Is he called or not called – that is the question? Better yet, is the man or woman standing before you every Sunday morning delivering the sermon qualified to preach a message, let alone give you direction on how to live your Christian journey?
One will find there is an array of views when it comes to the definition of being called to preach. Though all Christians are called to serve the cause of Christ, God calls certain persons to serve the church as pastors.
Writing to young Timothy, the Apostle Paul confirmed that if a man aspires to be a pastor, “it is a fine work he aspires to do,” I Timothy 3:1.
Reformer Martin Luther described this inward call as “God’s voice heard by faith.” Christian theorists also say one must examine themselves and ask if they are equipped with the necessary gifts to teach? Finally, once they examine themselves thoroughly if they have the urge, such as “I must preach or die,” that sense of commitment may say you’re the man for the job.
But according to Father Nabil Hanna of St. George Orthodox Christian Church, it is not a job.
“It’s a calling. Every pastor needs to have a personal sense of being called, not ‘this is a job I can do.’ Then the priest, and the people at the ordination confirm your claim. Because we could be deceiving ourselves thinking ‘I am going to do something for God,’ and that’s a very dangerous thing. God doesn’t need me. The best thing I can be is an instrument in God’s hand,” said Hanna.
The Orthodox Christian Church has the potential minister go through a series of steps before he is accepted to direct a congregation. According to Hanna, one must have an undergraduate degree. Afterwards attend seminary for three years, which is a master’s program, known as the master of divinity. One’s personality and morals are also considered. Next there is an ordination and the bishop assigns where you will serve based on the need of the community.
“We may be at a church to serve for only a few months or years at a time,” he said. “The particular pastor is of less importance because really Jesus is the priest and we are only there to make him visible. That’s why the bishop moves us around. We are not there to entertain. Too many people join for those (entertainment) aspects and base whether they join or leave the church on that rather than is the truth being taught here?”
Baptists, non-denominational, Pentecostals and other churches may require a religion education background; others do not. Catholic priests also go through extensive training.
“I think it depends on what the leader is expected to do within the context of the congregation or denomination,” said James McGrath, the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University. “If somebody is expected to teach about a particular subject then I don’t think it is at all surprising or inappropriate that they should be expected to study that subject and inform themselves before trying to teach others.”
According to McGrath there is an obligation for the believer too, that claims they love God’s Word. They should take time to read it themselves.
“Those who say the Bible is important to them, very often don’t actually read the things that scholars within their own denomination have written about the Bible,” he said. “We cultivate in many of our churches a strong instinct to respond with ‘amen,’ oftentimes because we have been moved by what has been said. Those two don’t have to be at odds with one another. You can allow yourself to be inspired, but also practice critical thinking, caution and discernment,” said McGrath.
Otherwise one is simply deceiving themselves, and slipping onto dangerous grounds.
“What we are really talking about here are people who are being led through a process that is perhaps appealing more to their emotions, reasons to adopt a particular stance, or act in a certain way. There are risks involved when we have inspiration, but not education from our leaders, ” he said.