Several years after I had responded to a sense of a call to the ministry of the Word of God in the fall of 1975, in the fall of 1978, I started to investigate further under which denomination I would serve. I could not in good conscience serve in the extremely liberal denomination of the church in which I was raised. So, I went to look for a denomination which had a statement of faith with which I could agree, which had a strong missionary emphasis and which had a strong church and pastor close to my home which I could join as a sending church, such as the church in Antioch played in the lives of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1-3. So what follows is not only intended to set the record straight, but also with some hope that, as in the words of that immortal character Space Ghost, “There’s got to be a lesson in here somewhere.”
Something that mystified me back in the late 1970s and 1980s was what I felt was an undue suspicion of my motives on the part of several older pastors in the denomination where I chose to pursue my sense of a call to the ministry of the Word. My own experience as a pastor in churches a few years later gave me a basis for some understanding of the kind of experiences that they probably had that led them to this kind of undue suspicion. But then as now, I think that it was an overreaction based on their experiences with other people, and some of what happened then and in years afterwards highlights some behaviors toward which many professed believers and church leaders tend to be blind.
I think that this undue suspicion started due to an experience that another pastor had with a young man who came to him talking about a call to ministry several years or more earlier. I caught hints of this experience one time in conversations with an elder who had witnessed that experience. It seemed like this is what happened: the young man talked a lot, a number of the leaders in the church were very taken with him — though their wives and daughters considered him a phony from the beginning – and he turned out to be a phony who probably had some really insane designs on moving that pastor out of his pastorate. So, in conversations with that pastor, I found him coming back again and again to trying to get an explanation of why I wanted to be a pastor other than a sense of a call from God to preach his Word and a desire to reach the world with the gospel. I don’t think that he was ever really satisfied with what I had to say then, and I can understand why he may have had some reason for caution upon the basis of his previous experience, though I still think that his suspicion became an unwarranted overreaction based on that previous experience. In fact I also over the course of time I dealt with him as much as possible within the gentleness of Christ to try to dispel his misgivings, and to some extent I think that I succeeded.
So, just to set the record straight, here are two corrections that I will offer.
Correction # 1: I am not and never have been after the position of any other pastor. Though I have stood by my own convictions and opinions of what God’s Word says and where I believe he has been leading me, I have never tried to undermine their positions or their credibility in their office even when I was attending their churches.
Correction # 2: I am not and have never tried to deny or sabotage leadership or an office to the son or daughter of any Christian leader and I do not have nor never have had any kind of hidden agenda to have them removed from any position.
In regard to correction # 2, during my own years as a pastor, I felt then and I feel now that I was blessed to have several other pastors and missionaries in training attend the first church that I served as a pastor. That church was close to the headquarters of Christian Literature Crusade and World Evangelization Crusade (WEC), as well as Westminster Theological Seminary. I was glad to be able to hear both their compliments and gentle corrections. I also count myself very blessed to have a retired evangelist come occasionally to the evening services who had been an associate of Gipsy Smith and Mordecai Ham and to discover that he liked my preaching. In my later pastorates, though, there were several people that attended who were more like the young man that I had just mentioned in the previous paragraph. Here were their primary characteristics:
- They tended to be copycats of the pastors in their experience. It was more aping what they have seen a pastor do or put together something of what they thought were the image and the accoutrements of ministry. They never seemed to pursue seriously deep study of the Word on their own or make any attempt at the kind of educational effort necessary to have a credible ministry, such as going to a legitimate evangelical seminary or Bible college or legitimate denominational ministerial training program for men and women who are supporting themselves through secular employment.
- They seemed to be dissatisfied with their own employment and vocational prospects, and they seemed to pursue ministry out of their own ambitions and pride and perhaps even a sense of personal superiority to and contempt of a particular pastor whom they deemed as weak or inadequate in some way. They tended to have a hugely loud, domineering and even deceptive manner in their relationships with others that that showed nothing of the meekness and gentleness of Christ.
- There seemed to be some sort of false prophecy to them or by them that God was leading them to take over a particular church or pastorate.
- They had strong moral disqualifications for the pastorate and may have been already under official church discipline pursued according to denominational guidelines.
- Not only did they avoid any kind of educational preparation for the ministry, they also never subjected themselves to any kind of official evaluation for the ministry by any kind of denominational committee or licensing board.
In regard to my own pastoral ministry and correction # 1, then, from the time that I began seriously to pursue the pastorate in the fall of 1975 I set myself to gain whatever educational qualification and preparation I needed to be credible and effective as a pastor. So, in pursuit of these qualifications I put in the effort to learn ancient Greek and Hebrew before I entered seminary and then earned a Master of Divinity degree from the official seminary of the denomination in which I felt called to serve. Furthermore, I have never claimed any kind of leading from God to any kind of church where there was already a current pastor. Rather, all this was to prepare to be a qualified and effective pastor, and I trusted God to open the right door to a church without a pastor that was seeking a pastor.
Rather, I went through the denominational candidating process each time and spent my time praying about and preparing myself for each candidating opportunity in an open pastoral position as it happened. Moreover, I submitted myself to the authority of the denomination in which I served through the governing structures such as a licensing and ordaining committee, the district executive committee and district superintendents for my licensing and ordination as a pastor and direction to open churches where I could serve as a pastor.
