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Calling the trained or training the called

17 November 2008

In a post on evaluating Driscoll’s 18 obstacles to effective evangelism in Australia, Michael Kellahan writes (paraphrasing Driscoll):

You call the trained not train the called. The Holy Spirit makes you elders over the flock. Other elders are to test and approve leaders. Ministry should begin with callin from the Holy Spirit. If anyone desires the office of overseer it is a noble task. Part time training options are better. 4 years at Moore College will only work for some and can lead to an idealism and self righteous criticism by those who don’t know what ministry is. Colleges need alternative delivery system for theological education. SOmetimes (ie when you are learning from real life ministry) you don’t know what you know then you are more teachable.

Kellahan goes on to disagree with Driscoll and his calling language.

Now I hadn’t heard that particular aphorism before (Training the called, not calling the trained) and I know next to nothing about Driscoll, but it certainly sums up what I have been advocating for the last 40 years or more, and people like Roland Allen and St Nicholas of Japan were advocating over 100 years ago.

Part of what Kellahan is objecting to is the subjective notion of calling to ministry — the “I feel God is calling me” idea. But that is quickly disposed of, since any such feeling of being called needs to be discerned and confirmed by the Church.

Of course there are cautions. Both Roland Allen and St Nicholas of Japan were operating in societies in which few people had any idea of Christianity or Christian ministry. They would be unlikely to mistake their own selfish desires for a call from the Holy Spirit. I don’t know about Australia, but in South Africa, with its 10000 or more different Christian groups, sects and denominations, it is very easy to get the wrong idea of Christian ministry. I’ve heard people express their inward feeling of being called to Christian ministry because they want to be state-appointed marriage officers; they’ve seen that such marriage officers demand money from people, and very often the ministers of different denominations in a district form a kind of cartel, setting the fees that all must charge, so that there will be no undercutting by rivals. All the more reason for the state getting out of the marriage business. Others rather like the idea of getting to harangue people once a week, with little risk of anyone questioning or answering back.

But, provided there are adequate safeguards to prevent that sort of phony call, it would be better to train the called rather than call the trained, at least for the basic sacramental ministry of priests and deacons in parishes and mission congregations. Their basic job is to be worship leaders, and too often the formal forms of theological training train them in anything but that — at least such was my experience 30 years ago when I was responsible for self-supporting ministry training in the Anglican diocese of Zululand. When I was given that job there were six newly ordained self-supporting deacons, and not one of them had a clue what to do during the services.

Of course there is still a place for full-time training, but that should be mainly for training the trainers and teaching the teachers.

Insisting on full-time training can have bad effects on new mission congregations, because it removes the leaders from those congregations for training, and thus leaves the congregations untaught and leaderless at the very time when they are most in need of teaching. In-service training and theological education by extension would be far better, enabling leaders and congregations to learn together, which would in turn help to raise up more leaders.

So I must say I rather like Driscoll’s aphorism.

Training the called makes good sense — provided they are really called and really trained.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 November 2008 3:43 pm

    On a mission course running in England at the moment (mission shaped ministry) one thing which struck me from an early session was the approach to training. Their argument was that in a changing culture, we need to change our model of training and learning.

    If culture doesn’t change, you can do a theological training course and 40 years later it’s still relevant, because the facts on the ground are the same. The inherited model is high initial training, and low ongoing training. However reality isn’t like that. So much is changing that we need to reverse the inherited model: low initial training and high ongoing input, in order to relate what we’re learning to what’s happening, and to continue as learners and students.

    I thought this was quite insightful, and having had 4 years at theological college, much of what’s been most helpful in my ministry is stuff I’ve learnt since then. Back in the 1990s there was no ‘fresh expression’, ’emerging church’ or any of that kind of thinking, my own Anglican church has changed massively in that time.

    I have mixed feelings – I enjoyed my time at theological college, and wouldn’t want to deny that to others, but at the same time I agree that it’s starting to look like an old wineskin.

  2. 17 November 2008 8:29 pm

    It surely depends on the content of “calling”. I blogged on this once or twice. A common view of calling is that it is to see what will be, i.e. it is synonymous with vision. It is “a vision from the Lord”. Dr. George N. Malek wrote a booklet titled The Calling to the Priesthood. He considers that the calling is to see what CANNOT be through human agency. He writes: “The nature of the calling begins not by ‘hearing a call from God’, but by seeing, perceiving the condition of man without God”, e.g. “Woe is me! For I am lost …” He warns of the call that departs from this, and “turns into ethics”. “A call is the total poverty of man in the hands of Almighty God.” Wife Mirjam is at the end of a doctorate in which she investigates the call to missions. She found that most missionaries’ call was in fact their undoing — until the call was reshaped.

  3. 18 November 2008 4:38 pm


    “In a changing culture, we need to change our model” — and that raises the question of what is the model we have, why do we have it, where does it come from, and what do we hope to achieve by it.

    A friend of mine (a Congregationalist) once said that when someone is accepted as a candidate for fulltime ministry, they should be given a book of vouchers good for up to three years at the theological institution of their choice, to be used within the next 20 years.

    I think he had a point.

  4. 18 November 2008 6:01 pm

    What a good idea. My only worry is that we could end up pursuing learning/training as an individual exercise, rather than as part of a learning community. I guess the learning community would be the local church, but we also need to learn alongside our peers, and people who are doing/will do the same job as us.

    The best bit of training I’ve been on is the Arrow Leadership Programme, run by CPAS in England, which has 4 mini-conferences over 18 months, coursework in between, and local cell groups with people in your part of the country who are doing the course. So it can run alongside current work, but is also a learning community. The other bullseye it hits is to enable you to change, and see change happening, over the duration of the course, something which a 1-week blast on the Old Testament prophets won’t really do!

  5. 19 November 2008 2:04 am


    I think the “voucher” idea would be that the existing seminaries and training institutions would work on a system of arranging courses lasting about 2-3 months each. So you would have a 3 or four term year with breaks in between to allow the teaching staff to prepare etc.

    It would mean that during term time there would be a learning community, but that it would not be a solid chunk of 2-3 years as must seminary/theological college training has been up till now. It would mean that people could experience different learning communities, and much of the training could come after they had had on-the-job experience, and knew what they wanted to learn.

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