About a week ago I had the opportunity to finish Test, Train, Affirm and Send Into Ministry: Recovering the Local Church's Responsibility in the External Call by Brian Croft. Brian is a local pastor here in Louisville at Auburndale Baptist Church. I have the privilege of knowing Brian, namely through good friends who attend ABC as well as my own occasional visits to their Sunday night services (where much of the content for this book is worked out). I have witnessed this book lived out in person through Brian's leadership, and can testify that he is thoroughly committed to testing, training, and affirming future pastors for ministry. You can see some evidence of that here. He also has a helpful blog dealing with practical church issues that you can scope here.
Now, on to the good stuff.
So What Is This Book About?
It's true that every day pastors and leaders destroy their lives, families, and churches because they've taken on a teaching position that requires an inward godliness that they do not posses. But, who's to stand in the way of a man who feels "called to ministry?" Shouldn't there be a visible and objective way to verify--even reject-- that someone's invisible and subjective desire for church leadership is truly God-given?
Bryan Croft emphatically answers, "Yes!" Who is to have the final say that a man should or should not enter into a position of church leadership? Seminaries? College ministries? Summer camps? Good buddies? You're own evaluation? No, argues Croft:
"The problem . . . is that none of these options has been been biblically commissioned by God to take the full and ultimate responsibility for testing, training, affirming, and sending those who are called to be pastors and missionaries. . . . It is the local church that God has appointed to be the agent to test, train, affirm and send those who are called." (33).
Though, as Brian argues, an "internal call" is God-given and indispensable aspect of one's call to ministry, many feel no need to go beyond this subjective assurance and allow a local church to issue an "external call" to ministry. Mix that in with how our culture applauds individual autonomy, and it follows that anyone--even a church--who stands in the way of one's ministry dreams may be guilty of failing to comply with the will of God.
Yet, according to Croft, the local church is given the primary task of affirming the internal call of future shepherds. Failure to comply--whether on the individual or church level--puts not only the individual's future ministry at risk, but also the reputation of Christ's church as a whole.
Brian's book is short and is thus accessible. One can read it in a matter of days, but don't let the size fool you. You will be challenged and encouraged to consider your calling. In a day when it is acceptable for one to navigate through life on sheer subjectivity and emotion, listening to the corrective criticism of others does not come natural. Brian's book confronts ministry individualism and reminds his readers that God is concerned with the glory of His church before the glory of individual ministers. In a multitude of counselors, plans succeed (Prov. 15:22)
Think you're called to ministry? Brian's book has the potential to help you take the proper steps in the right direction. However, the right steps may involve stepping away from leadership if the church does not affirm that you are called. The latter prevents you from standing before Christ and explaining to Him why you destroyed your life because you were too prideful to let His people test, train, affirm, and send you into ministry.
Much is at stake.