I first came to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1978, as a student. At that time, the school, like the denomination, was under the control of those who many of us presently associated with this institution would consider to be moderates or liberals. What I encountered among the students was a wide array of belief with virtually every theological position represented among a range of perspectives broader than those among the faculty or administration, by which I mean that the students ranged from liberals to classical fundamentalists. There were several students on the campus who were inerrantists and who continued to be so after graduating.
One of the more troubling beliefs I encountered had to do with the issue of being called to the ministry. Most of the students I met at Midwestern at that time would probably have said they believed they were called to ministry. The group I found most disturbing was the group who were in the ministry because they believed it was their right to be in the ministry – I heard no mention of being called to ministry from anyone in that faction. I have yet to find in the Bible anyone whose ministry is portrayed in a positive light who believed they were in the ministry because it was their right to be in the ministry. We find many whose callings are identified in the Bible – the circumstances of their callings are related to us in the Bible’s pages.
Some of the callings of persons to ministry that we find in the Bible are dramatic and intense, whereas other seem more mundane. From the calling of Moses at the burning bush, to the calling of Saul (Paul) on the Damascus road, to the callings of the apostles and the subsequent callings to ministry of persons like Timothy, Titus, and others, a wide range of circumstances accompanies the calling to ministry, but none of these persons asserted that it was their right to be in the ministry. In fact, many of those who were called were resistant to the call to ministry. From reading the accounts of the callings of many of these individuals, we can readily see the persuasive nature of God. Those who are genuinely called of God seem to be either resistant to the call or surprised that God would call them to ministry. Those who seek position and authority or who seek notoriety for its sake are present within the Biblical accounts. We recall Simon the Sorcerer who wanted to purchase the ability to lay hands on a person so that persons upon whom he laid his hands would receive the Holy Spirit. We recall that Peter told him that his money should perish with him because he (Simon the Sorcerer) thought he could buy the gift of God with money.
Much like Simon the Sorcerer, there are those persons who are engaged in “ministry” today who sought the ministry from impure motives, from the desire to make a name for themselves, or because they believed they had a right to be in the ministry. For such persons, the ministry (any ministry) seems not to be a calling from God, but an occupational opportunity. Yes, there are persons genuinely called to the ministry who become well-known, but they become well-known because of their efforts to make Christ known or their efforts to meet the needs of others in the name of Christ – we know them by their fruits.
With the calling to ministry comes the responsibility to fulfill one’s ministry – to bear fruit. I have never believed I had a right to be in the ministry in any form of ministry, but believing that I am called, I recognize that I have a responsibility to fulfill my calling to ministry. Being called to ministry of any kind is both a responsibility and a privilege.
I was privileged to be called to the ministry and to make that calling known publicly more than fifty years ago now, having noted that milestone on March 16th of this calendar year. The first church I served was one in which I served on staff as Minister of Music and Youth. The forty-seventh anniversary of that service will occur late this year. Our Lord has see fit to place me in a variety of ministry locations, at one point as pastor of a single church for twenty-four years. More recently, the calling and privilege of serving on the faculty at Midwestern (full-time since the fall of 2010) has been extended by God to me. All who are called to ministry have a responsibility to fulfill their callings. Any rights accompanying those responsibilities are present to enable us to fulfill our responsibilities. None of the places of ministry in which God has placed me have been my right, but all of them have been manifestations of being called by God to fulfill responsibilities in ministry and all such ministry is a privilege.