Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Ministry"


Protestants are not Roman Catholics. Pretty profound eh? But one important distinction is that Protestants know that the call to vocational ministry is not a sacrament. While there are unique responsibilities and blessings to being one who preaches, the call to preach does not provide a spiritual advantage over the masses, so to speak. One of the great contributions of the Protestant Reformers and, later, the Puritans was the value and, yes, sanctity of all work. It was a re-discovery that all work, whether preaching or washing dishes could and should be done for the glory of God.

That said, the work of the preacher is clearly not for everyone. Beyond a clear calling from God upon his life to preach the Word there are certain competencies which the preacher ought to possess if he is to be a blessing to the people of God. This is not to say that the preacher must be one who is brimming with a plethora of skills. He does not have to be a particularly gifted administrator, a "cultural architect" (There is a pastor in L.A. who uses this as a title), or particularly good looking (In my case that is self-evident). But it seems clear that if God is going to entrust his dearly loved people to the care of an under shepherd then that man will be able to do a few things well.


Over at Ref21 Carl Trueman reflects on some of the skills that Martin Luther said a preacher must possess. In this first posting, Dr. Trueman mentions the first five of those skills.

In Table Talk 2580, Luther outlines the qualifications of a good preacher in a way that is refreshingly practical. I will deal briefly with the first five marks today, the last four tomorrow.

The first five are: ability to teach; possession of a good head; eloquence; clarity of speech; and a good memory. The list is interesting because it focuses first on practicalities, things often lost in the romantic spiritual notions of ministry we often have. In short, the person should be able to think and speak clearly, two traits which are often intimately connected. It seems like common sense, but these basic elements are often neglected by churches, seminaries, sessions, elder boards, presbyteries and classes. To put it bluntly: if you cannot put a decent, clear sentence into English and speak it in a way that others can understand, you are not called to the ministry, no matter how much that inner voice tells you that God is calling you to preach, or your mum tells you you'd make a wonderful pastor.

That does not mean that you cannot be of great use to the church; but clarity of mind and speech are absolutely basic, just as important as godly zeal and sense of call (internal and external), for the office of preacher. We need to be careful that we do not over-spiritualize the call: just as someone with St Vitus' Dance should never be allowed to be a brain surgeon, so the one who cannot speak with coherence and confidence should not be in a pulpit.

The task for the church is thus twofold: to create a culture which reflects the Pauline culture where to desire to be an elder is a good thing, elders are honoured, and elders who teach are considered worthy of double honour; but also to avoid the kind of Protestant sacerdotalism where many think the only way of being of true value is to hold ordained office. That requires church officers to be true servants of the people; and to have the courage to tell someone who cannot teach that, however powerful the inner call, they are not called to be a teacher. Not an easy balance; and the latter in particular might prove tough in a culture where it is considered self-evident that every member has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of ministry.

But, as usual, Luther got it right.

1 comment:

Denise said...

I came across Luther's Table Talk before I went on vacation, what an incredible book. I've really been enjoying Trueman's posts lately at Ref21. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.