What does a man do when the borders of the determinants of his future life outcome are so diffuse that a pragmatic choice between his available alternatives is neither here nor there? And who does he turn to when a larger proportion of tangible deliverables needed for the achievement of his structured strategic goals seem to be in the hands of people he cannot control and under situations that are outside his purview or removed from his sphere of influence. He faced such a quandary.
Although a committed Christian, he developed a habit of reading and had a comprehensive reading list that encompassed both worldly and Christian literature. But he mostly read for pleasure, the autobiographical accounts of the rich and the famous and came away with a mixed picture. Some people achieved greatness through the sheer force of their will and the strength of their personality; others through inordinate hard work; others had success entrusted unto them through the generational transfer of advantage - as children of privilege who used their high powered familial connections to secure more influence, to obtain more power and to procure more wealth and then some others fortuitously stumbled onto success. He is a long way away from his personal goal of becoming rich and famous and was assiduously counting the underlying cost that such great personal achievement will present.
But his interests were divided between a preacher and a scientist and his philosophical orientations/inclinations seemed at odds as he struggled to reconcile the thought of merging seemingly disparate professions. He has to choose.
For reasons that he ascribed to the stirring of the Holy Spirit, the call to preach was stronger and its urge was reinforced anytime he bowed his head in prayer. Christian ministry seems an obvious choice for him: his self-reported knowledge of the scripture is superb-he has read the Bible from cover to cover; he prays daily; he tries to love his neighbour with purity of thoughts and clarity of action and he witnesses to the lost about the redemptive power of Christ.
God was talking to him and using all available spiritual means to call him to a life of full-time ministry. A divinely inspired open door of service has been presented and its an urge that he cannot refuse. So he will be the preacher, he has decided. Not just any preacher but one skilful in the holistic interpretation of the word-precept upon precept, word upon word, rightly dividing the word of truth. That stance represented his effort to expand his horizon beyond the trite rhetoric about the mundane interpretation of the word. Adding a strong intellectual engagement to the mix of Biblical doctrines will enrich listeners understanding. He counted his youth as advantageous as Timothy’s youth was in Biblical times. He will become a seminary-trained preacher who brings to Biblical interpretation an intellectual flavor that goes beyond the rhetorical dogma of just accepting things as the word of God says they are. There is more to Biblical interpretation than the Bible says it so just accept it as the irrevocable, irreversible word of God. He found this hermeneutic approach narrow; a kind of retreat from worldly affairs.
And then the admission letter came from a seminary in the USA. He needs funds to purchase his air ticket. Of necessity, he has to make regular rounds to the wealthy in the Church to solicit funds. You no longer see boys like that who put academia before ministry, he reasoned. He will not present himself as a beggar. He will simply let them see by the way he sees God’s call. God has opened a door of service that he is jointly with them strongly committed to the execution of the great commission.
His first point of call was Deacon X. Deacon X has built a public Christian persona with an enviable reputation around humility - to be seen and viewed as humble has become a daily overbearing ritual that he practiced to tedium. The way he starts all his sentences with “Please” and ends his conversations with “Thank God for God” sounds so contrived that no one believed it came from a living human exposed to normal human passions. He cornered Deacon X after Friday’s prayer meeting and calmly stated his request.
“A seminary in Holland has offered me admission to come over to study tuition-free up to my Doctor of Divinity. Here’s my admission letter. Just show up, they seemed to imply. I am here to ask you to lend me money to buy my air-ticket to Holland? I’ll repay the loan as soon as I find my feet in Holland.”
“Praise God for God! Please, it’s unfortunate. You just came a little late. I just used up all our savings on this family building project. But do not despair for God will make a way where there seems to be none. Remember, he’s still the God who parted the Red Sea and created a passage on dry land. Nothing is too difficult for him!”
He kept his head down and walked away quietly. After worship on Sunday, he hit Deacon Y with the news of his admission and followed it up with his request for a loan.
“Business has been particularly slow and we barely have enough to meet our daily living allowance.”
Understandable caution of people who loan out money: Would he pay me back; if he doesn’t payback what is my course of action? Just pray and leave it to God? An air ticket is too much money to be left as a bad debt. But you couldn’t be sure that the Deacon Y had invented this scenario of slow business just to get rid of him. Everyman is capable of deceit, including born-gain tongues-speaking Christians and you’ll be remiss not to anticipate it.
His faith began to waiver. Why did God open this door to study only to close it at the end with lack of funds? Just to see the duplicity of the elders and the rich in the church? He stands naked before God, he claims, and will do what His purpose is not what will be good for him. It was Deacon Z’s turn to decline his request for a loan and the scene played out in Deacon Z’s posh 3-story-30 rooms building.
“I came over because you’re a good man; an-approachable, generous and God-fearing Christian. I thought you’re the only one to help me.”
Deacon Z seemed remote and dissociated from the conversation.
“I think you know me. He continued waging his index finger for emphasis. We have worked together for a long time. I’m a man you can trust. Give me the chance to show you what blessings I can be to this ministry after I graduate with a Doctor of Divinity degree,” he was extra passionate in his plea.
“I need to pray about it. I’ll be right back with what God tells me.”
“What? You have to ask God whether or not to loan me money to go to the Seminary? The act of giving a loan is now a matter of divine revelation?
