This chapter is not good.
It is really bad. I am having a difficult time finding something helpful, encouraging or even somewhat harmless and vanilla. Right now I would warn pastors, or especially those considering their call to the pastorate from reading this chapter.
Maybe I need to understand the chapter in the context of the entire book. Maybe I need to know a bit more about the author in order to understand why he would write what he wrote. Maybe I need to check my biases and expectations at the door, as much as that is possible, before I read this chapter.
I don't know.
Here we go, proceeding with the author's organization of his chapter:
False Forms of the Call
Here he warns the potential pastor about pursuing the ministry in order to meet the particular need of wanting to speak to a captive audience, for the pastorate provides this.
Also, he warns the man not to pursue the ministry out of a desire to gain approval from parent's aunts and uncles and others.
He then lists a number of advantages the ministry provides that could be attractive to the future pastor; exemption from military service (!), favorable treatment from the IRS and gifts from people in the church where they serve.
And then, as if to imply he has walked on egg shells and offended some, he writes that the reader should prepare himself as he is really ready to offend; he says the ministry may attract those who like to hear "true confessions". So, if you are drawn to the salacious, assess whether this is why you may believe you are called to ministry.
What was offensive to this reader was this entire section. Maybe I am naive, but these motives, if present, don't deserve copy in a book, but are best addressed and tested in the context of a Session and a congregation. Whatever. It was simply the first part of the chapter and I worked hard to appreciate how he did broach subjects that may not be on the minds of search committees looking for a man...I worked really hard but failed to appreciate this.
Biblical Data and the Call
"When one examines the Bible for direction concerning the ministerial call, the data are not entirely helpful for those who wonder if God is calling them to ministry, nor is it all that helpful for those who have served in the ministry for some time and want to evaluate their sense of calling in light of Scripture." (page 37.)
Look it up. I didn't make that quote up. This is what the author writes; the Bible isn't helpful to those looking for direction concerning a call to ministry or to those who have served and want to evaluate their call.
This will answer the question why this chapter is horribly deficient in scriptural references and exegesis. I won't say anything else about this section.
The Call and General Faith Development
First (and only) principle in this section, be mature in the faith. Okay.
Becoming Conscious of the Call
It is in this section where he seeks to define precisely what he means when he speaks of the call. On page 43 he says is the call to ministry of the Word and the sacraments; it is a call to a church office. Then he has some helpful but fairly generic things to say about the task of preaching and the message of the gospel.
But now, here is what to consider if you are trying to assess your call to ministry (of the Word and sacrament):
"...a person serving in the ministry of the Word should be able to talk about his own conversion." (page 45)
The minister must be able to talk about when first saw himself as a miserable sinner; he must be ready to identify this for himself, "...though he might not do so for others...".
"Centering on Christ"
"Another essential component in the development of the ministerial call is the absolute necessity of the minister's having a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ." (pages 46-47, emphasis mine)
Maybe I am being overly critical here and I admit that I am a bit crabby at this point in my reading, but this seems to me to be silly. If the author simply means the minister must be a committed Christian, okay. Say that. Loose the extra-biblical, individualistic 'personal relationship' business.
"Fascination With the Bible"
"A minister is a person who thinks about the Bible a lot..." In an effort to avoid being just mean, let's move on...
Examination of Gifts
This starts a new section. First, we considered how we might become conscious of the call; by our conversion; talking about our personal relationship with Jesus and being one who thinks about the Bible a lot. This next section the author lists gifts the potential minister should have or acquire if he is to pursue a call to ministry.
These are elements of the "Christian personality" that most Christians possess, but they must be high octane gifts in the potential minister.
First, the gift of intellectual capacity is necessary. The future minister must be able to study at a seminary and take challenging courses and this requires a level of intellectual ability. No dummies need apply.
Second and closely related, the gift of self-discipline is necessary of the future minister. Seminary study require self-discipline.
Third, the gift of communication is important because the minister's call is primarily to preach the Word.
The last two mentioned are the gifts of judgment and wisdom.
The author claims that ministers are among the most sensitive of people and also exceptionally vulnerable. Because of these personality traits (which he simply claims almost universally for most ministers) and without the gifts of judgment or wisdom, well-meaning, sensitive and vulnerable ministers can make bad situations very bad. Or worse, they can create totally new problems by being overly-sensitive or unduly vulnerable.
Evaluation of Attitudes
"What are these attitudes? It is difficult to describe them with precision or identify them with neat labels." (page 54)
One wonders why it is difficult to describe them or label them since it is apparent that this category is simply made up by the author.
The closest he comes to defining this attitude is in a phrase; a special bond of obedience.
"...a minister deals himself in a special relationship of obedience to Christ. (page 54)
Are you cringing with me...? If, the author claims, a minister is gifted in the ways he has described, the result will be a special relationship of obedience to Christ, a special bond of obedience. This special relationship to obedience will affirm, or at least give some confirmation of a call to ministry.
The Call Over the Years?
I got nothing...
The Call-A Reality!
Again, I can't add anything. I am all out of charity and am nearing a tipping point of profound exasperation.
I may return to this post and and sprinkle more grace, but this chapter frustrated me to no end. It was horrible, just horrible. It tempted me to put the entire book away and start the next one, The Imperative of Preaching, but I am going to stick with it, at least for a little while. (I have lost a little respect for the editors in allowing such a worthless chapter in this book. It is just that bad. That is why I wondered about the wisdom of carrying on. Packer's introduction gives me enough hope to keep going...for a little while anyway.) This chapter is a royal waste of time.
William Still or Ed Clowney or Tim Witmer.