I was eleven and knew I wanted to be a doctor; the medical kind who wore starched-stiff, long white coats and operated on people’s arms, legs, and brains. I entered Government High School, the most prestigious public high school in the Bahamas, after passing the Common Entrance Exam. The path was clear. Excel in academics and stay on the university track. Pass eight Ordinary Level subjects (including biology, chemistry and physics). Pass three Advanced Level subjects and proceed to a university in England, Canada, or Jamaica for pre-med studies before entering medical school. Four years of medical school to get my M.D., a couple years of residency, perhaps a fellowship, and then open my own practice with lots of letters behind my name.
At fifteen, I heard from the Spirit who implanted within me an overwhelming desire to serve God with my whole life and devote everything to His kingdom. Although I had grown up in a wonderful congregation, was glued into Sunday school, and a regular in the youth ministry, I had no clue what to do next. I had a boatload of questions, some of which I did not clearly frame to anyone. What’s the difference between being called as an ordinary believer and being called “to the ministry?” Does being called “to the ministry” require special education or training? How do I prove to everyone else that I am specially called by God? How do I know what kind of ministry God wants me to do? What if people don’t respond to my sermons like they respond to the pastor’s? How much money do pastors make? Do they get more money if they go to school? Is there such a thing as a school for preachers? With a deep desire to serve the Lord, for me, ignorance was not bliss.
Educating for Ministry
I am a few decades removed from those early days but the questions I asked myself are entirely relevant for the Church of God of Prophecy as it seeks to chart a course for the decades to come, if our Lord would tarry. How does a movement come alongside young men and women into whose hearts the Spirit of God has deposited a flame and nurture them into glowing firebrands? How can the church do it consistently while at the same time honoring the amazing uniqueness of each person’s giftings and callings? How can the Church make the path clear so that called individuals know which way to go to fulfill the call God has put in their hearts? Walter Brueggemann makes a trenchant observation that is hard to argue with: Every community that wants to last beyond a single generation must concern itself with education. Education has to do with the maintenance of a community through the generations. This maintenance must assure enough continuity of vision, value, and perception so that the community sustains its self-identity. At the same time, such maintenance must assure enough freedom and novelty so that the community can survive in and be pertinent to new circumstances.1 This movement cannot thrive unless it employs clear and consistent pathways to discern, identify, and educate God-called, Spirit-impassioned leaders at every level to co-labor with God in His harvest. The church as the community of redeemed, diverse, and spiritually gifted people plays a vital role in this process. No baby comes out of the womb full grown. That would actually be considered a monstrosity. Every God-called leader develops gradually through a combination of input from the Spirit, the Word, and the community of God’s people.
Adding to a person’s base of knowledge and skills through various kinds of training is helpful but clear developmental pathways are needed for all whom God calls. Licensure is a key strategy through which the church accompanies the Spirit and the Word in developing those whom God has called. Licensure represents a key foundation for developing ministerial leaders in a way that is consistent. Fundamental purposes of licensure include testing/discernment of the Spirit’s call to vocational Christian ministry; recognition/affirmation of the call by the church; equipping/training of those who have responded to God’s call; and facilitating proper placement in ministry roles for greatest fruitfulness. The formal and informal dynamics of education that are part of a robust licensure process have wonderful potential to assist the church in helping an individual determine if, and to what, God has called him or her. Recognition of an individual’s call most often happens in a person’s local church among those who can see firsthand their character, budding gifts and undeveloped skills. It is in close knit relationships within a local congregation that motives can be examined, ministries tried to determine which gifts are resident, what fruit is growing, and which areas of character need attention and development. The possession of a license should be more than a paper credential; it should signify that the minister has the character, knowledge, and competence to function fruitfully in the work of the kingdom of God.
The Who and How of Equipping
The vision statement of the Church of God of Prophecy gives the movement a bullseye to shoot for in its corporate life. We are committed to being a Christ-exalting, holiness, Spirit-filled, all-nations, disciple-making, church-planting movement with a passion for Christian union. What kinds of leaders are needed to achieve such a lofty vision? One of the overarching leadership development goals is to “discern, identify, equip, and deploy called, anointed, gifted leaders.” We need leaders who swim against the dominant cultural tide of professionalization that sees ministry as merely a profession chosen by the individual, pursued through academic avenues, and validated by paper credentials. Leaders must have a clear sense of calling by God and an intimacy with God that shows up in personal integrity, relational health and ability to function fruitfully in ministry based on spiritual gifts, relevant knowledge and key competencies. Such leaders are marked by the Spirit’s unction, wisdom, and character.
How do we equip such leaders? Think of the educational, forming, and developmental processes as a three-legged stool. One leg is orthodoxy. That word simply points to getting certain truths into people’s minds. There are things leaders must know. It’s the right knowledge, information, or doctrine that underscores the need for an intellectual grasp of ministry. What you know is key. The second leg is orthopraxy. This refers to the action component. Ministry involves practice or the performance of certain actions. A preacher who does not know how to preach is guilty of malpractice. Forming skilled pastors, youth directors, or children’s workers requires learning in the process of doing and reflecting on actual ministry. What you can do matters a lot.
The third leg is orthopathy or right affections which signals the importance of shaping the inner being or the character. Educating leaders must always involve spiritual identity formation. Who you are is essential to leadership development. Educating leaders requires input that integrates knowing, doing, and being. Our development of leaders for the church must identify the called and educate these gifted individuals for Spirit-energized functioning through clear, consistent pathways that are easily understood throughout the movement.
1 Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982, 1.Licensure—A Tool for Development