This seminar was about "the pathway to pastoral ministry in Sovereign Grace churches." I am not on that pathway, but I have appreciated Harris' writing and Mahaney's speaking. Since it was a great opportunity to get together with some friends who would be attending and some others in the area who would not, as well as learn more about this group with the curious way of describing themselves, I drove up with three friends from North Carolina.
I'm not exactly sure what I expected. Given their charismatic leanings, I expected some passionate communication and some rather subjective discussions of divining God's will and call. Given their Reformed leanings, I expected some sound teaching from Scripture. I had not reconciled that juxtaposition in my mind as I entered the day.
Almost immediately, I was floored. In my life I cannot remember teaching from Scripture on the call to ministry (a term that I do not prefer, but one that they did employ) that was as thoroughly biblical. It was precisely the opposite of the subjectivity I anticipated. Their description of the internal "sense" of calling was essentially equated with the desire to the office in 1 Timothy 3:1. More importantly, they painstakingly defined this sense as merely the starting point toward pastoral ministry. They argued that the internal sense of call must be confirmed by the demonstration of character that is consistent with the office and a recognition of giftedness by the pastors of the church. Some direct quotes from the notes include:
View your sense of call not as an authoritative event, but as an invitation to begin the process of evaluation, testing, and preparation.The overwhelming bulk of the teaching focused on the nature and purposes of the One who calls, the gospel mission of the church, the paradox of ambition and the pitfalls associated with it, and the priority of character in pastoral ministry.
An internal "sense" ≠ an authoritative call
The "internal call" is not merely a subjective sense, but a comprehensive work of grace in a man's life that qualifies him for ministry.
Some observations were inescapable to me. First, not all "charismatics" are cut out of the same cloth. I'm tempted to think of this fellowship of churches as "wannabe charismatics." Second, despite some differences that we should not ignore, I believe Baptist do have some important lessons to learn from these friends. C.J. Mahaney wrote a book called Humility. I haven't read it yet on printed pages, but I think I read it already in the lives of the men he has discipled. They taught me that humility is not just having a low view of myself in contrast to a high view of God. It also includes recognizing the work of grace that God is doing in the lives of believers around me, particularly in ways that surpass what has yet taken place in my heart. The men leading this seminar demonstrated that kind of humility to me. And humility is only one lesson. I could take far more space to talk about community, discipleship, and admonition.
Finally, many Baptists are more subjective than these charismatics. I see this as a substantial problem. If a young person says he's been called, it seems that we often take this as a Baptist "word of knowledge," offering very little guidance or counsel in the form of church leaders working with him to discern his giftedness and character. Bible majors in Christian colleges and sometimes seminary degrees, as well, are viewed as professional tracks for individuals to pursue independently. We minimize the value and necessity of communities of believers recognizing willing, qualified individuals in their midst and calling them out to prepare for and enter vocational service. I have heard others call this subjective approach to decision-making "the new liberalism." It is simply a more insidious, albeit perhaps unintentional, way of divorcing ourselves from the authority of the revealed Word of God.