Friday, August 24, 2012

The Scarcity of True Ministers: William Perkins

All men are flesh and blood. In that respect they must be allured and won to embrace this vocation by the kind of arguments which may well persuade flesh and blood. The world has had a careless attitude about this in every age. Consequently in the law. God gave careful instructions for the maintenance of the Levites (Num. 18:26). But especially now, under the gospel, the ministerial calling is poorly provided for, even although it deserves to be rewarded most of all. Certainly it would be an honourable Christian policy to make at least good provision for this calling, so that men of the worthiest gifts might be won for it.
The lack of such provision is the reason why so many young men with unusual ability and great prospects turn to other vocations, especially law. That is where most of the sharpest minds in our nation are employed. Why? Because in legal practice they have all the means for their advance, whereas the ministry, generally speaking, yields nothing but a clear road to poverty.
This is a great blemish on our church. I wish it were not true that the Roman Catholics, those children of this world, are wiser (in this particular area), than the church of God. Reformation here is a work worth the labour of both prince and people.
Unless special attention is given to this matter, it will be left unreformed. No doubt, in the Old Testament period, if God Himself had not given direct orders for the material support of the Levites, they would have suffered the same privation as the ministry does today. These considerations, taken together, produce an infallible argument. For who will accept such vile contempt and such a weighty responsibility for no reward? But where there is so much contempt and such a heavy burden, yet such a poor reward, is it any wonder that a good minister is 'one in a thousand"?
The notion of the allure of the calling of the lawyer drew this to my mind.  I address it with some ambivalence.  Certainly, the church would not want those solely enticed by financial considerations to enter into the gospel ministry.  Would we want a pastor who chose the ministry over the law solely due to salary?  Certainly not.  However, we must acknowledge that no decision normally stems from a single consideration.  Consider a man with a family who could not afford to enter the diminished remuneration of the ministry and fulfill his biblical obligation to provide for his family.  To the contrary, how many selfish and indolent sons have entered the ministry thinking it a safe and easy income?

Laying aside for the moment the financial situation, Perkins reminds us of the perennial struggle of the church: few true ministers, low income to true ministers, and poor ministerial candidates.  Perhaps a better approach than fiscal concerns would be to engage in a concerted program of "cherry picking" ministerial candidates.  Instead of laying hands on any due to the dearth of available manpower, we might begin looking at a younger age to encourage those adept at serious study and clear communication to consider the ministerial vocation.  Those planning to seek the legal profession might consider profitably applying their gifts to the ministerial vocation. (in another place, I shall discuss the priority of legal or ministerial need, since both evidence a dearth of competent members)

The church normally exercises its responsibility to support and validate a persons call after they possess an inkling of their calling.  Customarily, the individual's inward call of the Holy Spirit precedes the church's recognition and outward calling.  What if the church alerts men to the fact that their gifts make them qualified for the ministerial vocation?  This might make some susceptible to entering the ministry doe to peer pressure, ignoring the absence of the inward call.  Careful shepherding should prevent this particular evil.

The scarcity of true ministers demands the concerted effort of the church to remedy the deficit.  Mere financial adjustments produce more dangers than it alleviates.  Instead, we must adopt a multifaceted approach that provides the church with true ministers.  As Perkins indicates, it takes a special gifting to succeed in a vocation filled with "so much contempt and such a heavy burden."  It demands intellectual rigor, stamina, character, persistence, compassion, and patience.  Every true minister faces the scorn of the world and the burden of the sheep.  Therefor, it does not shock us that so few become true ministers.  The scarcity of true ministers (according to my favorite economist) elevates their value and as such, requires that we treat them appropriately.  Thus, I end with these instructive words from Perkins.
Do you have a godly pastor? Confer with him. Go to him for comfort and counsel; profit from his company, sit under his ministry frequently; count him worthy of 'double honour' (I Tim. 5:17). Never imagine that it is a small or commonplace blessing to have 'one of a thousand'. Thank God for giving this mercy to you, which he has denied to so many others. For some have no minister while others have a minister, who, alas, is not 'one of a thousand'.

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