Saturday, 10 June 2017

Am I being called to full time word ministry?

We live in a day when almost anyone can decide to plant a church and with sufficient ability set themselves up as its minister. However the key questions to be asked are these: As Christ is the one who holds "all authority," has he actually called and appointed a person to this role? Do their bear their authority as given to them by God's king?

When reading John Owen's "True nature of a gospel Church" some years ago I was particularly struck at his concern for this if a church is to be truly established by Christ.

Chatting with a student on the training course last week, I suggested there are four key things to consider in discerning whether Christ is calling them to this role:

(1) Has Christ given me the qualifications he asks for (Titus 1v5-9)?
He will not call any he hasn't qualified. So I must ask whether I fulfil the qualifications Paul outlines to Titus. Am I considered as "blameless" in the sense of not being charged with fault by those around me? Am I proved as sufficiently able to "manage" a church, especially by my ability to manage my family? And am I able to teach, not just by knowing sound doctrine and being able to encourage people in it, but by having the courage and readiness to confront error too? A prayerfulness of life is another qualification we might add as it should accompany the ministry of the word (Act 6v4). And we must note that if one considers the role or elder/overseer is reserved only for men, being male would be another qualification that is necessary.

(2) Has Christ given me the affirmation of his church (Acts 6v5-6)?
Elders in Israel were put forward by the people for appointment by the authorities, and in replacing Judas two candidates were nominated from which one was to be chosen. The sense is that the church is assumed to reflect the mind of the Spirit when it agrees that someone is fit for the role of elder/overseer - although this is generally subject to the agreement of others in authority, such as the apostles in Acts 6 or Titus in Titus 1. What this means is that the affirmation of the congregation any individual belongs to is paramount in discerning whether they are called to church ministry, as is giving the potential receiving church sufficient opportunity to get to know respective candidates for a role. Of course this presumes that the members of the church are truly converted, filled with the Spirit and so seeking to weigh someone's calling according to Christ's priorities. So churches that don't in some sense try to ensure a believing membership would need to look for affirmation only from those it sees signs of conversion within.

(3) Has Christ given me the desire to serve (1 Tim 3v1)?
This is a more subjective aspect of calling. And we should be cautious of it. We are not told Jesus only calls those who are eager, nor that an inner peace about a role is necessary if we are to conclude the Lord wants us to take it. Moses was quite reluctant and certainly without peace with respect to his calling. Nevertheless, Paul acknowledges the place for desire and was "compelled" by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Moreover, Nehemiah set out on his great city-building task because the Lord placed it on his heart. And he kept to it because of that. In the same way, the elder/overseer is unlikely to persevere in building up the new Jerusalem of the church amidst all the pressures of the role, unless he has a deep desire to take on that role for the glory of God no matter it might entail.

(4) Has Christ given me the opportunity to serve (2 Cor 2v12)?
Given the above, if on applying for roles and praying for the Lord's guidance, an opportunity consistently fails to arise there may be a time for concluding that Christ may not be calling me to the role of elder/overseer after all - or at least not now.