One of the best paying jobs I ever had while a university student was as a reserve army officer. For a couple of summers, I was an active duty officer, working as a cadet instructor. The pay was great and as an added benefit, I got to play with some neat toys and even run around in the dark firing off blank rounds and throwing flash-bangs.

But those summers weren’t all fun and games. I discovered a few things about myself in the process. I was an officer, someone who was given a great deal of authority. True, I was pretty much the lowest level of officer but most of the time, I was actually with people who were lower in rank than I was, meaning that what I wanted tended to be what happened. I discovered that I liked having that power—and at the same time, I realized that that kind of power can be seductive and extremely dangerous.

I also discovered that in the end, I don’t need that kind of power in my life. I liked it and probably would still like it—but the truth is that having power over other people is as addictive and destructive as any drug. There are people who seem to be able to deal with the dangers of this power but I realized that I am not one of them. I have also seen that many others probably aren’t the ones who can deal with it either.

I think that experience was important for me as I prepared for a career in ministry. I got into ministry just as the ministerial culture was shifting from a pastoral orientation to a leadership orientation. I began ministry understanding that I was to provide spiritual care and guidance and teaching to the people God had called me to shepherd. But more and more, I was being encouraged to lead these people: to tell them what God wanted them to do and then use my leadership to make sure that they got the job done. The books and seminars used words like “vision” and “visionary” and so on, but the whole idea was that I was responsible for leading the church to where it needed to go—and even more, I was responsible for deciding where it needed to go.

Being an introspective introvert, I couldn’t just buy into the books and trends. I needed to know why—and so began my study of leadership as it applies to the faith. I quickly discovered the real question, at least for me. The church, like any organization, needs leaders—but why did I automatically have to be the leader? Why does being given the title “Rev” also confer the supreme leadership of the church on me?

I have yet to find a good answer to that question. I have not yet found any convincing theological or Biblical reason that allows me to automatically equate pastor with leader. In fact, I have discovered a lot of reasons why too much leadership takes away from the ability of an individual to be a pastor. If I am the leader pushing (and even fighting) to get my vision accomplished by the church, I can seriously damage my ability to actually provide pastoral care to someone who might disagree with my vision. Or what of the people who have been slighted by my push to move the reluctant church in the way I see them needing to go? Are they going to be as open to my teaching at Bible Study or my preaching?

The church needs leaders—but why do I automatically have to be the leader just because I am the pastor? There are certainly times and situations when I provide pastorally oriented leadership but I am first of all a pastor and secondarily a teacher. I needed to learn to work from my strengths—and that means that I don’t need to be the leader. The God who called me and gifted me with the pastoral gifts I need also calls and gifts the leaders the church needs. I have discovered that I am at me best when I work my real gifts and calling and encourage others to work their real gifts and calling. I need to be a pastor and teacher—I don’t need to be a leader.

May the peace of God be with you.



I grew up in a town church that had an average sized congregation for that day—in the 60s, rural Atlantic Canadian churches had not yet begun to feel the downturn in church attendance and membership that began in that decade. So, our congregation of 200 or so carried out church in a variety of ways. We had lots of worship services—two every Sunday.

The morning worship was a formal, structured worship event while the evening was a more relaxed worship—we would often begin with a hymn sing where members of the congregation would pick their favourite hymn. That wasn’t as daunting a task for the organist as it might sound—most of the hymns were predictable, picked by the same people week after week. There were always a few surprises, like when someone was visiting and picked an unfamiliar hymn or especially when we members of the younger attendees tried to mess things up by suggesting random numbers.

After I finished struggling with God’s call to ministry, I discovered a hymn that I could regularly call out at those hymn sings and at others wherever I was. I love the hymn, “Anywhere With Jesus”. I do need to explain the attraction of the hymn though. The chorus of the hymn proclaims that because of our faith, we can go anywhere without fear because we know that Jesus is with us. It is a powerful, inspiring hymn but I don’t think I like it because of my total agreement with its message.

