The Changing Role of the Minister
Does God still call us in the same way as Moses at the burning bush, Elijah on the mountain with the still small voice, or Paul on the road to Damascus? What does he call us to do and be?
If we assume that God still calls people to do his work, what does that calling look like? Does his calling match our understanding of what the call entails? How has our understanding of calling changed through the years? Are we interpreting his calling with traditional models or are we seeing new models through His eyes?
This year three ministers whom I know have chosen to leave full time ministry and go into other work. I have other friends who are caught in churches downsizing their staff. Denominational friends have experienced the same downsizing process. Have they misinterpreted their calling from God?
For example, let’s look at Baptists in the South as an example of how calling was addressed historically.
- 1859 The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was founded to train pastors.
- 1903 Southern was the first seminary in the nation to offer courses in religious education. This program ultimately expanded in 1953 into a School of Religious Education.
- 1953, Southern became one of the few seminaries to offer a full, accredited degree in church music.
- 1907 the Women’s Missionary Union Training School for women was began at Southern. In 1953, it was renamed The Carver School of Missions and Social Work.
- 1991 the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was formed in part to recognize the ordination of women as pastors. An understanding of calling began to expand beyond pastors and men.
Not all persons understood calling as I did. I asked my dad, if my home church would ordain me. My father said the church would not, because I was not going to be a preaching pastor.
Recently, I talked with Lin Carter about his process of changing professions. The following is from an interview with him and an article published by him at First Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina. We talked at length about his new identity. One of the questions I asked, “How do you interpret your calling and God’s will for you in this move?” In the article Lin said, “When I began to wrestle with a sense of calling to ministry, I saw the choice as black and white: either I was called or I wasn’t. In the decades since answering my call, my views on calling have become more three dimensional, from black and white to rainbow-ish.
” In the interview Lin said, “When I answered the call in college, I thought of my calling and God's will in (near) absolutes, such as ‘God's perfect will.’ I don't know if this transition is exactly what God willed me to do, but I have a peace that, through prayer and obedience, I have arrived at God's acceptable will for my life. I believe that our desire and imperfect efforts to obey God are, in fact, acceptable and pleasing to God.
In the 21st
century we are discovering a major shift in ministry leadership. Eddie Hammett says, “Increasing numbers of full-time church related positions disappearing.... age group ministry positions; minister of education, minister of pastoral care, pastors, denominational positions, seminary professors ..... this shift brings great opportunity and also great fear
People are graduating from divinity schools understanding calling to be full time and find themselves in a part time jobs or in bi-vocational settings. Should divinity schools consider embracing dual degrees of Ministry and IT, Education, Business, Social Work , etc.?
How do we help ministers interpret their calling? How do we help ministers in midcareer retool to face the changes? How do we help divinity school students understand that ministry is continuing to evolve? What is the shelf life of a ministry degree?
What are your feelings about the whole subject? I would like to hear from you.
These thoughts above are from Rev. Jerry Chiles, one of our partners in ministry for the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina Metroplex. He has served in various churches across the Southeast as an associate minister. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at 919.606.2751 or firstname.lastname@example.org.