“In all your ways acknowledge God and He will direct your path.”
“Please God don’t tell him the answer is a no.” he implored God.
Deacon Z emerged after few minutes ebullient and triumphant.
“The words of the Lord are pure words. As silver tried in the furnace of the earth, purified seven times, the words of the Lord are pure words. God’s answer to my prayer was a resounding “no.” No, don’t give him the loan was God’s answer. No! Seminary training is not a necessary pre-requisite for effective minister of the gospel. After training, your preaching will all be mental and will not be powered by Holy Ghost anointing. Your messages will simply titillate the imaginations of hearers and not stir their hearts. Again, your words will all be mental-in your head-with no spiritual and Pentecostal fire to back it up. Signs and wonders hardly ever follow seminary trained preachers. What we have in church is just enough – continue to understudy the Pastor in like manner as Elisha understudied Elijah and you will become a Pastor in God’s own time.”
“How could the answer be a “no” when God told me expressly to go to the seminary as a prelude to full-time ministry work? I think you misheard God,” he found himself shouting almost inexplicably.
Mainstreaming of oral prophetic utterances and duelling answers to prayers seem to be at odds with written Biblical texts. But these are signs of the times and I heard from God and you did not hear from God conflicts will continue.
“I did not mishear God. God spoke clearly to me in the same way he has always spoken to me for the past 30 years of Christian service. And his answer was unmistakeable and your feelings should have nothing to do with God’s answer to you. I think you have taken all this business too personal. Come back to Church. Continue to understudy the Pastor and God will make a way.
“You call this understudy? Holding his Bible, making his tea, carrying his water and running errands for him? Driving him around? You call that preparation for the kingdom business? Lord have mercy. Maybe when the emotions die down, I will go back to this dead-end venture but for now I will press on,” he said somberly. Then Deacon Z gave him the trademark unflappable look. And then he knew right then that the conversation has ended.
The Pastor has heard through the grapevine about his solicitation for funds from Church members without his prior approval. He wasn’t amused and he wasn’t going to hide his feelings about a subordinate’s breach of power protocol.
He opened his conversation, not by addressing his request for a loan but by touting that attendance has been up and the presence of the Holy Spirit seemed to be particularly strong these days in church. For the past 3 weeks I always walk out after service asking myself “what happened to us in church today. Oh praise God. The Holy Ghost is at work. Glory to God! ” And now to your specific request: “Why do you want to attend a seminary before you engage in full-time Christian service?”
“I want to be trained so I will be able to rightly divide the word of truth.” The Pastor was surprised he used the word “rightly.”
“What have we been doing here all these years of ministry before you came along? Joking? Just drumming and dancing? Proclaiming falsehoods? Rightly dividing the word?”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that. All I am saying is that the training will be beneficial to my turn of service.”
“The Church has not earmark funds for your specific request. My word of advice to you is to continue your good work and God will put your feet on solid grounds in his own time; God will put a smile back on your face; God will anoint your head with the oil of gladness and God will make you prosper indeed.”
“Perhaps, there might be a resolution if you talk to the Deacon Board,” he implored.
Being God’s lamppost comes with responsibilities that many preachers have shirked and have turned their churches into personal fiefdoms where accountability to the deacon board is an option not an obligation. For all their claims of relying solely on God’s call and on God’s direction and on God’s sustenance, preachers are human creatures who tend to follow their self-survival leanings and instinctual reflexes when financial decisions are at the fore.
“I tell the Deacon Board what to do and not vice versa.”
Contradictory positions on God’s vision and guidance always forces a show of one’s credentials in the kingdom business and the reasons for such duelling interests is generally considered to be due to human foibles and not to competing interest from God. Human responses to roadblocks have a way of showing inner character and its own way of revealing underlying truths about the people they encounter. Failure, like success, do not change the character of people, it merely reveals who they really are when they stand in the glow of the searchlight of inquiry.
But the Pastor’s denial was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. The Pastor’s decline triggered enthusiasm for the pursuit of alternatives. So profound did he view this rejections that his initial buoyant answer to the call for Christian ministry ebbed. No is also an answer to a prayerful cry and God sometimes talks to us through rejections and through denied requests and via slammed doors. Becoming a seminary-trained preacher quickly dropped down his list of priorities. For him it was time to focus on a new topic; a new way of survival and possibly a new way of raising funds for the seminary training. Although he was not proud of his reaction, his gut instincts agreed with his mental state.
The next day was one of high drama. As he canvassed the neighbourhood, knocking on doors, his invitation was presented with such heartfelt enthusiasm:
“I am starting a new Christian fellowship in the Basic School next door on Saturday 6:30 pm. Come and be blessed by God. There will be prayer, worship, and exhortations from the word. There will be testimonies about God’s goodness as well. The fellowship is inter-denominational and requires just a willing heart to attend. Come and become part of God’s new direction.”
As the pastor solemnly spoke during the “announcement time,” in Sunday’s service, cries from few women at the background portended to the gravity of his message. Brother A has been excommunicated for starting a personal fellowship unsanctioned by the Pastor and unaffiliated with the church. One cannot be a member of the church and be the head of an autonomous Christian fellowship simultaneously. No you cannot, with all sincerity.