Theologically, I agree with the hymn—God is with us and we never go anywhere without the presence of God. In fact, God is where we leave from, he goes with us and he is waiting for us when we arrive. The presence of God is one of the foundational beliefs of my faith, something that has been a part of my Christian thinking, preaching and teaching from the beginning.

But I have to confess that I struggle with following God. I am not always ready and willing to go where God wants me and do what God wants me to do. I don’t know if you have noticed but God has this well established practise of calling us to places and things that we would rather not be involved in. I didn’t struggle with God calling me to serve as a missionary but I have always struggled with a calling to be a pastor. I didn’t much struggle with a calling to study and learn—that really appealed and appeals to my introversion—but I really struggle with a calling to engage in helping real people with real problems—that tends to conflict with my introversion.

And so I pick the hymn “Anywhere with Jesus” not as an affirmation of my deep, powerful faith that propels me onward and upward in ever more heroic service of God in places where people of lesser faith fear to tread. No, I pick the hymn as a heartfelt prayer of what I would like to be true. I would like to claim that I can go anywhere with Jesus. I actually believe that I can go anywhere with Jesus—but in practise, I am hesitant, afraid and hoping that God has got his assignment papers mixed up. I know that he hasn’t and I know that he will go with me and I know that if I follow, he will be there and that therefore things will work out—but I still struggle.

And so I pick and sing the hymn, hoping that it, along with all my other spiritual practises will help me surrender to the calling that God has set before me. Mostly, I do go anywhere that God calls—although the process of getting there isn’t always easy or peaceful or painless. Mostly, following and going anywhere works out, although there are occasionally glitches and problems. Mostly, I am faithful and the words of the hymn become a reality.

I try to follow the leader but I know the difficulty, the fear, the apprehension that comes from following God into whatever he has called me to. I also know that he is with me and will be with me—and so I sing the hymn, using it as a sign of my desire to actually be able to follow God anywhere.

May the peace of God be with you.


Sometimes, when I need a break from whatever I am working on but don’t want to “waste” time, I log on to our denominational website. I don’t do that from some great desire to discover what my denomination is doing—I generally know what I need to know from other sources. I go to the website because one of the resources there is a page devoted to the changes in status of the clergy in our denomination. I know many of the clergy but because of geography, time and inertia, I don’t connect with many of them on a regular basis.

But by checking the website, I can discover who is doing what—it makes a great way to catch up with people I studied with, others I have met along the way, students I have taught and so on. These days when I check the site, I am struck by two things, both of which sort of point out something similar.

First, I read a lot of names of people I don’t know. There have always been some clergy I didn’t know but often, I would have at least heard the name from someone else. But these days, the number of names I don’t know seems to be in the majority. The few times I have tried to find out who they are, I have discovered that they are people who have come into ministry from another career or who are younger graduates. I don’t know them because I am not as involved in the denomination structures or educational process as I once was.

It takes a certain amount of energy to work as a pastor and another amount of energy to be involved in denominational activities and in the last few years, I have been choosing to conserve my energy by not having as much involvement outside the local churches I pastor.

The other thing I notice as I read through the changes page of the website is the number of people who are as the site describes it “retiring from active ministry”. Now, these people, I tend to know quite well. Some were pastors who were active when I started out. A few I studied with. Some I met during my stints on denominational committees and boards. A few were students I taught—second vocation, older students but students I taught. I read those lists, do some rudimentary math and realize that while some of those retiring are older than I am, I significant number are my age—and some are younger than me.

Both discoveries point in the same direction for me—I am getting old. I passed the official retirement age on my last birthday. Many of my friends in ministry are retired or have announced their retirement. In the churches I pastor, the majority of the congregations are retired—and not a few of them are younger than I am.

So, I ask myself, why am I still working? I am not working for financial reasons. Although ministry doesn’t pay a lot, my denomination has a good pension plan, especially for those of us who have been in it for 40+ years—compound interest over that period of time works wonders.

