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A Pastor’s Reflections: Intangibles

April 17, 2018


A retired football player recently made headlines when he was flummoxed by the fact that he was not nominated to the pro football hall of fame. On the one hand, the player has a point. He was one of the NFL’s top players and has the statistics to prove it. On the other hand, when it comes to nominations like this there are often a lot of other intangible factors. In this case, this particular player’s personality could be described as combative, arrogant, and downright difficult. One can make the argument that, if you’re very talented and produce winning results, you can act however you’d like. But the truth of the matter is that people take multiple elements into account when it comes to voting for someone such as personality and humility. This is especially true of candidates for the ministry.

I’ve seen it happen on several occasions where a ministerial candidate goes for his licensure or ordination exam and does not pass. He is stunned and can’t understand why he failed. Such men have known their doctrine quite well. But at the same time, the candidate struck elders and pastors as arrogant. When asked a question, instead of answering it, he began to give a lecture and instruct. When he heard something incorrect, he proceeded to correct and rebuke. When pressed on a particular doctrine and asked for clarification, he exhibited annoyance. Sometimes these types of errors can almost be intangible—barely perceptible. But they can nevertheless be enough to sink a candidate's exam beneath the waves of a negative vote.

While you may be the smartest theologian to grace the church in several hundred years, proving your worth at your theology exam isn’t the right place to do it. Answer questions, don’t give lectures. If you hear something that is incorrect, don’t correct. Instead, ask a clarifying question: “I’m sorry, did I understand the question correctly? Did you say that Christ only has one nature? I would put the matter differently, I would say that Christ has two distinct natures, human and divine.” When pressed for clarifications, whatever you do, don’t sigh, grimace, or give the impression that you’re annoyed. God willing you won’t have to put on the appearance of humility, but rather, humility will simply flow from your heart.

In the end, remember that when you take your ordination trials that pastors and elders are looking for more than orthodox doctrine. They want to be assured that the man who stands before them is humble. Or, in the words of Paul, an elder must be self-controlled, able to teach, gentle, and not quarrelsome (1 Tim. 3:2-3). Strive for these virtues whether you’re standing for your candidacy exam or throughout the rest of your ministry.