Recently I have been reading a book that has captured my attention and really helped to mold and change my thinking about the role of the local church in sending men out into ministry.
As you know, I have been praying, looking and searching for a place to serve the Lord in full-time vocational ministry since January of 2010. Recently, I had the opportunity to pick up a copy of the book Test, train, affirm & send into ministry. I had the opportunity to speak with the author recently regarding my situation and I had been reading his blog. I am not writing a book review per se (although I might take on that task at a later date), but I want to share with you some quotations from this book along with my thoughts that will hopefully align your thinking regarding ministry and the local church.
Most of us probably thought that once we completed our training (Bible college or seminary) that it was incumbent upon either of these institutions to place us in ministry. It seems very logical, but yet it is unscriptural. “God has not ultimately commissioned these institutions to fulfill this responsibility” (Croft, pg. 31) Churches have abdicated their responsibilities because of the plethora of institutions that exist to provide training and education for future ministry. The churches should take the position that they need to partner with these institutions rather than give up what rightly belongs to the church. I am not against seminaries or colleges, I graduated from two such institutions. What I am against is the local church exempting itself from the testing, training and affirming of men who are called to ministry. It is easy just to send someone to a Bible college or seminary and hope that they turn out right, but why not take an active approach in that training?
It is the local church that God has appointed to be the agent to test, train, affirm, and send those who are called. Because of this truth, the local church must embrace this enormous responsibility (Croft, pg. 33)
What does the Bible say about this? Look at Acts 13:1-3
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. (NKJV)
By reading this passage, we see that the local church was the sending agent and instrument of affirmation of Barnabas and Saul. The local church cannot shirk away or deny this crucial responsibility.
Here are some quotations that really impacted my thinking in this area:
“No church, therefore, which neglects the proper education of her ministers, can be considered as faithful, either to her own most vital interests, or to the honour of her divine Head and Lord” (Croft, pg. 52)
“Without the proper instruction of God’s Word in the church, not only will those called into ministry be confused and the church lost in its responsibility in the external call, but spiritual life will also be lacking in the church.” (Croft, pg.53)
The situation I am currently in is a bit unique. I graduated from Bible College in 1992 and was ordained shortly after graduation (If I had it to do over, I would have not been ordained so soon) I spent 7 years in the secular workforce wondering where I would end up. I ended up at a mission agency for 3.5 years (1999-2002) and then came to seminary in 2002. I have been a member of the same local church for almost 10 years now. I currently serve as a deacon. I cannot go back to the church that ordained me and expect any help because there are some doctrinal and philosophical differences that exist between us. We have a great and a cordial relationship, I go back to visit when I can and the people are always kind and gracious. At the same time, I recognize that there are differences.
In order to test, train, & affirm a man for ministry it requires tangible involvement on the part of the pastors or elders of that particular congregation and the members of that congregation as well. How will a local church send a man off to ministry if he has not been given opportunities to exhibit his internal calling within that church?