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Pastoral Calling and the Local Church
The Christian ecclesias of the first century church were administered by local leaders. Paul had the pattern of appointing elders in the churches (Acts 14:23; 20:17). Paul gave leadership responsibility to Timothy at Ephesus and to Titus at Crete. Peter in speaking to elders of the regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia challenged them to be shepherds of God’s flock. In fact, he refers to himself as a fellow-elder and, therefore, a shepherd. He also refers to Christ as the Chief Shepherd (2 Pet. 5:1-4). We see a pattern then in the first century church in which the administering of the local churches was done by elders whose function was to be akin to that of a shepherd.
The word ‘Pastor’ is used once in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:11. In Latin, the word is derived from the word Pastoral is and in French, Pastor. Both words are translated ‘Shepherd’5. The word ‘Pastor’ is therefore imagery of shepherding which should characterize the elders of the local ecclesia.
‘Pastoral’ is an adjectival word which, in the context that it is being considered, bears the following meaning: “relating to the office and work of a minister of religion.” The definition brings out clearly our consideration in this Chapter: We will examine Pastoral calling in relation to its nature – that is, the office, and its task – that is, the work.
The Nature of Pastoral Calling
The office and work of the minister of religion or pastor or shepherd or elder, whatever title may be used to designate the office and work, are unique. Anyone may become a Pastor but not everyone can become a Pastor. Here, we are dealing with a specialized office into which entry is pre-conditioned by the influence of the divine and the human. There is a calling involved.
We often hear people say, in the local church setting in Sierra Leone, “I am called by God to ministry.” A leader of a church which was started with the last five years and whose church is growing rapidly in a quantitative manner describes his calling by God as having occurred through a dream. Another leader went into an area in the West end of Freetown in 1993, took up residence there and began to organize evangelistic outreaches. Within a year, he has won a few people to Christ and has started a church. This same leader was in league with another leader who runs his own private ministry (a church). Through an interview with him, it was found out that he could not pull together with the other leader so he broke away from him to set up his own independent ministry. When asked why he was seeking to establish a church in the new area into which he has moved he replied, “I was called by God.” He made no mention of the rift between him and the other leader which was the motivating factor for him to move off to start his own ministry; nor did he make mention of the conditions which caused him to have sought residence in that new locality and had consequently decided to make there his base for evangelism. Rather, it was just the blanket statement, “I am called by God.”
A third example came out of an interview with the National Superintendent of an evangelical church which has been in Sierra Leone since 1969. He mentioned that his own call was firstly a subjective experience. The work of the ministry seemed worthy to him. He saw the job as noble. Such factors resulted from a strong-sense of God’s call toward the ministry which can only be expressed rather than described. At the time of such a subjective experience he was not only in any employment; yet, he felt a stronger pull in him for involvement in ministry which seemed noble and worthy to him rather than involvement in secular employment.
Secondly, this leader described his call as also an objective experience. The objective has to do with tangible evidences. One of such evidences was the need for manpower in the ministry of that church; thus, circumstances triggered the objective experience. Included in the objective experience was the confirmation of the leaders of the church. The leaders saw the worthiness of this man who had a strong inner drive for involvement in ministry. Over a period of time, and with training, his sense of call was confirmed by the leaders and he became one who fulfilled the need for manpower. In this case, the subjective experience did not stand alone. It found fulfillment and confirmation in the objective.
The following two questions were put to the same leader:
(1) Should one have a sense of call to be involved in ministry? Yes, he replied.
“One must develop a desire or love for the Lord’s work. Just having an inclination is not enough.
(2) What do we mean by call?
“A series of events leading to a climax. Objective occasions connecting and interplaying with the subjective.”
The forgoing three examples are representative of the perceptions which many local church leaders in Sierra Leone have regarding the nature of Pastoral calling. In the first example, it was via the medium of a dream. In the second, it was calling emanating from the person’s availability from subjective feelings finding fulfillment and confirmation in objective realities. We will further analyse these examples of calling and the characteristics of the patterns.
1. Biblical Patterns of Calling
We will cite the following seven examples:
He received a direct call from God. Here ‘direct’ denotes the physical manifestation of God Himself in the form of flames of fire (Exodus 3:2-4). Moses physically saw the manifestation and he literally heard the voice of God. Moses was called, not so that he would have the privilege of hearing God’s voice in a tangible way, but to receive a commission to the ministry of delivering God’s people from bondage and becoming their shepherd (Pastor).