Nor am I still working because I am a Type A person who must always be at the centre of things and who will shrivel up and die without a job to use as my definition of self. I have tons of things I would prefer to be doing: more woodworking, gardening, travelling, reading, photography are all appealing but are somewhat on hold because of the demands of pastoral ministry.

So, I am old enough to retire. I can afford to retire. I have plans for a post retirement life. But I am still working and plan to be doing so for a while yet. Why? Well, the best I can say is that I believe that this is what God wants me to be doing here and now. I don’t think God’s kingdom will fall apart if I retire but I do believe that God still has something to accomplish through my efforts and so I am trying to be faithful.

I am pretty sure that I will be retiring someday but not today.

May the peace of God be with you.


It was a good plan, one that took into account both our needs and allowed us to get our stuff done without causing either of us to have a long wait.  Basically, we both had to see people in the regional hospital an hour or so from home but we both also had a variety of other things to do–and since there were no real tempting movies playing, it would be an there and back trip, with the obligatory stop at the big grocery story.

The plan was simple.  Before I headed to my appointment to get my hearing aids checked, I would drop my wife off at the store where she was looking for something.  Then, when my appointment was done, I would call her and we would meet for lunch in the downtown area, after which we would do our hospital visits and shopping.  Cell phones are a tremendous blessing when it comes to coordinating plans.

I actually got to see the hearing aid tech a bit early and the work they needed to do didn’t take all that long so I was back to the car within 10-15 minutes.  The first attempt to call didn’t work–but I assumed that it was just because the phone and the car Bluetooth systems hadn’t finished talking to each other to get working together.  I decided to head downtown, find a parking spot near the restaurant and try again–after all, I was early so I had time.

After the fifth failed attempt, I was beginning to think my phone wasn’t working.
After the tenth, I was positive there was a problem with the phone and was wondering if there was a phone store in the area where I could get the phone fixed or replaced.  After a few more tries, I remembered that there were still pay phones in the town and headed for them–I actually had some change with me.  After three attempts, I still wasn’t able to make a connection.

Frustrated, angry and hungry, I walked around the area, looking in all the stores I thought my wife might be in.  Eventually, she appeared–frustrated, hungry and wondering why her cell phone wasn’t working and why I hadn’t called.  Eventually, we discovered that one whole communication company infrastructure had gone down–the company we used.  We eventually got lunch, saw the people we needed to see and did our shopping.  Of course, we needed to visit the bank to get real money since the collapse took out most store credit card machines.

So, I am a preacher, which means that I need to find a moral in everything that happens–sermon illustrations are an important part of my life.  This is a good story but I need to find the right sermon to drop it into.  In fact, it is such a good story that it should probably have the prime spot in the sermon.  Since I serve two different collections of churches, I will get to use to twice, maybe with different applications.

But right now, I am not exactly sure how I will use it.  I am mostly aware of how much a relatively new technology has become such a basic part of my life.  The first phone I used was a basic black Bakelite device fastened to the wall with a battery box under it and a crank to connect with the operator who would put the call through.  Now, I have a high-tech device that will call anyone, connect to the internet, give me directions, figure out my finances, and help me hang pictures (I discovered and installed a carpenter level app).

With the old wall mounted phone, I could only connect with people if I was standing within the length of the phone cord on the handset.  With the cell phone, I can call my friend in Kenya who is so far out of the way that his friends pity him.  But of course, that only happens when the system works, which it didn’t the other day.

I am sure there is a great sermon illustration in that–but I just have to figure out how I want to use it.  I am sure it will come to me.  The fact that I have two chances helps.

But in  the meantime, the next time we make a plan that depends on the cell phone, I may also include a backup plan.

May the peace of God be with you.


             Early in my ministry career, I was speaking in a city in Western Canada and the pastor of the church I was speaking at arranged an interview with the local paper.  Rather than ask is I would like to be interviewed, he simply set up the interview and told me to expect the reporter at a certain time.  Since I was a bit less inclined to complain at that stage of my life, I let his rudeness go and was polite for the interview.

