No Charlie, God is NOT calling you
Presbyterians like to talk about discerning the voice of God through the voice of the community.
I served a church in Tennessee once and found the people there were always saying, "God is telling me this or that."
Not, "I feel that God is moving me to do this or that," but that "God is telling me this or that."
My first reaction was to think, "How arrogant, that people would think that God speaks to them and no one else."
My second reaction was to think, "How dangerous."
Marty decided God was telling him to start a home for children. A year later he was angry and came to see me. "Why would God do this to me? I've lost my house, I'm in debt up to my eyeballs. I gave up my job for this. God told me to do this and now He has left me hanging."
No -- God did not tell you to do this. You WANTED God to tell you to do this, but you never actually heard the voice of God speak.
One reaction I heard was in a committee meeting. "God is telling me this or that," one of the members of the committee said. It was her way of saying, "It's my way or the highway. I'm putting God's seal of approval on my opinion so you can argue with it."
In other words, "God is telling me..." was a way of using the Lord's name in vain.
And so we come back to Charlie -- remember him from a few posts ago?
He wants to become a Presbyterian minister.
Which means that the will of God is to be discerned not by Charlie, but by the community. We trust that God who calls Charlie, will also speak to the church.
So Charlie has to have the approval of our local Session or board of elders.
The congregation's session sponsors him to go to the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, which is part of the Presbytery -- which is the regional body of the Church. In our case, it is the area of South Florida.
If they say yes, he is approved by the Presbytery as an Inquirer -- it is a time of searching and evaluation. He goes to Seminary and is trained. He is continually guided and mentored -- some Presbyteries being better at this than others.
At the end of three years, he gets a Master of Divinity from Seminary, takes and hopefully passes a series of ordination exams, and becomes a candidate ready to receive a specific call.
Once he receives that call to a church or ministry, Charlie is ordained.
It is early in the process for Charlie, and everyone is hoping someone else will tell Charlie to go into another line of work.
So often we let the poor sap go through years of preparation only to be left hanging at the end with folks like Marty. Tropical Florida Presbytery, around 10 years ago, had a candidate for 11 years. Pauline finished all the requirements, except no one was calling her to serve -- and we won't ordain until that first call to ministry is given and accepted and approved. We finally told her no one would call her into ministry, and removed her from Presbytery's roll of candidates. We could have saved that lady more than a decade of her life.
We were irresponsible.
So the Session a few days ago told Charlie that we were removing our sponsorship and recommendation. He is free to seek the support of another congregation and session, but we do not hear or feel God calling him into ministry. We gave a laundry list of reasons why.
He left angry.
He will never forgive us.
But it's better than what the church did to Marty or Pauline.