pastor: How can we say the inward call is legitimate when the very God-ordained means for its evaluation, the local church, is so unimportant? “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 partner with my ministry.”
- Vocational-only Pastor: Sadly, as there is an increased hostility to Christianity, these men will find themselves as Church-less Pastors. Pastors have the right to receive compensation. But, that is all it is, a right, not a requirement of the church. Paul laid down the right. “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!”
- CEO Pastor: When leadership skills take the place of mutual submission between co-elders and the local church, the sheep become customers and resources to be bought and controlled. The CEO model has little room for an elder board of co-equals, but one can find plenty of org-charts. “Look. The search committee and the church recognized me and did their part in my ‘outward call’, now it’s my show. They brought me in because of my vision and skills. They need to get on the bus or get run over by it. Are you with me?”
- Susceptible Pastor (Puffed-up Pastor): If we do not submit ourselves to the accountability of the Word, fellow co-elders, and the local church, confessing our sins and being sanctified, we will be susceptible to our own sin and the schemes of the devil. “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.”
- Schizophrenic Pastor: 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. “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 . . . “The latest vision kit from Always Relevant just dropped. Check it out. I just downloaded it. That’s where we’re going.”
- Youth-ministry-transfer Pastor: Various ministry positions can easily be defined by common practice rather than biblical practice and advancement in career path according to time served. “I loved youth ministry, but it was time to take it to 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!”
- Underserved Pastor: Because there are so many non-biblical ministry models, men who truly long to test their calling and qualifications for ministry, often find themselves underserved in ministry training and accountability in the local church. “It seems churches in the past and even now don’t have a very clear biblical 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?”
Could it be that one of the reasons for the three-year-leave trend among pastors is that many are unqualified, untested, untrained, unsupported, or not called? 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 an 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 family ought to observe evidence of God’s grace to them in raising up pastors. 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.
No doubt, when a church steps up to test a man, it can strike against our pride, but that is 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.
Rainer, Thom. “The Dangerous Third Year of Christian Ministry” http://thomrainer.com/2014/06/dangerous-third-year-pastoral-tenure/