Lasso any ten seminary students and ask them, “What do you plan to do when you graduate?” Chances are at least four or five will say something like this:
“Oh, I’m not quite sure. Maybe I’ll take a graduate course. Perhaps I’ll work as an assistant pastor for a while. Possibly I’ll do some youth work. I really don’t know.”
Whatever the answer, it likely is to be spoken quite casually. Many students today have very much of a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward the Gospel ministry. For them it seems the ministry of the Word has become merely another profession like business, dentistry, law, etc. There is no compelling passion motivating them.
That isn’t how it used to be. Most of my fellow seminarians and I were ‘chomping at the bit’ to get out and get into the pastorate; we couldn’t wait to preach. We didn’t even consider the idea of an assistantship after graduation; most of us had already been working in that capacity while going to seminary.
“Adams is getting old and has started to reminisce,” you say. Perhaps. But even that isn’t always bad. Continuity with the past can help today’s young men gain a little perspective. And frankly, there has been a definite, discernable change in attitude that is easily detected by any observer who has lived through the last five decades. It began in the 50’s and grew throughout the 60’s, probably reaching its nadir during the Vietnam war. At that time, one suspects, there were numbers who went to seminary to escape the draft; that was when the big shift in attitude occurred. While there has been some improvement since, we have never recovered fully from the effects of that period.
The strong modern emphasis on grades rather than on competence as the goal of studying, fostered not only by public education but also by Christian schools with their near-fanatical emphasis on “academic excellence,” also has had an impact. Far too many Christian college students as well cannot tell you what they plan to do upon graduation. Many students no longer prepare for some specific life-work but simply “go to college.” Thus persists this spirit of getting good grades to get into the college or seminary of one’s choice. Then comes graduation, when one holds in his clammy little hand a transcript more-or-less filled with high grades but has no purpose in his life!
This change in attitude has had its effect on the church. Ministers, reared in such an easy-going milieu, have carried this casual approach over to their tasks in the local congregation. While zeal can be overdone so that it supercedes solid study for reasoned ministry, the problem today is not that scholarship has overtaken practical work but that there seems to be less passioned devotion to theology and exegesis. Many ministers today are too laid back about ministry, seemingly unacquainted with the drive that compelled Paul to write:
Woe is me if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
No wonder so many who do enter the pastorate quit when the going gets mildly difficult—certainly before it gets tough! Years of learning and instruction are wasted on men who leave the ministry to sell insurance. If the apostle Paul had acted like that, he probably would have given up in Damascus when he found himself in humiliation, escaping from the city in a smelly fish basket! But he didn’t. What made the difference? What motivated Paul so that he was able and willing to go on in spite of the trials enumerated in 2 Corinthians 6 and 11? He tells us:
Therefore, since we have this ministry to perform as the result of mercy, we don’t give up. (2 Corinthians 4:1)
Ministers who must minister the Word in preaching and counseling are motivated like Paul by gratitude. They remember God’s mercy and see their calling as a gracious privilege that overwhelms them. Even the plight of the lost does not motivate men to ministry as powerfully as the amazing, unbelievable goodness of God in choosing them for this task.
Pastor, what motivates you? When Mrs. Jones objects to your prophetic viewpoint, when Mr. Smith wants to know why you won’t remarry his improperly divorced son, and when the Greens are sitting there week after week with pencil in hand, waiting to catch you in some misstatement, what keeps you faithful to the ministry of the Word? When half the congregation doesn’t seem to care about much else and yet expects you to visit every other day in each of their homes, what drives you on? Nothing will—nothing less than a sense of debt and gratitude similar to Paul’s. It was that, and that alone, that carried him from one triumphant tragedy to the next!
If you have lost your sense of mission (or never really had one) take the time to ask why. Do you really belong in the ministry? Doubtless there are many who don’t, and it is no disgrace to leave if that is the case. If, however, you know that God has called you, then spend time properly set aside for the purpose to kindle the fire you once had (or should have had). How? Reflect on God’s mercy and goodness in you and His putting you into the ministry, beginning perhaps with a consideration of 1 Timothy 1:16. When you get hold of the reality of mercy and grace that has been lavished on you, it will make the difference; it will give you an edge!