I was reading a news report recently that I found quite shocking–and the further I read in the report, the more shocked I was. The report told of a worship service that was invaded by a very angry man with a gun. The pastor responded to the situation by pulling out his own gun and shooting the man, killing him. While you can make arguments one way or another, I did find it shocking that a pastor leading worship would be armed and even more that he would be willing–and able–to kill someone during that worship service.
The article then went on to add details. The man who was shot was a former member of the congregation who was angry at the pastor because he had discovered that the pastor had had an affair with the man’s wife and she was pregnant with the pastor’s baby. There is a lot of tragedy and pain in this story and lots of things that could be the focus of attention.
But for me today, the question that arises is weather than pastor should be allowed to carry on in ministry. Is a call from God an irrevocable call or can people lose their call and therefore their place in ministry?
Some denominations give a qualified “yes” to this question. They have standards of conduct for ordained leaders. If, after suitable investigation, an individual is found to have broken the standards, he/she is sanctioned–and that sanction can include removing them from ministry or at least revoking their ministerial credentials. The sanction can be temporary or permanent, depending on the severity of the offence.
Local congregations may or may not have an answer to the question. I remember visiting one church years ago where the treasurer had been stealing money from the church. Even after he was proven guilty beyond question, he was retained as the church treasurer, although he wasn’t allowed to handle actual money anymore.
Congregations and denominations have a need and the right to set limits on people who carry out ministry on their behalf. As long as the limits are clear and consistently applied, the organization has the right to withdraw the privilege of ministry from an individual.
But there is a larger question, at least for me. It grows out of the fact that some people who have had their ministry credentials or practise ended simply go somewhere else to do their ministry. Their group may not recognize their right to minister but they refuse to recognize the group’s right to do that.
Does God ever remove the call to ministry? This may not be a big issue for many but I think it is worth looking at. We do have one clear case in the Bible where this happens.
In response to the demands of the people of Israel, God provides the people with a king. Saul very quickly commits a serious sin and proves his unworthiness for the office (or ministry) that God has called him to. As a result, God revokes his calling as king. (I Samuel 13) While Saul goes on to rule for many years, he does so without the power and leading of God. While there are lots of stories of individuals trying to remove themselves from God’s call (Jonah), this is the only time I can think of in Scripture where God clearly takes away an individual’s calling. Let me know if you can think of others.
This is an important question because people do act in ways that threatens damage to the church and the faith. But we also know that God is a God of grace, mercy and forgiveness. And we know as well that none of us is perfect.
When I look at all of these realities, my conclusion is that congregations and denominations do need to protect people and the faith from called ones who misuse their calling. This protection may extend to removing the right of ministry temporarily or permanently. This isn’t the same as revoking the calling–it is a recognition that the group involved no longer recognizes the individual’s right to exercise their calling on behalf of the group.
God may chose to remove the calling from some individuals because of the nature of their actions. Individuals may chose to continue ministering in spite of the revocation of their calling but they will be ministering on their own and for their own ends and that will ultimately make itself clear.
Calling is important and a basic part of the Christian life. But just as being called is not the same as being ready, so also calling is not the same as always being right.
May the peace of God be with you.