After a minister has served in a church, a conference, or an institution for a certain length of time, he may become restive and uneasy about his future. Men will feel this way when they receive no calls to connect with the work in other places. They are tempted to regard this as proof that they are not in demand, perhaps because their service is not acceptable. There may be something to this fear, but such a conclusion is not always justified. What conference president is going to advertise the names of his key workers, only to have other administrators submit calls for their services?
Other men have received several calls and turned each of them down. After this no calls came for several years. Some of these men have felt that they made a mistake and should have moved when they had the chance. They reason that the brethren in responsible positions feel that "since the brother won't budge, we just won't give him any more calls." But let us not forget that the brethren in responsible positions are fair men. If the worker had good reasons for staying by his post, they understood.
It is difficult to analyze the many factors that must be considered in the matter of changing one's field of labor from a certain church or district to another field, or from a certain line of work to another (as from pastoral work to the Home Missionary Department). The health of different members of the family, the education of the children, one's own personal preferences, figure prominently in all the final decisions. We ourselves must decide whether God is leading in the call, and we must do all of this in the light of the divine over-all plan for our lifework.
Other Pertinent Questions
Another question arises at this point. Shall workers set an aim and a goal for themselves concerning their future work? Shall the pastor who feels that he has administrative ability seek the office of a conference president? Shall an institutional worker who occupies, let us say, the position of an accountant in a sanitarium or a similar post, seek the office of institutional manager? Shall a colporteur labor to attain to the office of publishing secretary? Shall a local conference president seek to prepare himself for the office of a union administrator? Is it proper to indulge aspirations such as these? Is it possible to do so without violating Christian principles?
Still another question: How far shall a worker go in making contacts with those in influential positions in an effort to realize his ambition? Shall he counsel with his local or union conference president and unload his burden, or shall he simply carry on his work, doing the best he can and leaving his future in the hands of his brethren and Divine Providence?
The answers to these questions are not easy to supply, but there is a fine difference between holy and unholy ambition and between sanctified and unsanctified desires. Where the human element intrudes into the heaven-inspired aspiration and where self-aggrandizement and love for position mar and defile the heavenly intuition, there the danger area begins. Recently I heard one of our denominational leaders discuss this question. His remarks made a profound impression upon me. They were certainly a rebuke to selfishness. I shall pass on to you what he said as nearly as I can remember his words.
"If a man is ambitious and has great plans for himself, he would do well to apply his energy to the hard work of constructing a strong foundation. If he wants to go high, he will find that his pinnacle of glory will topple over if there is any soft spot in the foundation. The foundation must be solid all the way through. This may require years of labor and sacrifice.
"I have always taken this motto for my life: 'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.' Whatever I have undertaken through the years, I have undertaken with a zeal to accomplish that particular task in the best manner that it could be done. I thank God that my conscience is free from any stain of 'politicking.' I have never pulled strings nor have I tried to influence other men to my own advantage. I know of no other way to succeed than by applying the mind with all of its vigor and talent to the business at hand.
"The man who is greatly concerned about himself and his future will likely discover that his thoughts and feelings find expression in attitudes that will disturb the brethren. If a man wants to be forgotten, then he had better spend a lot of time thinking about himself. If he wants to be remembered by the brethren, he had better forget himself and settle down to the business of building a broad foundation for his future lifework."
These are wise words and reflect wisdom and careful thinking. They also testify forcefully to the fact that when there is a job to be done, men are chosen to do it who are successful where they are. How can there be a demand for a preacher's talents and consecration, unless the church leaders have had opportunity to witness this man's consistent efforts and the fruitfulness of his labors? The majority of men who are administrators or leaders in other fields have found their way into their present post because it was evident from their previous work that they were qualified to discharge the responsibilities of a bigger job.
"Let those who . . . crave a position of greater responsibility, consider that 'Promotion corneth neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: He putteth down one, and setteth up another.' Every man has his place in the eternal plan of heaven. Whether we fill that place depends upon our own faithfulness in co-operating with God. . . . He wants men who are more intent upon doing their duty than upon receiving their reward,—men who are more solicitous for principle than for promotion.
