I recently heard that in our little denomination of a hundred congregations, over 10% of our pulpits do not have preachers. As the president of our denomination's seminary, it makes me ask, "Where are the men willing to be preachers?" Especially when I know of many other needs for church planting and mission work.
It's not that we do not strive to call and and encourage men to consider pastoral ministry. We do. But perhaps I'm being a bit too "gentle" in my approach. Maybe I need to "pull a Farel" on some of the young men I speak to. Recall that story?
In the mid 1530's John Calvin had to flee Paris because of an outbreak of persecution in France against the Protestants. His name had been associated with certain teachings that the parliament in Paris would not tolerate. The persecutions were so severe that the Catholics in power had devised a new way to torture the Protestants, who later became known as the Huguenots. Instead of simply burning them at the stake, they created a hoist that lowered and lifted its victims in and out of the fire so that those being persecuted would slowly roast to death. Calvin, obviously wanting no part in these new inventions, wandered for over a year, moving from one French and Swiss town to the next in order to escape detection.
Because of various wars and outbreaks of persecution, in August of 1536 he had to take quite a detour into the French-speaking part of Switzerland through the city of Geneva so that he could make his way to Strasbourg, which at that time was in Germany. He had his father’s money in his pocket, and wanted to go to Strasbourg to find a haven of peace and quiet. He desired to live the life of a scholar, studying and writing without turmoil. In his own words he said he went to Geneva without planning on “staying longer than a single night in the city.”
Yet there was another French refugee and pastor there named William Farel. He had labored there for several years, seeking to organize the Protestant church, and his hands were full. When he heard that the brilliant young scholar had arrived in town (the first edition of The Institutes had already been published and Calvin’s fame was spreading), Farel went and found him in the room where Calvin was staying. After the normal greetings and sharing of news, Farel (like all good preachers do) got straight to the point. He asked Calvin to stay at Geneva and help with the work of the church and the reform of this community. He politely declined Farel’s offer, pointing out he was headed to Strasbourg for his studies. But Farel (like all good preachers do) kept pressing the point. And the more he kept pressing, the more Calvin resisted. And the more he resisted, the more Farel insisted.
Recall something else about this Farel. He was a real thunderball of a preacher. Through the lifting of his voice the previous summer, he had stirred up the congregation in Geneva to such religious fervor that it has taken to the streets, smashing every Catholic icon it could find. He knew how to stir people up. So as the evening drew to a close, Farel in frustration rose up and thundered at Calvin, “May God curse your studies if now, in her time of need, you refuse to lend your aid to His Church!” Then the unexpected happened. Calvin heard the voice of Christ speaking to him through those words. He said it was “as if God had laid his mighty hand down from heaven to arrest me.” He did stay at Geneva, and except for a time during a short exile (when he did make it to Strasbourg and there met his wife), Calvin labored his whole life at Geneva. As a result, nations were discipled in the Biblical, Reformed faith.
I'm usually pretty polite and seek to be quietly persuasive when talking with gifted men about the pastorate. But as the need grows, men seemed occupied with other pursuits, and another Reformation Day remembrance approaches, maybe it is time to pull a Farel?