I came across two unrelated comments today on the pastoral ministry. The first comment was from Booker T. Washington in his autobiography Up From Slavery.
Washington was born into slavery in the United State of America and went on to found Tuskegee University after emancipation in 1863. In his comments on the attitudes of the former slaves toward manual labour, Washington recounts the words of a particular former slave on a hot day in the cotton fields: “O Lawd, de cotton am so grassy, de work am so hard, and the sun am so hot dat I b’lieve dis darky am called to preach!” (Dell Publishing, 1965, p. 96).
The second voice also comes from America, but this time in 1723 as Jonathan Edwards finishes his masters at Yale University. Edwards’ “voice” speaks through actions in this case; actions put into words by Philip Howard: “Though he supplied the pulpit of a small church in New York City for several months, he could not agree to accept a permanent charge until he had spent six years in study after graduation from college” (Howard, ed., The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, Baker, 1949, p. 17, emphasis in original).
A godly reticence?
These contrasting views raise some worthwhile questions. Which attitude is more common in our generation? Is Edwards’ approach worth emulating? Is it possible that those least willing to take the mantle of pastoral ministry are those most suited to it? How will a young man know whether his urge to wait is wise or whether he should step into pastoral ministry in spite of his reticence?
Dr. Samuel Miller, professor at Princeton University years after Edwards’ presidency there, remarked on both Calvin and Edwards’ decision to study for years before entering the pastoral ministry:
When will young men, unspeakably inferior to these master-minds, both in capacity and attainment, learn to resist that spirit of superficial, presumptuous haste, which is hurrying them prematurely into the pulpit, and burdening the church, to a lamentable extent, with ‘blind leaders of the blind’? (Howard, p. 17)
Strong words. But are they to be dismissed? Surely there is a place to point out Paul’s exhortation to Timothy not to let anyone look down on his youthfulness (1 Timothy 4:12). Still, Timothy was in his thirties at the time of this exhortation, while Edwards took his first permanent pastorate at age 23.
The dignity of the office
There is much to be said for the importance of bringing dignity to an office. No leader illustrates this more powerfully than Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. In an age when the idea of monarchy is easily viewed as comically anachronistic, the Queen has garnered profound respect—even affection—and in so doing built a place for the monarchy in the 21st century.
It is in this line of thinking that it is worth noting that Edwards and Calvin did not hold back out of a desire to develop intellectually merely. Indeed, Calvin had already penned the first edition of his theological pièce de résistance, his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Rather, it seems they held back, at least to some extent, out of respect for the gravity of the office and the desire to grow in maturity before entering it.
I have only partially formed ideas about the answers to the questions raised here. But then sometimes raising the question is the most important part. Perhaps you have insights or additional questions to raise?
Grace to you.