Saturday, June 10, 2006

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.


Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

It IS better than what the church did to Marty or Pauline, despite the pain it is causing Charlie now.

I commend you for having the fortitude to speak up early in the process and spare this man much more grief later.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

It is better, it is "speaking the truth in love" which is what God calls all of us to do with one another. I wonder how much better the world would be if we took that seriously. Doesn't mean nobody gets hurt or that everyone will react favorably to our truth telling but it is better than lying or pretending to avoid upsetting someone.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Angelique said...

I am glad that the Session did what they did. There is nothing more infuriating than someone not telling you the truth and wasting everyone's time. I agree, I don't like it when people do things just because they believe God told them to. It makes me think that they don't have the balls to really say that they made the desicion and that by saying God talked to them it negates any protests. All this tells me is that they are being unreasonable and that logical argument is futile. I like free thinking and if I can make a decision and live with it, so can everyone else because I am the queen of indecision. For reals, ask my husband. Overall, everyone has a voice in their guiding their decisions but I always thought it was my conscience.

8:53 PM  
Blogger DennisS said...

You stated that Charlie was enrolled in seminary. Did he pack up, move the family, and complete a year of seminary before the rug was pulled from under his feet? Or was this a matter covering a couple of months, with Charlie not quitting a job and moving.

Has the Session learned to be more discerning before endorsing someone in the first place? Will this mean it won't happen again? Will you share the experience with COM, and maybe the full Presbytery so that they too are cautious?

And what happens if God really did call Charlie - even if he doesn't fit our particular mold?

I'm wondering if you could have shared the concerns with Charlie, told him that much must change in the next year, but that you and Session members would pray for him everyday, and that you would all sit down in a year and see if things have changed.

You remember the saying, "God doesn't call the qualified, but qualifies the called." Okay, I can't remember the expression exactly, but I think you know what I'm speaking about.

I do hope you will be in prayer in regard to Charlie's future - and if he is truly called that this won't deter him, but instead make him more on fire for God.

Don't get me wrong - I know of a pastor who faces a meeting inwhich he will likely be stripped of his ordination, etc - because of his misconduct as a pastor. Most tried to look the other way, giving an occasional warning, because the church he pastored was growing rather signicantly.

In the RCA, the professors must sign off on each persons "Fitness for Ministry" certificate. A good friend nearing completion of seminary was told that the professors would not sign off on it. So he dropped a required course to avoid graduating, and spent an extra year working on the areas in which the professors had concerns. In addition to the extra year of costs, he went through counseling, worked on his attitude, etc.

Anyway, I'm guessing that you and the Session did the right thing - though I wonder if you all did the right thing initially.

9:28 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

The Session did what they felt God was moving them to do. The system is set up the way it is to help people discern the direction God is leading -- and the community is definately part of that discernment process.

What you and the Session did may not have been the most popular action -- but it is much better than continuing to endorse someone you are not comfortable with endorsing.

5:49 AM  
Blogger yuene said...

I'm kind of facing the opposite situation. One of my church's deacons keeps pushing my boyfriend to go down the path of ministry, or to plant a new church, even though he doesn't feel prepared or eager to do so. The deacon would go, "the church needs more young people to do things!"

It really, really makes me feel quite irritated at times because of the way in which he does it, which is quite pushy, yet I don't know how much of it is my own pride, or if we're really being called, and we are just ignoring it. Also, the deacon is a very zealous person, and I do not want to discourage him, especially in a church like mine, where most people just come and worship and no one wants to serve.

5:59 AM  

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