Along with a sense of call (or perhaps a part of it) comes the ability and desire to study. We in Reformed circles have always insisted upon an educated clergy. And we must continue to insist on that, perhaps now more than ever before. Paul tells Timothy to guard the deposit which he has received, and to have nothing to do with myths and old wives’ tales (I Tim. 4:7). All the weird sects that have mushroomed in the last century have captured untold millions with their seductive teachings. People who are well-grounded in the Scriptures will not become victims of such cults. For that reason, too, we need ministers who can rightly divide (correctly handle) the word of truth. For that reason we need good Reformed seminaries who can teach others.
But ministers must also have an understanding of the kind of world we live in it. They must have a good general knowledge of life as we live it in the 21st century.
Lloyd Jones encourages prospective ministers to engage in some other vocation before entering the seminary. (Several Mid-American students have done this over the years. The ministry for them was a second career. This will stand them in good stead.) A student who has never been outside the four walls of a classroom is going to have trouble understanding the world beyond those walls. Listen to Lloyd Jones:
There are those who say, and I tend to agree with them, that it would be good for all men who enter the ministry to have some preliminary experience of living life in the world, in a business or profession. They query the wisdom of a system whereby a young man goes from school and college directly to a seminary and then into the ministry without having any experience outside that. There is the danger of putting it at its lowest, of an over-theoretical and intellectual approach; so that the man in the pulpit is really divorced from the life of the people who are sitting in the pews and listening to him. So general knowledge and experience are of inestimable value … This general knowledge and information will be of great value to the preacher and his preaching. It will help him and clothe the message which he is giving to the people. It also will make it easier for the people to follow and assimilate his preaching into their lives.
These are basic qualifications. A man may be a good Christian, and he may be many other things; but if he is lacking in these qualities he is not going to make a preacher. He must be, furthermore, a man who has an understanding of people and of human nature. These are general qualities and characteristics that should be looked for and on which we must insist.
I have never regretted the fact that I farmed seven years before going into the ministry. Fact is, I’ve often thanked the Lord for it. It has made me a better minister.
Closely related to the above, and something of vital importance, is maturity. Especially personal maturity and spiritual maturity. This is fundamentally important. A minister who lacks this is in the wrong place. Lloyd Jones says it well:
It is surely clear that if he is a man who is always struggling with problems and difficulties and perplexities himself and trying to discover truth or if he is so uncertain that he is always influenced by the last book he reads, and is ‘carried about by every wind of doctrine’ and every new theological fashion, it is clear that he is ipso facto a man who is not called to the ministry. A man who has great problems himself and is in a state of perplexity is clearly not one who is fitted to be a preacher, because he will be preaching to people with problems and his primary function is to help them to deal with them. ‘How can the blind lead the blind?’ is our Lord’s own question in such a situation.
Rev. Jelle Tuininga is an emeritus pastor in the URC living in Lethbridge, Alberta.