Recently, GRTS adopted the phrase “Following God’s Call” in our recruiting emphasis and missional statements. I must admit that when I first saw this phrase in seminary materials and heard it in conversations with my colleagues, I thought it doesn’t get much simpler than that. In retrospect, however, the simplicity of that statement belies what is often a much more critical and complex question, not only for our students, but also for ministry practitioners who have been about their Father’s business for many years.
As a faculty personality in the Ministry Division with almost three decades of vocational ministry in the local church, I have spent a lot of time and research on the subject of God’s call—personally, professionally (begging Piper’s pardon here), and pastorally. In dialogue with others who are much more qualified in scholarship and experience, I would like to present the following possibility (which can be demonstrated biblically, exegetically, and theologically).
The “calling” of God consists of three equal parts: charismas, character and competency.
In this blog post, I would like to explore what I consider the first essential component, that of charismas (the “gifting” of God). In the coming weeks, I will also explore character and competency.
Many seminary students ask the important question, “How do I discern and articulate God’s call on my life for ministry?” My response is to begin with the One who calls. That is to say, when we consider God’s “call” on our lives—other than the call to salvation—we should begin with recognizing that knowing and being capable of this call to serve is borne out of a highly sought out and committed relationship with Him. It is only after much and ongoing prayer and communication with God that one can ever hope to discern God’s will and recognize His voice.
Charismas, then, is a gift of God that is expressed as an extension of His grace whereby He provides the capacity to carry out His plan of evangelism, redemption and discipleship. Our ability does not come from a particular qualification or acquired skill set (I believe these abilities come later, in competency development), but as the result of God’s intention for our lives. The public ministry of Jesus provides both an example and an archetype (or pattern) for his followers. At Christ’s baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus to confirm and approve of His ministry assignment. Likewise, Jesus begins His declaration of public ministry by quoting Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2). Isaiah further reveals that this Spirit provided a six-fold gift set: “…the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, and the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2).
Even when taken as Messianic texts, these passages are applicable to and indicative of all those in the Davidic monarchy and provide a pattern for all followers of Jesus. In Jesus’ humanity, He demonstrated what was necessary and required for success in ministry. I believe that, while Christ possessed all the power of the Godhead, He chose instead to exercise complete dependence on the Holy Spirit. By doing so, His humanity became enhanced and His capacity for ministry was increased.
Therefore, if we desire to carry out the will of the Father, we must have an extraordinary power granted by the Holy Spirit arising out of a daily, disciplined, devotional practice of prayer and meditation on His Word. Through this relationship and empowerment, we are enabled to serve beyond our natural capabilities.
Scripture suggests, too, that this special empowering extends to all tasks within God’s redemptive work. The Spirit of God “filled” Bezalel and Oholiab so they could build the tabernacle (Exodus 31:2-3; 36:1-2), and the Spirit of the Lord came on Saul so he could live as God’s king of Israel (1 Samuel 10). Saul’s experience also warns us that failure to use the gifting God provides, can result in a departing of this enhanced capacity. (I have often mused on this in a non-ministry capacity as a vocalist. Possessing pitch and musical comprehension can be both a natural gift and an acquired one. There is something very special about using this gift in the worship experience that is unique and decidedly enhanced, as opposed to other contexts. In my Pentecostal persuasion, I do not hesitate to describe this as “the moving of the Holy Spirit” particular to a Psalmist ministry.)
This leads to a very important insight for us today, namely that charismas is the formational context necessary for establishing and enhancing a skill set for doing the work one is called or assigned by God to do.
The Apostle Paul states that it is not him (Paul) but Christ at work in him. He teaches his protégés Timothy and Titus that their persistence in ministry is more about their relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father, than about their particular strengths, skills and intelligence. Jesus Himself lets His disciples know that, apart from the Holy Spirit and Himself, they can do nothing. His admonition that the disciples wait in Jerusalem “to receive power” prior to dispersing for the ministry makes it abundantly clear that this power is a requirement for the assignment.
How does this understanding of charismas impact life at GRTS? In the ministry residency component of many students’ degree tracks, I (and others) constantly emphasize and re-emphasize the necessity of being totally dependent on Christ and totally accountable within the faith community. This emphasis is always at the heart of what constitutes biblical and spiritual formation for ministry leadership. While I acknowledge God can and does accomplish His will through those who do not know Him (Assyria, Babylon, others), He works in a decidedly different way in the lives of those who profess Him as Lord and Savior.
Simply put, effectiveness without Him is nothing in comparison to the effectiveness we can achieve in and through Him. Charismas is vital to a call to ministry.