I began my involvement in pastoral training in 1970 and since then have been associated with the process of theological education of both pastors and laity in a variety of ways in several countries and several languages–some I understand and some I don’t (trusting an interpreter is an interesting experience). On a regular basis throughout that time, I have seen and heard several variations of a common misconception of the call.
Among theology students, for example, there is always at least one who will voice the comment, “I was called to preach, not to study”. Church members are often recruited at the last minute for some ministry and shoved into it with little or no training. When I was asked to teach Sunday School as a teen, I was handed a teachers’ book and shown my classroom full of 8-10 kids and went to work. I have known pastors who look at the congregation and arbitrarily call upon someone to pray or do some other part of public ministry with no preparation or training. While many professions have strict requirements for upgrading and continuing education, clergy, especially in the evangelical denominations have no such requirements at all, although to be fair, a few recommend continuing education and try to provide opportunities which tend to be underused.
It seems that many Christians believe that being called is the same as being ready. A person called to teach Sunday School, for example, just needs to dive in and get to work. A person called to preach only needs to stand in the pulpit to activate that ministry. Time spend on things like training and preparation and upgrading is time stolen directly from the ministry. In fact, there is a strong feeling among some conservative believers that education in any form is a satanic plot to destroy ministry.
The painful reality is that I was a terrible Sunday School teacher as a teen–I had no idea how to prepare a lesson, didn’t know how to deal with the problem kids in the class, expected them to listen to every word I said and know the answers to questions immediately. As a teacher of preachers, I have listened to more first sermons that is probably healthy and know very well that there is more to preaching than just standing behind a pulpit. Being called is not the same as being ready.
Most denominations recognize the truth of this when it comes to their professional leadership–there are various programs and requirements for ordained ministers to ensure that they meet certain standards. In spite of complaints from students and graduates of such programs, the denominations hold to the requirements in most cases.
But at the local congregation level, that is generally not the case. Very little effort is put into training people in their calling. Getting people into positions is the focus–as long as there is a name to put on a annual report, it seems that the church doesn’t care if the teachers can teach, the treasurers can count, the deacons can “dece” or the trustees are trustworthy.
While recruiters operate on this principle, it appears that members of the congregation operate on a different one. The most common excuse for not doing something in the church is “I couldn’t do that”, a comment that comes not from an unwillingness to do ministry but from a lack of knowledge.
Calling isn’t generally sufficient preparation for ministry. The calling, coupled with the gifts from the Holy Spirit, provides the individual with a clear understanding of their place in the ministry of the church. The calling and gifting will together provide the person with interest, some abilities and insights. But there is still a need for more information, more knowledge, more skill development before the individual is able to do effective ministry.
Congregations need to recognize the need for training for those who are called in order to help them develop the gifts they have so that the ministry they are called to can be done well. That doesn’t mean that every congregation needs to provide training for everyone–congregations can work together to provide that training.
Training can also become a required part of the process for involvement in a ministry–Sunday School teachers, for example can be required to take part in training events which the church supports through covering the costs for example.
It is vital for congregations to recognize that all are called to ministry of some form. But it is just as vital that congregations recognize the need to provide for proper training for those who are called. Just as a lack of response to a calling can cause serious problems to a church, so poorly done ministry can cause equally serious problems to the church’s ministry.
May the peace of God be with you.