During the course of the interview, the reporter asked why I was doing what I was doing.  I used my professional shorthand and told her that it because of my calling from God.  Her lack of much in the way of faith background immediately became clear when she looked at me blankly and asked me to explain what a call was.  I really can’t remember what I said to explain the concept of God’s call but in the end, everything I have done professionally and a lot of what I have done personally is a result of my belief that God has called me to do it.

Now, I don’t get emails, snail mail or phone calls from God.  Nor is his call accompanied by a clear timeline and a specific set of plans and directions.  And at any given time in my life, I can be extremely confused about what God is calling me to; fighting against what I know God wants me to do or begging him to change the call or at least its specific application.

But overall, I believe that one of the consequences of my accepting Jesus as Saviour and Lord is willingness to let God make decisions about what I do and where I do it.  If I have really accepted Him as Lord, that involves my being willing to submit my life to him and allow him to direct me.  For me, that has played out primarily in terms of my work.  I believe that God has called me to make ministry my occupation.  Not everyone is called to that particular career path–but all of us are called by God to serve him and follow him in all areas of life.

For me, knowing and following God’s leading has been important.  It has also mean that I have not always been happy with where the call took me.  In fact, many times I have been more than a bit unhappy with where the call has taken me.  If I had been in charge of my life, I would have bulked up the teaching and researching and writing and basically eliminated the pastoral stuff.

But I am not in charge–or it is probably better to say that I work hard at not being in charge.  Because I have chosen to make God through Christ Lord of my life, in the end, I seek to do what he wants me to do, even if I am not always happy with his leading.  I am free to complain, I am free to pray (beg) for a change–I am even free to simply refuse to do what God asks of me.

But overall, I keep coming back to where God calls me, even when I am not happy.  That almost sounds like I have some serious emotional or mental issues but the truth is, I learned a long time ago that while I may not always be happy with where God is calling me, it is always better for me to be where God wants me to be.  Underneath the struggles and the bouts of unhappiness and even depression, there is a sense of joy and peace that comes from doing what I know God wants.

And in the end, I have also learned that giving up a certain amount of short-term happiness is well compensated for by the deep seated and long term joy and peace that comes from doing what I know God wants and being where I know God wants me to be.

So, that means that at a point in my life when I could easily be done with a career that hasn’t always been the happiest for me, I am still going.  I am still going because this is where God wants me to be and I am doing what he wants me to be doing.  I am sure that retirement is there somewhere down the road–but for now, I will follow the calling and enjoy the joy and peace that comes from that.

May the peace of God be with you.



I am leading worship, something I do twice a Sunday almost every Sunday of the year–I do take vacations.  I have finished the announcements, begun the worship and we are singing the first hymn.  After making sure that I have the bookmarks in place for the responsive reading and the next hymn (I am organized, not obsessive), I take some time to look around at the congregation.  I have greeted everyone as they come in and had a brief conversation with most of them but this is my first time to really see the whole congregation.

I know who is there but at this point in the service, I get to take a quick count (a relatively quick and easy job in small congregations) and at the same time, discover who isn’t there.  Some, I already know won’t be present–they have mentioned to me that they will be away because of this or that commitment.  I am pretty sure that I know the reason for the absence of one or two others.  But there are a couple whose absence concerns me.

I am not concerned because it makes the numbers look bad–having been the pastor of small congregations for many years, I don’t get too concerned about numbers until there is a major, sustained deviation from the average.  But I am concerned because I don’t know why they are missing from the worship that day.

You might think this shows that I am a controlling, nosey, busybody who needs to know every detail of everyone’s life.  I prefer to think that I am a pastor, a person called by God to provide spiritual and other input as God leads me–and being a pastor means that I am concerned with what goes on in the lives of the people that God has called me to shepherd.  Most Sundays, my big concern isn’t whether we have 17 or 20 people in worship–my real concern is whether those who aren’t there are okay.

