Who’s Doing It?

Thomas E. Tyson

Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 3, no. 2 (April 1994)

I have a sneaking suspicion that a task prescribed by our Form of Government is not being done as well as it should. Horrors!

Yes, I know, there may be other jobs that are slipping through the cracks. But this one, I believe, needs immediate and particular attention. I’m referring to the prescription of XXI. 2:

The presbytery must show its continuing concern for the progress of all the candidates under its care, and shall continually guide, counsel, and help them as they further prepare themselves for the work of the ministry.

Pursuing my job as director of the Ministerial Intern Program of the OPC, I have discovered that there is room for improvement in our shepherding of ministerial candidates. My fellow elders, will you allow me to make a few suggestions?

By the way, I trust that the following comments do not have the ring of a speech from the throne! Jack Peterson never ceases to remind me that I am the lowest of the low. Actually, he doesn’t usually employ those exact words—more often than not he calls me “servant of all.” I speak purely out of my experience as a pastor, and particularly that of an intern-mentor.

To set this question in context, maybe we ought to look at the whole picture of the care and feeding of the candidate for the gospel ministry:

1. Getting Started

Where does a man get the idea, in the first place, that perhaps he ought to prepare for the gospel ministry? When I was a lad, the answer to that question was, typically: “If you want to be a minister when you grow up, you will need first to pursue a college and seminary degree.” The idea seemed to be that doctors go to medical school, lawyers go to law school, and ministers go to seminary.

Lately we have realized that such a model is considerably off target. A young man ought not to decide to become a minister of the gospel when he grows up. Rather, he needs to become convinced that God is calling him to this particular servanthood.

The question is: How will he know that? Through a variety of means, to be sure, but never without the following—he will have:

But there is one other way by which God makes clear his call, namely, the united opinion of his undershepherds. The session ought to send a young man to seminary. Well, not actually send in the sense of requiring him to go. Rather, by the elders telling him that they judge him to possess the gifts and qualifications requisite in the minister of the gospel.

This sending means that the session would:

2. The Session’s Recommendation

The Form of Government (XXI. 2.) states

The presbytery shall receive a written recommendation from the session of the local congregation of which the candidate is a member, certifying that in its judgment his Christian faith and potential gifts qualify him to be taken under the care of the presbytery with a view to ordination to the gospel ministry.

I’ve wondered, on occasion, whether a particular session has taken this recommendation as seriously as it should. I say this, of course, without engaging in improper judging. It’s just that the question would not go away: has this session engaged in both the examination and observation necessary to be able to bring such a recommendation?

It is not an act of kindness to “pass him along” anyway, hoping that if he is not truly called of God, such will become evident later. Later may be too late. I believe that, when indicated, sessions ought not recommend a man to be a candidate for the gospel ministry.

3. The Presbytery’s Examination

FOG (XXI. 2.) goes on to say: “It is therefore the duty of a presbytery, in taking a candidate under its care, to examine him respecting his Christian faith, life, service, and the motives influencing him to desire the sacred office.”

Something needs to be said regarding each element of this examination:

4. Taking It from There

Now comes that all-important chapter of the whole story, with which we began this article, that presbytery must show its continuing concern for the progress of all the candidates under its care, and shall continually guide, counsel, and help them as they further prepare themselves for the work of the ministry. How will that be done? And, by whom? It seems to me that the task must be addressed by both the presbytery and the local church session, working together.

For its part, presbytery will:

For its part, the session of the candidate’s home church will

Now, I am aware that what I have so far said presupposes a covenant upbringing on the part of the candidate. That is, I have had in mind a man who has had a lifelong, or at least a significant, background in the Church. In past years, perhaps this scenario characterized the majority of men preparing for the gospel ministry. But it is probably not true now.

It seems that more often than not today it is the case that a man

I’m sure that the above scenario is neither exaggerated nor atypical. We face situations like this regularly in our presbyteries. Consequently, just about all that I wrote above just doesn’t “fit.” What should we do in such cases? I believe that, although it will not be particularly attractive to the candidate, the answer must be: slow down! Somehow, lost time must be made up and more time must be given for growth.

The man is still a babe ecclesiastically. That’s not a criticism of him; it’s not that there’s something wrong with him. In God’s providence, this is how things have fallen out. But he does need time to develop spiritually. He needs to refine his motivation for seeking the ministry. He needs time to live and minister in a local congregation. People in general, and the elders in particular, need to observe and evaluate his qualifications and gifts. For his part, he wants to “get on with it.” After all, he wasted most of his life so far; now he can’t wait to begin “serving the Lord.” All that enthusiasm is commendable; but it cannot be allowed to short-circuit the maturation process.

Well, there it is. I trust that these suggestions, offered in all humility by this presbyter who must confess his own culpability in our past failures, will be of some value to you, my fellow elders. Is there anything more important for the life and vitality of our beloved OPC than the care and feeding of our future ministers?

Rev.Thomas E. Tyson is the General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and has written this article for Ordained Servant at the request of the Committee.