Listening for God’s Call

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Pastors and mature believers in the congregation need to remain sensitive to those among them who display evidence of gifts and character that might signal God’s call on their lives. Sermons and lessons dealing with the call ought to become ordinary parts of the congregation’s diet. Pastors should occasionally refer to their own story of calling as a way of both publicly reaffirming their commitment to it and inviting others to consider God’s call on their lives. If a called ministry is as vital a conviction for Baptists as it appears, then creating an environment in which people learn to listen for and obey God’s call would be a reasonable extension of our theology into our practice.

R. Robert Creech, Pastoral Theology in the Baptist Tradition: Distinctives and Directions for the Contemporary Church, p. 47

This is exactly right.

I’m finding myself much more receptive and sympathetic to Creech’s account of call and its place within the life of the church body and in the life of the Christ-follower. I’ve been reading other accounts of calling; a slew of books has been published this summer that I’ve been less agreeable toward.

All are called to follow Christ. The outworking of that calling, however, is individual and specific, and it is possible for a person within the fellowship to develop the conviction that their task is to shepherd the congregation and preach the gospel.

Creech notes that pastoral leaders can create an environment where people learn to listen for and obey God’s call. They cannot force God to call anyone. But Baptist theology and practice can lead to the cultivation of a posture toward God that is receptive to God’s calling, not only in the preaching of the Word, but also through the testimony of the saints, the pastor included.

Women in Church Leadership: Yes!

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David and I stopped in for a haircut at Champions Salon & Barber on Friday, and my stylist mentioned women in church leadership. She apologized for bringing up something that is divisive, so we talked about wearing masks instead.

Molly and I have been married for seventeen years, and even before we begun dating I had moved from complementarianism to egalitarianism regarding women in church leadership. In no way did I look past biblical texts which appear to prohibit women in leadership roles. Rather, I simply found complementarian interpretations of these texts to be less persuasive and the overall redemptive arc of the Bible’s narrative toward women in leadership to be more compelling.

I continue to read on this topic, and have only deepened in my conviction that men and women uniquely and together best serve the church when each, irrespective of gender, is honored in light of both calling and giftings. Experientially, I have continue to benefit greatly from the leadership and ministry of women, as I have done in the past, not only in children’s Sunday school, but in various other aspects of congregational life.

I suspect that over the course of my lifetime these questions will continue to be debated. The hermeunitcal questions are challenging. But among evangelical Christians, it appears that attitudes may be changing. Based on his research findings, Ryan Burge reports: “The results of a recent survey once again indicate that most evangelical Protestants are in favor of seeing women take on more prominent positions in the church.”

Burge and colleagues found:

In a survey I fielded along with political scientists Paul Djupe and Hannah Smothers back in March, 8 in 10 self-identified evangelicals said they agree with women teaching Sunday school, leading worship at church services, and preaching during women’s conferences or retreats.

Slightly fewer endorsed women preaching during church services, but 7 in 10 were in favor, according to the research, conducted by a team of political scientists in March 2020.

One detail that surprised me in Burge’s findings: support for women pastors was significant among Southern Baptist respondents.

It’s no surprise most evangelical Christians were most comfortable with women leading in Sunday school classes and when women are speaking to women. Yet despite a slight drop in favorability, there was still strong support for women preachers on Sundays, in congregational worship.

Burge’s group also uncovered interesting data pertaining to age demographics and theology. Evangelicals 65 and older are more likely to disagree with women preaching, while respondents 55 to 64 are more open. Younger evangelicals between 18 and 35 are more likely to align with the oldest demographic. The most surprisingly theological correlation: “When the sample is restricted to just those who believe that the Bible is literally true, three-quarters of those who attend services multiple times a week agree with women preaching during weekend services.” Those attending church most often also demonstrated the highest levels of support for women in the pulpit.

Just because something is popular does not make it true, and vice versa. Convictions should always be held on the basis of sound biblical hermeneutics and reason. Otherwise, sentiments will only be based on the direction of the wind.

Nevertheless, I take this as an encouraging sign. When women are given the space to lead according to calling and gifts, the church is blessed.

The View of the Moment, or the Eternal

It is hard to judge the significance of our actions when so much of our life is mundane, repetitive, routine. We grow up, get educated, get a job, gain friendships, and go on with our days. Then we ask, “Is this it?”

This past week I listened to a friend who was reflecting on whether or not they were doing enough, whether they were settling, or if they should push, take risks, and do something big, whatever that might be. They wondered if they were missing out, whether or not they should be more like other friends in their same stage of life who had broken radically with their past, traveled the world, found employment in far off places, and appeared to be living a more exciting life. They wondered if that could be them, if those possibilities were open, or not.

These ponderings, and the longings associated with them, are both common and natural. It is good to be reflective and to ask if the path chosen is right, proper, and fitting. I thought every question, every thought being voiced by my friend was admirable and good, demonstrating self-awareness, humility, and an openness to change.

But to ask those questions, and to answer them well, another layer is needed. What is that layer?

It is easy to say, but hard to do.

We need evaluative criteria by which to judge the answers, to hold in check longings and desires which may only reflect our tendency to compare or our propensity for disquiet and restlessness, or, more darkly, our enviousness. There is a need for a sense not only of what is good, but what is good for me. Once we have established our criteria, we do the hard work of applying it to the life, circumstance, and the unique contours of the self, the person.

This isn’t easy to do. Why? Because we tend to judge our choices, and the choices of others, on the basis of a value set that has been determined by our time and place, what Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard called a “contemporary” or “the moment.” Kierkegaard saw that we needed another vantage, “the Eternal,” to determine the significance of an action, a choice, a life, or an accomplishment.

The “view of the moment” is often what we utilize in making judgments. But those same moments, if eternally understood, may be far more significant than we have imagined.

In Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, Kierkegaard writes:

By the help of a sense perception, a living generation often believes itself able to pass judgment on a past generation, because it misunderstood the Good. And it is even guilty of committing the same offense against a contemporary. And yet it is just in regard to his contemporary that a man should know whether he has the view of the moment, or the view of the Eternal. At some later date, it is no art to decorate the graves of the noble and to say, “If they had only lived now,” now–just as we are starting to do the same thing against a contemporary. For the difficulty and the test of what dwells in the one who judges is precisely–the contemporary. The view of the moment is the opinion which in an earthly and busy sense decides whether a man accomplishes anything or not. And in this sense, nothing in the world has ever been so completely lost as was Christianity at the time that Christ was crucified. And in the understanding of the moment, never in the world has anyone accomplished so little by the sacrifice of a consecrated life as did Jesus Christ. And yet in the same instant, eternally understood, He had accomplished all. For He did not foolishly judge by the result that was not yet there, or more rightly (for here is the conflict and battleground of the two interpretations of what is meant by “accomplishing”) the result was indeed there.

Kierkegaard understood that the full result of our actions, though “there,” may not be fully seen by us in our time or moment.

In our daily lives, our actions, choices, rhythms and routines may appear to us to be mundane, but eternally understood those same actions may be filled with an incomprehensible significance we can only partially imagine. We need a vision of the Good, and the perspective of the Eternal.

This realization is a step, but only a small one, toward being more present to the people and responsibilities you assume each day, for while it is only natural to wonder whether one is stewarding one’s life well, we should not miss the opportunity to live in view of the Eternal and the Good, that which will last and never pass away, the kingdom of God, which is near and at hand.