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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Call to the Ministry

The Christian minister, as someone has pointed out, is a descendant not of the Greek orator but of the Hebrew prophet.

The difference between the orator and the prophet are many and radical, the chief being that the orator speaks for himself while the prophet speaks for God. The orator originates his message and is responsible to himself for its content. The prophet originates nothing but delivers the message he has received from God who alone is responsible for it, the prophet being responsible to God for its delivery only. The prophet must hear the message clearly and deliver it faithfully, and that is indeed a grave responsibility; but it is to God alone, not to men.

It is a dubious compliment to a preacher to say that he is original. The very effort to be original has become a snare to many young men fresh out of seminary who feel that the old and tried ways are too dull for them. These reject the pure wheat of the Word and try to nourish their congregations on chaff of their own manufacture, golden chaff maybe, but chaff nevertheless that can never feed the soul.

I heard of one graduate of a theological school who determined to follow his old professor's advice and preach the Word only. His crowds were average. Then one day a cyclone hit the little town and he yielded to the temptation to preach on the topic "Why God sent the cyclone to Centerville." The church was packed. This shook the young preacher and he went back to ask his professor for further advice in the light of what had happened. Should he continue to preach the Word to smaller crowds or try to fill his church by preaching sermons a bit more sensational? The old man did not change his mind. "If you preach the Word," he told the inquirer, "you will always have a text. But if you wait for cyclones you will not have enough to go around."

The true preacher is a man of God speaking to men; he is a man of heaven giving God's witness on earth. Because he is a man of God, he can speak from God. He can decode the message he receives from heaven and deliver it in the language of earth.

The response earth gives to the message of heaven at any given time varies with the moral conditions of those to whom it is addressed. The true messenger of God is not always successful as men judge success. The message delivered in power has sometimes returned to destroy the messenger, as witness the slain prophets of Israel in Old Testament times, and Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

The true minister is one not by his own choice but by the sovereign commission of God. From a study of the Scriptures one might conclude that the man God calls seldom or never surrenders to the call without considerable reluctance. The young man who rushes too eagerly into the pulpit seems to be unusually spiritual, but he may in fact only be revealing his lack of understanding of the sacred nature of the ministry.

The old rule, "Don't preach if you can get out of it," if correctly understood, is still a good one. The call of God comes with an insistence that will not be denied and can scarcely be resisted. Moses fought his call strenuously and lost to the compulsion of the Spirit within him; and the same may be said of many others in the Bible and since Bible times. Christian biography shows that many who later became great Christian leaders at first tried earnestly to avoid the burden of the ministry; but I cannot offhand recall one single instance of a prophet's having applied for the job. The true minister simply surrenders to the inward pressure and cried, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!"

While there s only one way to become a true preacher, unfortunately there are many doors into the pulpit. One is to be endowed with what is sometimes called a "good pulpit presence." Many a tall Absalom whose commanding presence and sonorous voice mark him as a natural leader of  men is attempting to speak for God when he has not been sent by God. His call is from the people instead of from the Spirit and the results cannot but be disastrous.

Others have become ministers from a genuine but altogether human love for mankind. These have a strong sense of social obligation which they feel they can best discharge by entering the ministry. Of all wrong reasons for becoming a preacher this would seem to be the most laudatory, but it is nevertheless not a spiritually valid reason, for it overlooks the sovereign right of the Holy Spirit to call whom He will.

Most surely the church has a service of compassion to render to the world, but her motives are not humanitarian. They are higher than this by as much as the new creation is higher than the old. It is inherent in the Christian spirit that the followers of Christ should wish to minister to the bodies as well as the souls of men. But the call to give God's prophetic message to the world is something apart.

The call to witness and serve comes to every Christian; the call to be a Voice to mankind comes only to the man who has the Spirit's gift and special enabling. We need not fewer men to show mercy, but we need more men who can hear the words of God and translate them into human speech.

~A. W. Tozer~

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