Jul 05, 2023 | The Rev. Steven Morton

The gifts He gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastorsand teachers…”  (Ephesians 4:11)

What makes the local church a producer of excellent candidates for pastoral ministry?

In the sacred Scriptures, God does most of the heavy lifting in calling persons to a full-time vocation of serving and advancing God’s kingdom. We know the dramatic tales of the divine callings of Moses (Exodus 3), Samuel (I Samuel 3), Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1), Paul (Acts 9) and others. 

No one could miss those callings!  Yet admittedly, for most of us in ordained ministry these days, our “callings,” though no less profound, were often a lot less dramatic. And they usually involved the prolonged influence of a lot more people around us… People known as “the church.” 

Our most recent ordinands in the class of 2023—commissioned or ordained by Bishop John Schol at Annual Conference in May—all share the experience of having had local churches play a critical role in their emergence, as they refined their sense of divine calling to full-time ministry.

Clergy ordained and commissioned at the 2023 Eastern PA Annual Conference. From left: The Revs. Karen Bartkowski, Kathryn Swan, Towanda Connelly, Gabe Lopez and Jason Perkowski. Corbin Payne photo
  • “It was key lay and clergy leaders,” says the Rev. Jason Perkowski (Elder), “who challenged me to hear God’s call to teach, preach and lead, and who helped me to prayerfully discern my role.” He credits even folks who “knew they were taking a risk on me.”
  • The Rev. Karen Bartkowski (Elder) is grateful for those in the congregation who “saw and celebrated my gifts” and who encouraged “me with financial and prayerful support.” She cites particularly the already ordained-and-appointed pastors in the church who highlighted for everyone the incredible privilege of sharing “this journey together.”
  • As the Rev. Kathryn Swan begins her fulltime service as a Provisional Elder, she gives thanks for those voices in the local church which propel her to be an “agent of change…preaching hope in a weary world.”
  • And the Rev. Gabe Lopez (Elder) points specifically to “the local church’s openness towards diversity and inclusion (which) reminded me of the grand scope of God’s love. My calling is to share that good news.”

There is much drama and divine intervention inherent in many of the biblical Call stories. But what is equally evident is the diligent, steady human influence of the faith community that ultimately raises up excellent pastors and full-time workers in the church. 

It took Eli to help Samuel hear the voice of the Lord. Mordecai convinced Esther that her time was now. Timothy was groundless without his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. Paul’s sightless eyes were opened by Ananias. 

Your church has a critical role to play!

The local church today — your church! — has a critical role to play in identifying and verifying the “signs of a true apostle performed among you.” (II Corinthians 12:12)

Really? We might have a future preacher worshiping among us?Someone of influence and perception should ask that question. And once that future preacher is identified, leaders should garner the appropriate approvals and resources so that a new candidate is boldly “sent” forth to discern and respond to their call. (Romans 10:15) 

That process may have begun two thousand years ago in Antioch; but our congregations in Eastern Pennsylvania today must continue the joyful, spirited task of raising up gifted pastors and setting them apart for the work to which God is calling them. (Acts 13:1-3)  

The office of pastor in The United Methodist Church is noble indeed. But “one does not presume to take this honor (unless) called by God.” (Hebrews 5:4) The church’s need for gifted leadership is starkly apparent these days. Do we believe that the voice of God is still calling?  Let’s rachet up our expectation that God has designs on some yet-undeclared candidates among us to lead our future Church, and let’s hone the Antioch skills of setting them apart and sending them out.    

Questions for reflection and response:

1. Our pastors must be convinced of their Calling, absolutely. But sometimes the ecclesial call (the church’s nudge) precedes a would-be candidate’s private sense of God’s election. Where do you see evidence that God may be calling or using you to be an Eli, a Mordecai, an Ananias, Lois or Eunice to help someone else hear their Call?

2. What might your congregation do to honor your pastor on the anniversary of his/her appointment to your church or perhaps to celebrate the anniversary of his or her call to ministry or ordination?

3. Our clergy pool in EPA is aging rapidly. We love our older pastors; but what do you suppose are the challenges to raising up young clergy under 40 these days?  What’s one effort your congregation could make in this next year to address one of those challenges?