I have the same concern for those who are there as well–but I can do something about that.  As I greet them and talk with them, I can and do get a sense of how they are doing and whether I need to plan some pastoral input during the coming week.  But when someone expected isn’t there, I have to confess that I have alarm bells going off in my mind–not level one, all out panic alarm bells but alarm bells nonetheless.

If I am really lucky, someone will mention to me that one of the absentees had company drop in or caught a cold or something equally minor.  If not, I might ask one of their friends.  And if no one knows, the person  goes on my pastoral list.  Because I am a pastor in small, rural communities, I can be pretty sure that if the person missing from worship is suffering from a major, catastrophic event, everyone will know about it and someone will tell me eventually.  But there are lots of things between minor and catastrophic that I can and do respond to as their pastor.

One of the things I know is that I am called by God to provide pastoral care to the churches that I worship with each week.  Pastoral care is a vague and hard to define concept that is often much easier to see in its absence that in its presence.  It is a calling that I sometimes get tired of–but can’t seem to ever get away from.  Even when I am not a pastor, I find myself reacting to people like a pastor–listening and watching and paying attention, looking for the clues that God helps me see so that I know how best to respond to the individual and their needs in God’s name.

Being a pastor tires me–but it also completes me.  It irritates me at times–but it also gives me a sense of purpose and direction.  Being a pastor clashes with my introverted nature sometimes–but it also fulfills an even deeper part of my nature.

I know that I am called to be a pastor.  Some days, I am not sure of much and other days, I discover that what I think I know is wrong–but every day, I know that I am a pastor and need to care for those people whom God has called me to shepherd.

May the peace of God be with you.


I was at a meeting recently, one of those meetings that are occupational hazards for those of us in ministry.  It was scheduled for the whole day, including lunch.  Now, in my ministry career, I have spent a lot of time at such meetings as a speaker, a chairperson or just as someone attending such a meeting.  Meetings of any kind are generally not my favourite aspect of ministry–but that may become the topic of a later post.

At many of the meetings like this that I attend, there is always a point in the meeting where those in charge reveal that some committee or another needs someone to do some task.  Generally, the tasks have some purpose that is legitimate and maybe even important.  It will also be a volunteer position, although occasionally, there might be compensation for expenses, although since most of my meetings are church related, that isn’t a given.

I have found over the years of attending such meetings that there are generally two types of people when it comes to such requests.  There are the volunteers, which we will look at tomorrow, and there are the non-volunteers, which is what I want to look at today.  There is some shifting between the categories but in general, most people fit in one or the other category.

I personally tend to be in the non-volunteer category.  I think part of that might result from the mantra I learned in my brief military experience, where we were continually being told “Don’t Volunteer”.  More of the unwillingness not to volunteer comes from the fact that I need time to think things through and volunteering when I first hear something just doesn’t fit with my need to think and pray things through.  Occasionally, I don’t volunteer because I know immediately that I don’t have the time and/or ability to do the job.  But more often than not, I don’t volunteer because I need time to think and pray.

Others whom I have talked to as a pastor have a different reason for not volunteering–they are pretty much convinced that they have nothing to offer that would do anyone any good.  In their  minds, calls for volunteers are never for them because they would never, ever be able to do anything.

I don’t feel I have nothing to offer when someone asks for volunteers–I am just reluctant to speak up without taking the time I need to make a decision, so like so many others, when the call for this or that position goes out, I don’t respond–or, better, I don’t respond by immediately jumping into the position.  I might respond later, once I have had the time to think that I need but chances of my responding right there and then are pretty slim.  It has happened, but only at those times when I knew before hand that the call was coming and had been thinking it through.

While I am comfortable with the “don’t volunteer immediately” approach that I have developed, there is a downside.  If I don’t volunteer and don’t really listen to the call and therefore don’t think about it, I may be missing something that God wants me to do.  Over the years as a pastor, I have seen this play out a lot among the people who don’t volunteer because they think they can’t do anything.