"Those who are humble, and who do their work as unto God, may not make so great a show as do those who are full of bustle and self-importance; but their work counts for more. Often those who make a great parade call attention to self, interposing between the people and God, and their work proves a failure. 'Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her.' . . .
"If any are qualified for a higher position, the Lord will lay the burden, not alone on them, but on those who have tested them, who know their worth, and who can understandingly urge them forward. It is those who perform faithfully their appointed work day by day, who in God's own time will hear His call, 'Come up higher.' "—The Ministry of Healing, pp. 476, 477.
Need and Corresponding Ability
The question of the exact area in the ministry in which a preacher should serve may be largely decided by the need that exists and by his ability to fill the need. A man's talents for organization and leadership, for evangelism, or for pastoral responsibility stand out prominently in the course of his labors. These talents are observed by wise administrators as early as the internship in the beginning of a young preacher's public life.
When a worker is convinced (and his consecrated wife shares this conviction) that he has certain talents, he should press the development of those talents. He should also develop a capacity for responsibilities that are not agreeable to him, so that he may have a well-balanced ministry. But his principal talents will largely determine his lifework.
It is exceedingly difficult for some men to judge their talents correctly. We have all known men who have rather stubbornly followed a certain calling, feeling that they were best fitted for that work. The conference brethren went along with them, because there is considerable freedom allowed in the Adventist organization and program, but in their minds they knew these men could have done better work in some other field.
Said Paul: "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3). Paul describes the attitude the worker should take regarding himself and his work. "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether . . . ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation" (verses 6-8). Paul is saying here that if a man is a teacher and that skill is predominant, let him wait on his teaching; that is, make that his principal work. If a man is obviously a minister or pastor, let him dedicate himself to this work. If a man's abilities run along the line of a counselor, let him develop this talent while serving, perhaps, as a pastor.
Yet Paul says, "According as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." This would suggest that God puts holy ambitions in the minds of men to attain to certain larger areas of usefulness. If they have faith, let them exercise it in striving to become excellent in the work they have chosen, and steadily go forward, building a strong foundation for a greater work. Whether they reach a high level as far as organizational employment is concerned, is beside the point. If they are consecrated men they will be happy at their present assignment, knowing that the true test of success is not the level attained but the souls won to God and the influence for good created by their work. As they work and pray for greater skill, God will honor them with wider influence.
"A More Excellent Way"
"Desire spiritual gifts," wrote the apostle (1 Cor. 14:1). And again, "Covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Cor. 12:31). Then he adds: "And yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." Here the apostle means that "love" is the "more excellent way," because it is God's way of serving. It was love that sent the Saviour from the high throne of heaven to the lowly streets of our human habitation. "Being in the form of God, . . . equal with God," He "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and . . . humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:6-8). Love made Jesus the "unwearied servant of man's necessity." Love was not concerned with position, wealth, or influence, but only with man's happiness. Love was the more excellent way.
"In the life of Christ, everything was made subordinate to His work, the great work of redemption which He came to accomplish. And the same devotion, the same self-denial and sacrifice, the same subjection to the claims of the word of God, is to be manifest in His disciples."—/bid., p. 502.
When workers receive calls, let them remember the words of promise and of counsel:
"We are not to place the responsibility of our duty upon others, and wait for them to tell us what to do. We cannot depend for counsel upon humanity. The Lord will teach us our duty just as willingly as He will teach somebody else. If we come to Him in faith, He will speak His mysteries to us personally. Our hearts will often burn within us as One draws nigh to commune with us as He did with Enoch. Those who decide to do nothing in any line that will displease God, will know, after presenting their case before Him, just what course to pursue. And they will receive not only wisdom, but strength. Power for obedience, for service, will be imparted to them, as Christ has promised."—The Desire of Ages, p. 668.
With humility and self-forgetfulness and a loving zeal for souls comes power. How true are Paul's words: "When I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). Self-forgetfulness is a partial answer to the question of higher service. Application to the work of God, determination to succeed in winning men and helping them into the kingdom, long hours of study, prayer, and hard work, with faith in God and love for souls, do more to develop a man for important posts of responsibility than endless hours spent in prayer concerning one's future, or anxious thought concerning a change that we think should be made in our work. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Eccl. 9:10). This is the best guarantee for the future, the best way to ensure attaining to the upper levels of the Christian ministry.