Was Samuel called? If we consider calling in accordance with the manner by which Moses was called, then the answer would be, no. The pattern in Samuel’s case was different. Moses was involved in the secular as against the sacred. He was a shepherd, Samuel, on the other hand, was involved in the sacred as against the secular. On his parent’s choice, not his, he was offered as a boy to the service of God in the Temple. He was put in the situation of the sacred and that automatically conditioned his involvement. This objective experience laid the foundation for the call of God upon Samuel. We read in 1 Samuel 3:7 – “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord; word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him”. This statement was given in explanation of the lack of discernment of the boy Samuel of the voice of God which came to him three times. In the midst of his involvement in the sacred, the call of God ultimately came to him: “The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (1 Sam. 3:21). Samuel became a prophet, a priest and a judge (1 Sam.3-19-22; 7:5-9, 15-17).
Jeremiah was of a priestly house. His father Hilkiah was a priest; thus, Jeremiah was also a priest by lineage. (Jer. 1:1)/ Like Samuel, he was involved in the sacred. He already had the conditioning or objective experience of involvement in the sacred. It was within such a framework that the word of the Lord came to him. He was called or commissioned or set apart for a prophetic ministry to the nation of Israel.
Like Moses, they were involved in the secular as against the sacred: fishermen, tax-collector, political activist et cetera. Like Moses, they also received a direct call. The physical presence of Jesus was seen by them. The words of Jesus, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19) was a tangible reality. They were commissioned to the ministry of delivering God’s people from bondage and becoming their shepherd (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts. 1:8).
Like Samuel and Jeremiah, Paul was already involved in the sacred. He was a Pharisee and had a strong zeal for legalistic righteousness (Phil.3:4-6). He was in the midst of carrying out what he considered to be the defence of God’s cause in Judaism (Acts. 8:1-3; 9:1-2) that he received his call. We recognize here that Paul did not have the kind of objective experience which could have given him the preparation of heart for the calling he received. He stands as an example of a particular kind of call – that is, the call of God which comes through specially designed occasions or circumstances geared towards halting a person’s bitterness and spite against the advancing of the Gospel and transforming that person to become a proclaimer of the Gospel (cf. Acts 26:9-18; 1 Tim. 1:12-14). Paul’s call involved a direct, tangible supernatural act of God to halt Paul’s persecution of Christians, reveal Himself to him and commission him to the ministry of delivering God’s people through bondage and becoming their shepherd.
According to the Biblical record, Paul was the last to receive God’s call in a direct sense. The call of Timothy was based on objective experience. He was already a dedicated Christian with exemplary living. Timothy’s life, along with the affirmation of the believers at Lystra and Iconium made him qualify for Paul’s recruitment. It is evident that Paul needed a work force for his expanding enterprise. Thus, the need in the ministry and Timothy’s qualification became the means for his call to ministry. Timothy received his call through Paul. (Cf. Acts 16:1-3; Phil. 2:22).
Elders or Shepherds
The elders or shepherds received their call to ministry in the same manner as Timothy. Additionally, though, we see a specific pattern described for the call of elders (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). There was personal desire involved and there was the criteria which would serve as a canon for determining the eligibility of the person. We read the following in 1 Timothy 3:1 – “…If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” Here we see the issue of personal desire: “sets his heat on”. Furthermore, Paul describes the desire as one, which is focused on a noble task.
We recognize here that the call to the ministry of the church was directly a call which originated from the individual. It was not imposed. A Christian expressed the desire. An indication is not given regarding the source of the desire which the person expresses. Personal desire was not taken as the sole criterion for acceptance into eldership. Paul outlined the external criteria which should be used to assess those who would be accepted.
Paul and Barnabas planted churches in Lystra, Inconium and Antioch in Pisidia during their first missionary journey (Acts 14:-22). Before completing the cycle of that journey, they appointed elders in each church; the criteria used by Paul and Barnabas for appointing the elders was not stated. Nevertheless, it would be expected that a criteria was adopted.