This is not to say that there weren’t several people who had misgivings in those years, though, but I sought to deal with them as much as possible personally with the truthfulness and gentleness of Christ. As a matter of fact, in view of Luke 6:26 and the constant challenges which Jesus, the Jerusalem apostles and the apostle Paul faced, I would take it as a warning sign of someone on the path to the pastorate or in the role of a pastor encountered no one who challenged their qualifications and credentials. But that is why these matters often are and should most often be addressed within such groups as denominational licensing and ordaining committees of veteran pastors and leaders, so that no embittered, malicious or slanderous individuals can ever blackball anyone from a place of ministry.
It was in regard to this responsibility of evaluating a person’s qualifications for ministry with integrity that I previously wrote my blog post Recommendations, References, Evaluations and Slander, as a part of trying to do more on my part to forestall anyone being blackballed from a place of ministry due to any kind of surreptitious input from any kind of embittered, malicious or slanderous individuals. And certainly if there are known problems in a person’s life which arise to the level of church discipline such as in I Corinthians 5:9-13 or known transgressions which have led to official church discipline pursued in accord with scriptural, legal and denominational guidelines that this should be taken with due realization that that person is disqualified from ministry until after a period of restoration under guidelines clearly defined. And I want to be clear that church discipline in all cases not be considered to have taken place until all scriptural, legal and denominational guidelines have been followed. In other words, a person, even a Christian leader, with an accusation or a grudge does not amount to someone who is qualified to administer or to have administered church discipline against anyone no matter what that person may say. Again, we need to be extremely careful in clearly understanding and communicating these matters to prevent a backstabbing coward from blackballing anyone from ministry. And we need even more to be careful that if there are matters which arise to the level of church discipline that we are following scriptural, legal and denominational guidelines toward a fallen brother or sister to restoration in Christ after a year or two in a restoration plan guided by the wisdom, gentleness and loving firmness of Christ.
Here’s then what I would suggest to those who may have a part of the responsibility, then, in evaluating men and women who put themselves forward for ministry. Each item considered to be a disqualification other than moral failure should be openly and thoroughly discussed with that person with the source of that item clearly identified and present if at all possible, and that person should be free to tell his or her story freely and completely. I think that most things could easily be cleared up to the glory of God in the love and truthfulness of Christ if these kinds of matters were pursued with this kind of care and integrity rather than the carelessness that I’ve seen over the years. In many cases, these items may turn out to be manners of minor disagreement which are not disqualifications for ministry, but rather can be pursued according to the kinds of suggestions I previously made in my blog post On Minor Disagreements Among Pastors, Church Leaders And Other Believers On Passages of Scripture And Matters of Biblical Interpretation.
In regard to correction # 2,then, it’s also based on something which I think hit the rumor mill among some Christian leaders in my denomination. I have dealt with the person who was the source of that misinformation, but I think that there may be one or more people who knew me years ago and who are continuing to circulate that gossip about me. I am actually aware of a few individuals who were the sons and daughters of pastors who later confessed that they went into Christian ministry from family pressure rather than a sense that God was calling them into that ministry. What I said was that each one going forward for ministry, where it seems like they have come forward for ministry under family pressure, needs to be asked if that is their own decision before God. Indeed I think that’s a legitimate question for anyone, including myself, who pursues ministry. It looks like what I said was somehow distorted into misinformation that I had some hidden agenda to drive the sons and daughters of certain pastors from ministry – though I in fact have been good friends and supported the ministry of most of them. I think that this misinformation did go to some individuals who have been perpetuating it since. It’s wrong. It’s a lie. Have the integrity and courage to drop it and correct it where you have repeated it.
So, going back to the Space Ghost quote: “There’s got to be a lesson in here somewhere.” Here are the tendencies which happen, which I’ve seen and which I think toward which many of us in the evangelical church are woefully blind.
- We have a tendency to be far too blind to the actions of the overly suspicious and talkative person with an overly active imagination and an uncontrolled tongue to spread distorted information about others, as well as to our own tendencies to listen to rumor and gossip far too easily.
- We tend too often to generalize from a single experience with a certain person to other situations afterward, and therefore to take out our frustrations for situations in the past upon innocent people in the present.
- We tend too often to ascribe a hidden agenda to others who may be actually pursuing the will of God in their lives because they may in some minor or irrelevant way remind us of a phony we met or know of from the past.
- We may have a ‘gotcha!’ reaction rather than a graceful reaction when the sins and imperfections of others are discovered, especially if we feel ourselves superior in any way by not having those same sins and imperfections.
- We too often brazenly erupt with a sudden counterattack against someone who discovers that underneath our carefully crafted image of Christian perfection that we have committed sins and that we are broken, sinful people like anyone else, since we may expect that person to have the same ‘gotcha!’ reaction rather than a graceful reaction against us that we would have ourselves against that person.
- We tend too often to have a long memory for the wrong things and to use them to try to undermine and discredit other people long after we should have taken the Christlike route to forgive them, forget the offense or misgiving and look for what God is really doing in that person’s life.
- We tend, as we rise in leadership, to become overly defensive about our positions and one’s ambitions for one’s own family’s prospects for Christian ministry the longer we go on in a place of ministry and leadership unless we deal with the disappointments of the past before Christ with truth, forgiveness and love and with faith that God is our sufficiency for ministry and not anything in ourselves.
- We carry into ministry too often the habitual idolatries of ourselves, our families, our reputations, our positions, and our corporate institutions and we often erupt with totally unjustified pre-emptive strikes on innocent people if we see them as a threat to any of these.
- We have a tendency to see the resources and positions in our churches as limited in such a way that some people must lose for others to win positions and influence. God’s resources are not limited, though, and if we truly are Seeing the World Through the Eyes of Jesus we will see that in the field of the world there is plenty of room in our churches and ministries for the workers he calls into the harvest.