Posted by: reformbama | October 9, 2012

Are you called?

09 October 2012

The Pastoral “Call,” and how there isn’t one

by Dan Phillips

There it was again. Listening to one pastor interview another, “the call” came up.

They were chuckling and sharing the story of how one of them felt, as a (young!) teenager and a brand-new convert, that he “had the call,” meaning “the call” to preach. So he announced his call one week, and got up to preach the next. Period. No training, no apprenticeship, no evidence, no clue as to what it meant Biblically to preach (let alone be a pastor). He attributes this to a move of the Lord at that time in that location, as He reportedly grabbed up a lot of young men and “called” them to preach.

The brothers clarified that in their culture, all one need to is announce that he has “the call,” and he is to preach. Like, right away.

Later, the brothers alluded to the fact that a pastor should understand “the call” in terms of that of Samuel, of Jeremiah, and of Amos. They call it an “unction” as in King James language, though I’m aware of no such verse relating specifically to the office of elder.

I single this out only because I just heard it. I’ve heard or read elements of this conversation many times. Surely you too have heard similar, many times. Maybe you’ve said it. Maybe you believe it.

The concept of a call to pastoral ministry or a call to preach is deeply ingrained, and deeply traditional. It is down there at the point of men wearing pants when they preach. You don’t question it, you just do it. Actually, it’s deeper, since it is believed to be a Divine necessity, a movement of the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard of “the call” looming as a critical facet of ordination committee meetings. The candidate has to relate his sense of calling. If he can’t, his “call” is suspect at best.

So I’ll just ask one question. It should be a really obvious question. In fact, it should be the first question, shouldn’t it? You regular readers know what the question is, already.

What verse in the Bible talks about a pastor’s “call”?

The answer, of course, is no verse. Not one.

“But what about Jeremiah, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Amos, and all the rest?” What about them? We must at least say this: they all have the same two things in common —

  1. They all are prophets.
  2. They all are not pastors of Christian churches.

I mean, here we are yet again, aren’t we? The only “call” the Bible talks about in this sense is a revelational and verbal call to prophetic ministry. Then there is the Christian’s call to salvation (1 Cor. 1:26) and to live a holy life (Eph. 4:1), which is found in so many words in Scripture.

A pastor is not a prophet. A prophet is a prophet, a pastor is a pastor. (I’m having that surreal feeling I get when I have to say things that shouldn’t even need to be said, and yet are points of actual contention.)

So a newcomer to this blog will, at this point, be fairly bursting with the question, “Then how does a man know whether he’s ca… whether he’s supposed to be a pastor?”

Well, you tell me.

Do you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture? Really? Then it should have an in-context, sufficient answer, shouldn’t it?

What does it say? When you closely study and reflect on passages that expressly address the issue of pastoral qualification (1 Tim. 3:1ff.; Titus 1:6ff.), what do you see? Can you discern anything that is better expressed in terms of a “call”? Do they overwhelm you with internal, mystical, privately-revelatory elements? Or are they not rather almost shocking in their relative matter-of-factness?

Yet this “call” model has many baleful effects, real and potential. It makes “the call” essentially an internal, private, mystical, self-authenticating event.

Anything that aligns a pastor with the reception of individual, private revelation (and at such a critical juncture) is a disjunction from his actual “call,” which is to strive to embody certain objective standards (1 Tim. 3:1ff.; Titus 1:6ff.), to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2), and to propound a publicly-accessible revelation (Titus 1:9, etc.). As seen in the story above, the semi-revelatory, individualistic, traditional “call” model can expressly divorce the preacher’s office and duties from the control of Scripture. It starts everything out on the wrong foot, and has both pastor and congregation looking in the wrong direction.

With such rich and specific revelation, we have to ask the question: how is it that this model and language survives (and thrives!) in Biblically-faithful associations?

Dan Phillips's signature

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