2. Characteristics of the Patterns
There are variations in the biblical patterns cited. Moses and Paul received their call in spectacular situations. Both were involved in other causes but they were called out of those into God’s cause.
Samuel and Jeremiah received their call while involving in the sacred. They could be said to have been involved in situations where they already had the frame of mind conducive to such a call.
The disciples of Jesus received a direct call from the physical Lord. The text of scripture gives no indication that they already had the frame of mind for such a call. Rather what is reflected is a spontaneous response to someone whom they may have heard about. They left their vocations and followed.
The nature of call changed within the established church as seen in the case of Timothy and that of Elders (or Shepherds). It was a call pre-conditioned by the following: (i) a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; (ii) a personal desire for involvement in the Pastoral ministry; (iii) an outward assessment by the church based on established criteria (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:5-9). We do not see here the nature of call which Moses, Paul, Samuel, Jeremiah and the disciples of Jesus received. Rather, it was a call through those who had been vested with ecclesiastical authority.
We see then a trend in the first century church and onwards in which pastoral calling did not occur in the same sense by which God’s call came to Moses, Paul, Samuel, Jeremiah and the Apostles. We even see further variations in the three examples we cited earlier from the Sierra Leone context: One was call through a dream; a second was call motivated by the concern for lost souls; and a third was call motivated by the concern for lost soul; and third was call motivated by the worthiness and nobility of the ministry along with the need for manpower and confirmation by the leaders.
The first century church gives us an important balance which should constitute a call to ministry. Oden makes the following citation which speaks of such a balance:
“Classical pastoral wisdom has thought it essential to test a person’s claim to be called to ministry. It is considered testable and dangerous if unexamined.”6 Oden’s citation goes back to the pattern which emerged out of the first century church. That pattern is essential today for the church in Africa and in Sierra Leone. A person’s dream or subjective motivation could be legitimate or illegitimate. It is the beginning point but should not stand alone.
“The call to ministry requires not only a private, inward
intuitive feeling that one is called by God to ministry;
if we had only that, we would invite the abuses
of self-assertive, subjective, individualistic self-
The private, inward, intuitive feeling of call is important. It may be through a dream, in fact, Africans strongly uphold the validity of dreams. It may be through subjective motivation triggered by the conviction from the Word of God to reach out and save souls or triggered by the worthiness and nobility of the ministry.
“Without the assurance of a divine sanction (call),
men are disposed to cater to the demands of
camal and worldly church members. They dilute
the doctrines that are pure and changeless. They
think in terms of personal advantage and seek the
praise of men.”8
So a sense of personal call or divine call must exist. However, the fallacy of human intuition or will along with the awesomeness and magnitude of the task of pastoral calling warrants an outward examination of the sense of call by the local church. Such an examination takes into consideration the criteria set by the first century church along with wisdom derived from the developing of the church through the centuries.
We have so far examined one aspect of pastoral calling – that is, the nature of the calling. The other aspect of pastoral calling we will consider is the task. The two are intertwined. From the biblical patterns of calling we cited, we observed that each call had a task attached to it.
The Task of Pastoral Calling
Calling in this regard has to do with the profession or occupation or work. What is the calling of the Pastor? The Pastor broadly carries the task of administering the local church. The approach to administering the local church is expressed by Robert D. Dale in the following way: “Church administration is ministry, not methods. It’s people, not paperwork. It’s human processes, not inhumane policies. It’s management, not manipulation.”9
The administering of the local church is done in the context of the nature and purpose of the church. With regards to the nature of the church, we have the following considerations:
1. The Church is the ecclesia of God.
The Apostle Peter referred to the Church as follows: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God . . .” (1 Pet.2:9).
The church is the people of God by virtue of the redemptive work of Christ. Paul sent his first letter to Corinth to the “Church of God . . . to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy . . .” (1 Cor.1:2).10
2. The Church is the body of Christ
The implication here is that Christ is the head of the Church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; Col. 1:18). As head of the Church, the nature of the church is determined by who Christ is and the gospel he has called upon the Church to proclaim.
