Have Pentecostals (and Others) Got the Idea of the Calling to Ministry Backwards?

In his interesting study as to why Church of England women ministers tend to be older than their male counterparts, the Ugley Vicar makes a very profound observation:

But this then raises a question in my mind, which has actually been there for some time, as to whether we have really got it right when it comes to ‘calling’.

The selection process, and indeed the Book of Common Prayer, lays a great deal of stress on the ‘inwardness’ of calling: “Do you think in your heart that you be truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the order of this Church of England, to the Order and Ministry of Priesthood?”

But what is a ‘true calling’? In my own day it was understood to be a special sense from God that this was what he wanted me to do. In Scripture, however, I find very little emphasis on inward feelings and an awful lot on outward, observable, competence and the decision of the Church to recognize that (eg Titus 1:6-9). Jesus’s ‘calling’ of the disciples, in particular, seemed to owe nothing to them feeling they should become apostles, and everything on his appointment of them (John 6:70).

Arguably, then, the Church should be fingering people and telling them they jolly well ought to be considering the ordained ministry, not waiting while they wait to see if they have ‘a call’. And that being the case, I would have thought we want to get people in their prime, when they are young enough, and free enough of other ties, to be able to give time to training, and then themselves to ministry wherever they might be needed. (That, at least, was something we were getting right forty years ago.)

Pentecostal churches and those like them are even more explicit about the idea of getting “the call”.  In my early years in the Church of God, I got the distinct impression from our ministers that, unless the heavens opened up and the finger of God pointed straight at you and a voice sounded your call, you weren’t.  (Or something along those lines…later, I found that family connections loosened that requirement, but that’s another post).

But Richardson is right: the New Testament doesn’t support the “Isaiah 6” concept of calling as normative for ministers.  Since the church issues the credentials, his idea that the church should do the recruiting is entirely sensible.

It seems to me that this is one more example of our attempt (and you can see that “we” covers a broad range of ecclesiastical structures and concepts) to be Biblical when we end up missing the boat.

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