Some of the most painful experiences I have had in ministry is having to inform a dear brother in our church that the pastors are not comfortable affirming him for gospel ministry. Regardless the reason, there is no easy way to break this to an individual and sometimes no clear-cut disqualifying issues are known. But for those in your church who warrant reasons to hesitate granting an external call, here are a few suggestions for you to consider as you wrestle with each case by case situation:
– Be honest from beginning to end: From the moment a brother approaches you about his internal calling, begin to evaluate and discuss his apparent gifts as well as character flaws as soon as you see them so he knows what they are and he can begin to address them. For example, we had a brother we just affirmed and sent out of our church who a couple of years ago had major issues of “fear of man” that would have paralyzed him in the ministry. I am convinced because it was addressed early, he was given plenty of time to deal with that issue. By God’s grace, he grew and matured from that struggle, but if he had not, it would have been more understandable to him if the pastors would not have felt comfortable to recommend him to the congregation. Sparing someone’s feelings of their potentially disqualifying qualities will only make it worse when they prevent him from actually being affirmed.
– Realize you are not God: This is good to remind ourselves of in general, but especially in these decisions. Though God has called the local church to train and affirm men for ministry, we are not God. In other words, we are not inerrant, infallible, all-wise, and Omniscient. As fallible human beings, we should not determine our evaluation is the final judgment. These decisions must be made, but approached humbly, sensitively, and prayerfully that God would lead you to that conclusion which would reflect his will.
– Realize God has appointed the church responsible: Pastors and their local churches are not God. Yet, that doesn’t exempt us from our biblical responsiblity to test, train, affirm, and send. There will be many situations that a clear direction is not given. One of the greatest challenges for our church are those who don’t seem to possess any “disqualifying characteristics” but fail to exude clear gifts for pastoral ministry that help make this decision more distinct. In these situations, we are honest with the individual of our assessment and try to seek God’s wisdom and discernment together (with them) on how to proceed. Similar to the challenges of church discipline, the pastors and congregation must make hard, life-altering, and authoritative decisions without knowing all that God knows about the situation or the individual. Nevertheless, we are to proceed with faith, humility, and a trust that God appointed us in this task and will work through the pastors and congregation to bring about his will.
Finally, here is a short list of deficiencies in a brother’s life that would prevent us from a confident affirmation of him. These are concerns in his life that would not be clearly exposed by the biblical qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9), but prudence and wisdom demands caution if they exist in any prominent form:
– A fragile marriage, a teaching ministry without apparent fruit, unwise and undisciplined financial practices, paralyzing struggles with fear of man, consistent anger problem, reoccurring bondage to a certain sin, lack of teachability and humility, and bad people skills…to name a few.