The Church as the body of Christ further denotes the idea of the unity of the church, the church as a continuation of the ministry of Christ and the Church as a living organism. In unity, there is a corporate interdependence among the members of the body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-30). As a continuation of the ministry of Christ, the Church stands as the instrument or agency through which the spirit of the living Christ continues to work. In this regard, the Church becomes the institutional structure or organization for the enacting of Christ’s purposes. As a living organism, the church does not become a static organization but one which grows as believers experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit within.11
3. The Church is the koinonia of redeeming love.
The description of Lindgren is worth noting:
“Christianity is not primarily an idea, a creed, a
form of worship, or an ecclesiastical institution.
Christianity is basically concerned with the matter
of relationships – God’s relationship to man,
man’s relationship to God, and man’s relationship
Here we recognize that the basic concern of the Church is for persons. God is concerned about persons, as manifested in Christ (Jn. 3:16). The one who has received God’s redeeming love expresses that love to fellow believers and reaches out to help others enter into a relationship with God.12
With regards to the purpose or mission of the Church we have a clear expression in the following scriptures:
(1) Colossians 1:28-29
To proclaim the message of the gospel in wisdom through warning and teaching everyone in order to present everyone perfect in Christ.
(2) Ephesians 4:11-14
To prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ will be built up in its understanding of the faith and in its commitment to Christ.
Pastoral Calling, then, in the administering of the local church aims at fulfilling the purpose or mission of the church, thus keeping in constant focus the nature of the church. Since the purpose of the church is not the operating of an institutional organization, pastoral calling is, therefore, not an arm-chair executive task, akin to business corporations, where the pastor is located in the restricted activity of a building.13 It is against such an understanding that Robert D. Dale defines church administration as quoted earlier.
Alvin J. Lindgren gives a definition of the administering of the local church that lucidly reflects the task of pastoral calling in accordance with the nature and purpose of the local church:
“Purposeful church administration is the involvement
of the church in the discovery of her nature and
mission and in moving in a coherent and comp-
rehensive manner toward providing such experiences
as will enable in the fulfillment of her mission of
making known God’s love for all men.”14
Three factors in the administering of the local church are worth noting from Lindgren’s definition: (i) In administering the local church, the pastor should concern himself with fulfilling the purpose of the church; (ii) In administering the local church, the pastor should concern himself with every aspect of church life, coordinating every experience toward the achieving of the unified purpose of the church; (iii) In administering the local church, the pastor bears in mind the priesthood of all believers and, consequently, involves members of the church in carrying out responsibilities.
We have considered the nature and task of pastoral calling. With regards to the task, the church in Sierra Leone, and the rest of Africa, needs to re-examine the function of its pastors. Is the Pastor an executive bureaucrat confined to an executive chair and operating the church as an institution within the framework of a building? Then his concern would be paperwork, not people; methods, not ministry; manipulation, not management. This approach does not reflect the biblical nature and purpose of the church and has to be reconstituted to reflect what it ought to be.
Or, is the pastor the ‘Mr. Workaholic’ who spends toilsome hours all day outside of the confines of a building seeking to reach everyone while members just attend service and return home till another service? Then his approach becomes the extreme of the former. Such, also needs a reconstitution to reflect what it ought to be.
1 J D Douglas et al. New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 2nd ed. s.v. “Church” by D W B Robinson.
2 Sinclaire B Fergusson et al, New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester, England,: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991). s.v. “Church” by E P Clowney.
3 Noah Webster, The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (U.S.A.: The English Language Institute of America, Inc. 1973).
4 Lawrence Urdang. The Oxform Thesaurus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971). P.7.
5 Owen Watson, Longman Modern English Dictionary (London: Longman Group Limited. 1976).
6 Thomas C Obed. Pastoral Theology (Grand Rapids: Harper and Row Publishers, 1983), p.19
7 Ibib., p. 20.
8 G B Williamson, Overseers of the Flock (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1959), p.14.
9 Bruce P Powers ed. Church Administration Handbook (Nashville, Tenessee: Boradman Press, 1985), p. 11.
10 Donal G Miller, The Nature and Mission of the Church (Richmond Virginia: John Knox Press, 1982), pp. 12-13.
11 Alvin J Lindgren, Foundations for Purposeful Church Administration (New York: Abingdon Press, 1965), pp. 43-53.
12 Ibid., pp. 53-54.
13 Paul Rowntree Clifford. The Pastoral Calling (Great Neck, New York: Channel Press, 1961), pp. 6-10.
14 Lindgren, p.60.
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