People like me need to be careful when it comes to our not volunteering.  Going through life with a blanket “no” to any and every call to do something is probably a mistake.  We all have at least one gift of the Holy Spirit that needs to be expressed for the full development of the church and the faith.  Sometimes, that gift will best be expressed in the context of a something that we are asked to volunteer for at a meeting of some kind.  When I automatically say no, I may well be saying no not so much to a committee’s request to me but rather to God’s request for me to volunteer for something.

I need to remember to take the time to think things through, rather than just say no and forget about it.  I don’t have to volunteer for everything that comes along but I do have to be open to God’s leading, which may even come during a long and not always riveting meeting.

May the peace of God be with you.


At a particularly difficult congregational annual business meeting many years ago, I was accused of spending too much time preaching on grace. Those making the accusation felt that it was time that the church heard some of the “deeper” truths of the faith–truths that they just happened to know and would gladly reveal to the congregation if I would just stop preaching about grace and get out of their way. At the time, I was pretty sure that it was impossible to emphasize grace too much, a belief that really hasn’t changed in the intervening years. God’s grace is still the most important point in my approach to our faith.

When I began this series of stories for the blog, I quickly remembered the first two–but this once kept peaking around the edges of my mind, a story from my childhood that I didn’t think much of over the years but is much more important that I realize. While I am a bit uncomfortable sharing it here for some reason, here goes.

I grew up in a big family–there were nine of us kids. Although Dad had a steady job that paid fairly well, big families tended to be poor even way back then–we didn’t live on a farm and the garden and pigs that Dad kept only supplemented our diet. So, food for all of us, clothes, shoes and all the rest meant that there wasn’t a lot of money to spare.

The story begins with me playing in the living room by myself–how that happened in a house full of kids I can’t remember. I was swinging a throw pillow from the couch, just having fun stretching and turning and whirling around for no other reason than I could. Unfortunately, one poorly thought out swing of the pillow took out the ceiling light fixture. It was just a bare bulb but still, it was looked totally wrecked and would probably have to be replaced.

Mum cleaned up the mess on the floor and told me “Wait until your father gets home!” The rest of the day was long and painful as I waited for Dad to get home. I remember that he was on the day shift that week which meant that he would be home shortly after 3:00. Since I broke the light around mid-morning, it meant that I had to wait a few hours to find out my punishment for the light.

I did what any smart, scared kid would do–I tried to be both the best kid in the family and the most invisible kid in the family at the same time. The closer it got to 3:00, the more invisible I tried to become. Eventually, though, the time came. Dad arrived home–we didn’t have a car in those days so he walked home. I stayed out of sight as he cleaned up and talked to my mother.

Then came the call–Dad was in the living room and I needed to go there right now–no more hiding, no more being good, no side trips to the bathroom. It was judgement time. I dragged my feet to the living room and there was Dad, poking at the broken fixture with a screwdriver. He looked at me and said something like, “It just needs a new light bulb–don’t swing the pillows in the house anymore.”

To say I was relieved doesn’t really capture the feelings I experienced at that moment. I was free–no punishment, no grounding, no restrictions. All the heaviness of the previous hours was gone. The punishment I expected and knew I deserved was gone. The anticipated distance from my father never arrived. I didn’t get excited about getting away with breaking the light–I got excited about, well, I am not sure that I could have described it then.

Now, I am aware that I experienced a taste of grace–a totally unexpected, unwarranted, undeserved forgiveness that wiped out a very real wrong on my part. As I have studied and taught theology over the years, that story has probably been quietly influencing and shaping my thinking much more than I realized, at least until I began working on this post.

Can we preach grace too much–I don’t really think so because unless everything we preach and teach and practise is grounded in the grace of God, we will still spend a long day waiting for Dad to come home. Grace tells us that when he gets home, we have nothing to worry about.

May the peace of God be with you.


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.


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.