Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: Extending your call

Pastor's Pastor: Extending your call

The fact is, a genuine call to ministry cannot be limited to an individual's own sense of God's purpose.

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

“You don’t remember, but twenty years ago you hired several students for some manual labor, and at the end of the project you suggested that perhaps God could call me to ministry. I had never considered the idea before, but your affirmation began the process.”

Those words, spoken by a pastor, startled me. And they reaffirmed something that I have believed all along, which is that some of us reject recruiting others into ministry because of the misguided belief that a call to ministry is so mystical that we should never interfere in this highly personal, inwardly-focused experience.

The fact is, a genuine call to ministry cannot be limited to an individual’s own sense of God’s purpose. There’s more: First, along with the Spirit’s impression/ invitation to the individual comes the Spirit’s distribution of essential gifts to accomplish the task; then comes the Spirit’s conviction upon the church that the potential candidate must be set aside for specifi c service. If these other factors are missing, even a sincere desire does not constitute a genuine call.

Valid calls are never self-authenticated. All three elements are essential: God’s personal calling to the individual, God’s Holy Spirit gifting the one who is called beyond natural talent or innate capabilities (although these will certainly become enhanced within a genuine call), and God’s church recognizing and affirming the work of the Spirit.

As a minister, therefore, I have the significant privilege and responsibility to seek out and recognize the potential in others. And, rather than merely awaiting a lightning strike, I can spark the flame.

Volunteers make poor candidates. Jesus personally invited each of the Twelve, except Judas. Some people overestimate their potential or mistakenly confuse the general call to discipleship (which comes to every believer) with a specifi c call to gospel ministry. Many others never imagine what they could accomplish, so they fail to volunteer. Seeking and recruiting potential recruits was Jesus’ method for obtaining workers.

Not every recruit will accept. The rich young ruler (Luke 18:18–23) declined the same invitation that Andrew, Peter, James, and John accepted. Your expression of confidence in someone’s ability may ignite their responsive mind, or they may, like the ruler, turn away.

Disciples will learn. Willingness to learn (discipleship) is more important for developing pastors than are innate capabilities. Time spent with Jesus is more productive than a theological or exegetical analysis of Jesus or His teachings.

Leaders are not born. The myth that leaders are born perpetuates mediocrity. Likewise, leaders are not made. They are not created out of nothing. Leaders are developed by other leaders.

Learning best comes through association. Potential pastors learn best from associating with godly leaders, such as pastors, teachers, local church elders—“the elect,” if you will. This is why intern development is such an essential part of ministry.

Start with youngsters. Recruitment cannot begin too soon. As you discover gifted children, ask them to consider whether God might call them to His ministry. (For a helpful tool, see the advertisement in this issue on Hearing God’s Call.) Local churches are incubators. Our congregations have an important role in developing potential pastors. By valuing and cooperating with their own pastors, they build confidence in youth who might be considering a pastoral career.

Never reject possibilities. Don’t assume that you know each person’s full potential. Trust the Holy Spirit to develop the most unlikely prospects into outstanding ministry candidates.

Reject false criteria. Christian churches are forbidden to use race, social status, or gender when considering who might serve God’s cause (Galatians 3:26–28). Jesus’ call to the Samaritan woman at the well crossed racial, social, and gender barriers in order to make her the first public evangelist (John 4:1–42).

Become a talent scout. Pastors have the privilege of serving as talent scouts. Encourage your member families to anticipate that God might use their children in ministry.

Identify successful strategies. Schools and the church should work together to reduce role expectation conflicts between the recruitment/ education process (which emphasizes study, research, introspection, discussion, and reflection) and the deployment/field process (which emphasizes action, leadership, social interaction, and extroversion activities such as public speaking, administration, people skills, or visitation).

Emphasize positive contributors. Your church culture will factor strongly in whether a young person considers ministry. Preach participation in Jesus’ mission. Extend opportunities for youth involvement in new ventures. Support active growth and family discipleship. Express your own joy in hearing and speaking God’s Word as well as your reward in seeing others saved to God’s kingdom.

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

August 2006

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