Whos 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. Im 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 doesnt usually employ those exact wordsmore 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 followinghe will have:
- made a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ
- become a member of a Church, maintaining good standing
- demonstrated already the attitude of a servant
- an inescapable compulsion to preach the gospel
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:
- communicate clearly to the man its judgment on this matter
- provide him with continued opportunities for serving ministry
- guide and assist him (including financially) in pursuing, and keep close contact with him during, his academic preparation
2. The Sessions 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.
Ive 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. Its 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 Presbyterys 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:
- his Christian faith Sometimes examiners misformulate the question, as follows: What has been your Christian experience? or words to that effect. We are not concerned, at this point, with Gods providential direction of the mans life, leading him to faith in Christ; we may well inquire of that later. Right now we are asking for a statement of his faith in Christ. A better formulation of the question, therefore, would be: Are you a Christian, and what do you mean us to understand by your answer?
- life Here we are concerned with his behavior, including evidence of fruits of repentance and the use of the means of grace. Not the way things ought to be, or how he wishes they were, but how they are.
- service Once more, not what he wants to do, later, when he becomes a minister. But, in what deeds of service is he currently engaged?
- the motives influencing him to desire the sacred office Here presbytery will be concerned that the man indicate reliance on something more than a mere feeling. Yes, that inescapable compulsion to preach the gospel needs to be present, to be sure. But Gods call will always be external as well as internal. In giving expression to his motivation, the candidate needs to point also to prima facie evidence of qualification and gifting.
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:
- encourage the candidate to attend presbytery meetings unless prohibited by distance (in which case alternative methods will need to be devised), and give him both opportunity to report and counsel as appropriate.
- concern itself with, and seek to address, the candidates spiritual and physical (including financialremember, hes being sent to seminary!) needs
- help him to locate a summer- and/or year-long internship
- monitor his academic work, giving particular attention to the guideline provided by The Recommended Curriculum for Ministerial Preparation in the OPC (Book of Church Order, pp. 295ff)
For its part, the session of the candidates home church will
- provide the encouragement, counsel and help, described above, on a local level
- consider offering him a summer- or year-long internship
- update its evaluation as to his suitability for the ministry (which may mean reaffirmation, alteration, or even negation)
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
- is saved during his Junior year in college
- attends Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship meetings, but does not join a church
- decides, upon graduation, to go to seminary because he is enthusiastic about his new-found faith, and doesnt think that he would be fulfilled in any other occupation
- attends worship services of three or four different congregations
- becomes convinced of the Reformed faith during his second year
- becomes a member of the Church, but only after six more months of searching for the right one
- asks presbytery, in April of his last year, to take him under care, because he needs to become licensed in order to be eligible to receive a call
Im 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 doesnt 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. Thats not a criticism of him; its not that theres something wrong with him. In Gods 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 cant 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.