In this third and final section I want to cover the question of the disgraced calling and the mistaken calling. The problem of disgraced callings is more common than we might think. Pastors and leaders sin. There is a way of dealing with sin. But what happens when the Biblical method for dealing with sin is not there? It is clear that the church has some problems in this area.
Mistaken callings have led many believers into ministry failure and disenchantment with God and His work. The subject needs additional clarification. It’s in the Word but perhaps we need to see the instruction in the Word from a different vantage point.
I’ve had a bad church experience. You probably have, too. Sometimes it’s us. But sometimes it’s an immature person in the fellowship — someone thinking more of himself/herself than the ministry. Sometimes it’s a pastor or church leader who sins and covers it up.
If you’ve been in that final category (we were there) there are two standard excuses that I’ve heard. First, there is the claim that pastors/leaders are under constant assault (they frequently are) and criticisms should be written off as the rantings of the immature. This helps pastors and leaders insulate themselves from much of the nonsense leveled against them. But it also insulates them from legitimate challenges to sin.
The second is an appeal to authority. Psalm 105:15 gets misquoted — “Do not touch God’s annointed.” The one who dares challenge sin in church leadership now bears the burden of apparent sin. It is wrong, as is the claim, to affect the leadership of the church. God called that person to pastor or lead and it is not up to some average person to think he or she might affect that calling.
But now we face a dilemma. What if the Biblical system for dealing with leadership sin is not in place? The system is described briefly in I Timothy 5:19-20. By having 2 or 3 witnesses the problem of gossip is confronted. When a group comes with nothing more than gossip — without evidence — then it doesn’t take long to deal with the issue. And if the (in this case) elder has sinned, because it is a community sin then the challenge is in front of the local church.
Unfortunately many pastors have their deacon boards set up as yes men. Their goal, all to often, is to serve the course of the church as set by the pastor. It’s a leadership structural problem that much of protestant Christianity. There are no simple fixes to it. If you become embroiled in a mess like this then perhaps it is best to leave. But one should do this without gossiping. Gossip as a sin may be as bad or worse than any sin committed by the leadership. Nobody is called to make things worse.
Pastors and other leaders often stay in position without having to deal with their sin. The calling has been disgraced. I Corinthians 9:27 cannot be missed here. And though a person who is disqualified may be restored there is the need for discipline (including public challenge as in I Tim. 5:19-20) there is no room or rash restoration. That can be far more destructive than the sin as it may (and even more in the eyes of the congregation) demonstrate that sin is taken lightly by the church’s leadership.
This is a common problem. A young man or woman gets excited about being called by God for some type of service. But the opportunities never open up. Or the individual enters the field only to experience a high level of failure and inadequacy for the task. It might be a pastor position or it might be the mission field. The same thing happens in both worlds.
What is created in the end is a new set disenchanted believers who adopt a new set of beliefs. They now believe (a) that they have somehow failed God, (b) that they have failed the local church, (c) that they have failed their families and friends who gave extensive emotional and financial support, and (d) that they are the worst kind of failure — a spiritual failure.
Have be built unreasonable expectations for people — expectations that can never be fulfilled?
Colleges and seminaries are preparing about 3x the number of people for ministry as there are openings. What happens when 2/3 of these people either cannot find the opening (that they believe God has called them to) or when they drop out on account of failure? In almost every local church there exist people who have gone through this. They misunderstood God’s calling. Now they sit on the sidelines. They are unengaged and unused.
One part of the problem is seeing the office or position as the calling rather than the work. God’s gift to the church in Ephesians speaks only a bit of the office and more about the work or preparation of people for service. II Timothy 2:2 speaks of the work of teaching and training. Even Stephen in Acts 6 was first a distributor of food before he was seen as a potential spiritual leader.
One of the most discouraging things that can be said to someone (it was once said to me) is that the you may have missed your calling. This represents, as I see it, some shallow theology. It assumes one task for life, one functional plan for your life. It makes that old theme of “finding God’s plan for your life” a hit-or-miss situation. If you miss, that’s too bad. Pity you. If you weren’t called (either to pastor or be a missionary), then again, pity you. To suggest that a person misses God’s calling is as insensitive as one can get.
A word of encouragement: If you have had Bible college or seminary training there is a great deal you can provide your local church. First, keep your studies up. Keep reading and growing. So what if you’re not a pastor or missionary. Don’t forget that it was a shoe salesman who knew the Word well enough to lead D L Moody to the Lord. Dismiss the past as the past and find an avenue of service. The opportunities for teaching and training in the local church are endless.
The term “ministry” means service, not office. We serve the Lord in work, not in position. “Well done” is stated to the good servant, the faithful servant, not office-holder. Continue with the Lord as His servant. May He be your focus and guide.