Thursday, May 2, 2013

How to Become a Pastor

In Acts 1 we have a scene where the apostles must choose someone to replace Judas as one of the 12.  All the disciples gathered around, chose one or two, listened to them preach, looked at their education and experience and prayerfully chose one.

Wait, that's not how it happened?

No, actually, they took all the people who were qualified-- who had been following Jesus for years-- and they rolled dice.  That's right, they allowed dice (or lots, same thing) to choose the person who would be one of the 12 people who would head the church for all time.  This is a common idea in Scripture, that when you want to hear God's voice, you can cast lots.  David did it frequently, and in Proverbs it says, "The lot is cast into the lap and its every decision is from the Lord."

It is one (of many) Mennonite traditions to choose a pastor to put it to the lot.  A friend of mine, Frank, was chosen as a pastor in just this manner.  He was qualified to be a pastor in the church, as were most of the members.  They were farmers, mostly, had a high school education, had been in the church for a while and had a good reputation.  All the ones who met these qualifications stood up at the front of the church and each were handed a Bible, which were carefully mixed ahead of time.  They all opened up their Bibles and Frank had a Bible with a piece of paper with a black dot in it.  Then all the congregation went up to Frank and laid hands on him, dedicating him to be a pastor.

Frank didn't feel especially qualified to be a pastor.  Honestly, his favorite thing to do was to go out in the fields and plow or weed or water.  He liked the solitude and he had no idea why God had chosen him to be the pastor above other people who seemed more qualified.  But he fulfilled his duty and got what education he needed after the fact and continued to be a pastor until he passed away.

I know that many people see being a pastor as a profession, requiring a certain education or a certain skill set.  But as far as God is concerned, this is simply untrue.  Spiritual leadership is a calling, not a profession.  Being a pastor doesn't come after one's education.  It comes once one is called by God and a community.

This doesn't mean there aren't qualifications.  One must have a walk with Jesus that has lasted for a number of years.  One should be of good reputation in the Christian community.  One should be able to preach and to discern the word of God.

But no one is qualified to be a pastor after they have completed some Bible education, whether on a graduate level or otherwise.  No one is qualified to be a pastor because they greatly desire to be a pastor.  Even so, no one is disqualified from being a pastor because of lack of Bible education.  Nor are they disqualified because they don't want to be a pastor.

I certainly did not want to be a pastor.  Frankly, I've always been too harsh, too demanding to really "make nice" with other Christians.  I've always been separated from the Christian community, not really fitting in.  I know a lot of stuff, but I also refused to get graduate degrees because I felt they are "giving in" the world's system.  Frankly, I'm still ashamed of the one Bachelor's Degree I have.  I got my education the old fashioned way-- I read.

But I did become a pastor.  Not because I wanted to or because I had the skill set required to be a pastor.  I became a pastor because I was called.  Because others dragged me into it, kicking and screaming.  The one most responsible for making me a pastor is God.  He put me into this.  It certainly wasn't my idea.

Being a pastor isn't something we can really prepare for anyway.  It is a calling, something others look at us and see in us, even if we don't see it ourselves.

Another thing I learned about pastors is that there is not one right way to be a pastor.  There are as many kinds of pastors as there are pastors.  Some pastors are great at preaching, while others... um... aren't.  Some pastors are excellent at discerning the word, but others' gifts are might be in counselling, in encouraging, in community organization... heck, even in administration (although these pastors are very rare).

Yes, there are many pastors who have sought to be one and then accomplished their goals.  They go the education, and they like the professional status, and the salary that comes with it.  I'm sorry to some who might be reading this, but I do not consider these folks real pastors.  And anyone who comes to a congregation and argues about their salary doesn't deserve the name pastor.

A pastor is called, they are chosen, they do not choose their profession.  A pastor is someone who God has put his finger on, and a community recognizes that selection and decides to choose them as well.  A pastor may not have a salary, as long as they have the heart of God.  A pastor may not have a Bible education, as long as they are committed to the Word.  A pastor may not have a large congregation, as long as they encourage and strengthen in Jesus those who will listen to them.

If you have been called, you will seek the education and ordination and jump through all the hoops after the fact, if you like.  But once you have been called, you are a pastor, like it or not.  And if you have not been called, no matter what training or professional status you have, you are not a pastor.