Monday, July 9, 2007

The "Call"

I question the godliness of the current call process which can be used as an escape route for a pastor who finds himself in a difficult position shepherding a difficult flock, or who may just be tired of his current situation. It is too easy to just place yourself on a call list or go back to seminary to learn or teach. I do not consider this a valid reason to resign one's current call. In my opinion, such personal motives show a sinful lack of fortitude. We are all called to suffer in our vocations.

It might seem at this point that I am just "pastor-bashing." That is not my intent. Keep reading and you will see why I think this is connected to the topic of this blog.

What has happened to the attitude pastors like my great-grandfather had, who shepherded the same congregation for 50 years? I can't even tell you how many pastors we've had at my congregation since he retired in 1946.

I believe this is another example of the secular culture affecting church culture. It seems an inalienable right in today's culture to switch jobs every few years. Loyalty and perseverance are virtues which have gone out the window. Now what matters seems to be moving around incessantly until you "find the right fit." Then we wonder why congregations get the mistaken attitude that pastors are employees under their authority, hired to entertain them with what their tickling ears want to hear.
I believe the freedom pastors express in moving about from job to job has fed the problem that exists in honoring the office of holy ministry.
I believe the clerical collar and liturgical stole have lost some meaning as well due to the freedom expressed by the current call process.

I'm not saying there aren't ever valid reasons to move pastors around, but I believe our current call process needs a severe overhaul. The decision to move needs to be one made by the advice and counsel of those in authority. It should least of all be a personal decision.

Pastors, please, PLEASE, consider your call a long-term commitment. We sheep need continuity!


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Scripture does not speak explicitly regarding a call's tenure. However, the demands of the job which necessitates a fairly lengthy stay. They also show that one should be reluctant to leave his call because things get tough. You can see this in the pastoral charges found in 1 Peter 5 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2.

Peter writes:

The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
Submit to God, Resist the Devil

5 Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for

“ God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”

6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. 11 To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Paul writes to Timothy:

1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

The calling to suffer long is clear in these passages. It also takes a great deal of time and patience to teach what a congregation needs to learn. What is most obvious to me is that suffering is not a valid reason to resign one's call.

A pastor should not be looking for greener pastures, but rather desiring to continue tending the pastures that aren't doing so well. We must all patiently endure the sufferings we encounter in our present locations and callings, resisting the temptation to look for greener pastures.

Ultimately, sufferings will come, even when we think we've entered greener pastures. These trials and tribulations help convert us into the image of Christ. We shouldn't look for them, but we mustn't shrink from them.

Think of the long and difficult tenures of Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. I found this commentary by John Calvin on Hosea interesting:

“But when God employs our service for twenty or thirty years, we think it wearisome, especially when we have to contend with wicked men, and those who do not willingly undertake the yoke, but pertinaciously resist us; we then instantly desire to be set free, and wish to become like soldiers who have completed their time. When, therefore, we see that this Prophet persevered for so long a time, let him be to us an example of patience, so that we may not despond, though the Lord may not immediately free us from our burden.” [Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 13, “Hosea” pg.38]

Tim the Enchanter said...

"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer." 2 Timothy 2:3-4

I remember during the first Gulf War in the early 90's that a national guardsman here in Michigan went AWOL because he joined the Guard for the educational benefits, not to fight in a war. As an Air Force veteran who now has the opportunity to talk to my students about the military, I warn them to carefully consider the nature of that particular vocation, for it is unlike all others. I often quote my USAFE squadron commander in Germany who once mocked the motto of the late great Strategic Air Command during a commander's call: "Peace is not our profession. War is our profession!" Of course, we all cheered at this, but I wonder if that guardsman would have.

I thought of this while recently reading through the pastoral epistles. I was struck by how often the Apostle Paul spoke of suffering for the Gospel. Perhaps we need to point out such passages to men who are contemplating the office of holy ministry. Perhaps these men ought to point out such things to their sweethearts before proposing marriage. Hey, perhaps the seminary could even begin using recruitment posters with 2 Timothy 1:8 blazoned across them:

"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with [me] in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God."

Praise God for men (and their families) who are willing to join Paul and Timothy in suffering for the Gospel! Where would be we be without them?


Ps. I certainly do not want my comments or our discussion of 'the call' to appear flippant. I know that there are, indeed, pastors and families out there with very deep wounds received from congregations. God bless you! Maybe we can think through and discuss this whole question 'the call list', for I think that Erich is spot on here. As a relatively new Lutheran, I have been perplexed by this whole practice.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

According to the US Department of Labor Employee Tenure Surveys,
average employee tenure has decreased from approximately 22 years in
1950 to approximately 3.5 years in 2004.

I expect pastoral tenure has followed the same pattern.