Ability? Availability? Well… Why Can’t It Be Both?
I think most of us have heard the cliché, “God doesn’t call the able. He calls the available.” Now, maybe the specific version you heard was slightly different. Perhaps it was something along the lines of “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.” Or maybe it was this one, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the call.” Regardless, I think that if you have spent any time in church you have probably heard some variation of that mantra. (And, yes, I meant to use the word “mantra.”) We might not want to admit it, but a lot of present day preaching has become filled with Pavlovian expressions that are great for getting the crowd “whipped up” but don’t really speak to substantive concerns.
Now, don’t me wrong. I understand the sentiment. The disciples of Christ were “unschooled, ordinary men.” Many of the OT heroes of the faith were people who were called from obscurity, men and women whose only theological experiences were often limited to shepherding and agriculture. And so accordingly, we understand that the key consideration is not the ability of the person but the ability of the God who indwells the person. It’s not my wisdom. It’s His. It’s not my intelligence. It’s His. It’s not my education… or experience… or charisma… or any of the other countless tools and techniques that the world promotes as keys to success. If God so chooses, He can use a donkey to speak His messages. But just because God can use a donkey doesn’t mean that the Church should promote barnyard animals to positions of leadership and influence.
To be honest, the other side of this argument (the importance of ability) is meritorious. My fear is that we have become too quick to dismiss the value of ability. Don’t agree? Ok, let me explain. Given the sacred trust that has been given to those whom we count as “clergy,” is it wrong to ask that they be trained, that they receive instruction, that they be required to study and learn? Remember the church at Berea? Paul set them forth as an EXAMPLE in Acts 17 because they, “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” These people took the Word they had heard and used it as a personal platform for continued growth. They read. They studied. They examined.
I think one of the things that most distresses me in this current age is the manner in which the Church is so quickly becoming reduced to dogmatism. So many of our members have lost the ability to think. I don’t how it happened, but somewhere along the way we exchanged reason for emotion. We have learned to repeat things verbatim. We have refined the ability to “shout down” our opponents. Sound reasoning has become displaced by the sound bite. Circular reasoning? We have mastered the art. We sit in our pews and we unquestioningly trust that the one who holds the microphone is inerrantly qualified to speak into our lives. We have traded in our own responsibility to examine in favor of being entertained. We have forfeited our own Biblical obligations as long as we can be encouraged and never challenged. And in the aftermath, we have lost the ability to stand in the marketplace of ideas and speak with both authority and confidence.
My purpose in writing this blog is not to condemn. Not at all. But I do want to remind each of us that we have a moral and theological responsibility as His children to be students of His Word. In fact, the word “disciple” literally means “I learn.” The follower of Christ is ultimately a student of Christ. One of the great needs is the world today is for the Body of Christ to remember that “ability” and “availability” need not be mutually exclusive. By all means, be available. God can use you if you will just humbly offer yourself to Him. Doesn’t matter if you are the Pope or a plumber. (I have nothing against plumbers. In fact, I have nothing against the Pope either. I just like alliteration.) But don’t stop at the altar of “availability.” Please, don’t stop there. Take the desk of “ability” next. Immerse yourself in His Words and become a student of His ways. Read. Study. Examine. Learn. Grow. Mature. And develop the ability that should define His people. Yes, the disciples were “unschooled, ordinary men.” But they had spent 3 years in the school of daily fellowship with the Master. Why require any less of His “leaders” today?