What does it mean to be called to the ministry? I think that’s a question that a number of people are asking themselves these days. Dan Aleshire, executive director for the Association of Theological Schools recently commented that the days are gone when the winds of culture and society would simply blow people into our churches and fill the pews. As a result, those who have a call to ministry may not find themselves serving in a traditional setting. Instead, we discover clergy who feel called to coffee shops, bakeries, hospitals, schools, community and international development, chaplaincy, and the local church. If this is the case, then how does a Seminary help to prepare clergy for the 21st century who serve the whole church?
While there is great diversity in the context of ministry these days, there are also features which are relevant to all who are called. It is those common features which must be the focus of theological education and preparation for those who will minister.
No matter where one serves, a minister needs to know why he or she is serving. When my husband was young his father told him, “If you’re called to be a pastor it’s the best job in the world. If you’re not called, it’s the worst job in the world.” The why question must be related to a call from God and not a call from family or friends, or because one thinks it would feel good to help needy people. Throughout all of history God has been in the business of calling individuals to vocational ministry. God called the Levites who began serving at the tabernacle when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. That was their context. They prepared daily sacrifices and cared for a portable place of worship, but they knew that this was their calling. Today the calling carries into a new context where God continues to use his servants.
No matter where one serves, a minister needs to know what he or she believes theologically. Since her inception the Church of the Nazarene has existed within the stream of the Wesleyan/Holiness movement. This movement has filled a distinctive role within the body of Christ, challenging believers to a deeper walk with the Lord, resulting in a life of holiness. Our theological beliefs create the blueprint for all of ministry. Whether serving coffee in a café or preaching in a pulpit, our Wesleyan theology informs the ways in which we minister.
No matter where one serves, a minister needs to live as an authentic servant leader. The Apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1Cor. 11:1) He knew that the people whom he served would be watching the way in which he lived every single day of his life. He could have never preached or taught about a life of faithful service if he weren’t willing to live that way himself. The daily life of a minister may say more about their ministry than what is preached from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. Effective ministers throughout the centuries have been those who have been willing to serve others with an attitude of humility.
No matter where one serves, a minister needs to have a passion for knowing Christ. Too many people have struggled in ministry because they have failed to make knowing Christ a priority. The goal of the Christian life is to become more and more like Christ. Time must be set-aside for prayer, scripture reading and study. This intentionality and self-discipline has formed the ministers of the past and will continue to shape and form effective ministers in this century.
No matter where one serves, the more the minister knows Christ, the more his or her heart will break for those who are lost and suffering. Passion for the lost grows out of love for Christ. If the motivation for ministry comes from the latest program it will eventually lose its energy. Far too many ministers have found themselves burned out by their dependence on their own merits rather than relying on the passion which comes from Christ. When one truly becomes united with Christ, then the burdens of Christ become personal. Christ died for the lost and when this becomes a living reality within the heart of a minister, there will be an overwhelming desire to reach out and touch a very broken world with the good news of Jesus Christ.
The context in which the church is ministering is rapidly changing and this is creating numerous challenges. The whole church is now being found in the sanctuary and in the coffee shop around the corner. Ministers are needed to serve in a variety of capacities and the church and Seminary must be ready to support them in these new settings. At the same time, we must continue to nurture the core and fundamental needs which remain unchangeable. The principles of clergy preparation remain timeless as God continues to call, and the Seminary continues to prepare faithful and effective ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.