The call in the calling

Calling or career? Prophet or professional? Priest or pundit? Conviction or compliance? Bottom line, why are we ministers?

Willmore D. Eva is the former editor of Ministry Magazine.

Calling or career? Prophet or professional? Priest or pundit? Conviction or compliance? Bottom line, why are we ministers? Why are you and I doing what we're doing? What actually got us doing it in the first place? What keeps us going? Perhaps most challenging of all, what in fact have we come to consider ministry to be at its heart?

"What I object to most is the appalling and systematic trivializing of the pastoral office. It is part of a larger trivialization, that of the culture itself, a trivialization so vast and epidemic that there are days when its ruin seems assured. There are other days, though, when we catch a glimpse of glory a man here, a woman there determined to live nobly."1

With these words, Eugene Peterson reintroduces the idea of "vocational holiness." In that context he speaks of seeing "all around men and women, pastors, hammering together a vocational identity from models given to them from the 'principalities and powers'" that surround them. "The models," he continues, so persuasive in the surrounding culture, "were all strong on power (making things happen) and image (appearing important). But none of them seemed congruent with the calling I sensed forming within myself."2 That calling is, in short, based upon the fact that it itself, even more than the minister himself or herself, is holy. That's no new thought, but one that, given the neglect of it during the last thirty years or so is quite a shattering concept! Ours is a genuinely holy calling because it is one given to us or made for us by God Himself.

We must recognize again that the call to ministry, our calling, is a holy one; one that has its origin in the heart of God. Yet, bit by bit, running beside the regular rhythms of immediate sight and consciousness, a pastor becomes subject to what easily develops into a ministry of minutiae and trivialities, a mere professionalism, simply a job, at best another service profession. I definitely do not wish to rob ministry of its relevancy (God knows, how often in the name of a heavenly calling we have pompously destroyed, as we say, anything of any earthly good). But I want my own heart always to beat with the conviction that, bottom line, God Himself has in fact called me to do what I am presently doing in my ministry.

A few weeks ago I talked to one of my fellow ministers a colleague I admire and respect. My moments with him were inspiring. He simply talked of the deeply conscious sense that he has come to possess that when he stands up to preach, whether here or there, it is God who has inspired his soul with a particular content for this particular congregation or audience at this particular time; that God has sent him to these people at this time. There is some thing magnificent and true about the convictions he shared with me.

Ezekiel had these convictions. He would not be caught merely doing his own thing. His work was the work of the Spirit. "The Spirit entered me when he spoke to me . . . and I heard him who spoke to me. ... As for them, [Ezekiel's "congregation"] whether they hear or whether they refuse ... yet they will know that a prophet has been among them. Do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks.... Behold I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them" (Ezek. 2:2-9).

Hard as it may be to admit it in writing, especially in a magazine like this one, there is a question mark of progressing size that presents itself squarely on the foreheads of we who are today called "clergy." It has to do with our believability, our credibility. The reason for its scarlet presence lies, I believe close to the matter of our sense of the holiness of our calling. People are starving for the real thing. We are starving for the real thing.

Eugene Peterson, once again: "But here I was on a religious ship on which God was peripheral to the bottom line, in the background of an enterprise that was mostly informed by psychology, sociology, and management-by-objective."3 Let me commit myself under God either to plunge into the ocean and out of such a ship, or to turn such a ship into a more worthy course. We may not be able to turn the whole fleet, but we can, by God's grace, turn our ship about.

1 Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant (Grand Rapids, Midi.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1992), 37.

2 Ibid., 50, 51.

3 Ibid., 45.

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Willmore D. Eva is the former editor of Ministry Magazine.

March 2001

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