Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"God has already selected our new minister." I've read something like that several times recently from churches who are looking for ministers in various ministries. I know what's behind it: an eagerness to recognize that God is still working in this world -- which, of course he is! Part of what this implies is that we aren't on our own, left with our own smarts and resources. In that sense, it's a reaction against a semi-deism that many of us grew up with. And yet . . . I wonder if we've really thought through the implication of saying that God has already selected the person, and we're just trying to figure out who it is. First, if that's true, couldn't God do a better job of communicating WHO that person is? And when the search committee is so sure, couldn't he also make it plain to the person whom they're sure of? Why would God withhold the info if this is a win/lose decision (which it would be if a church didn't "call" the person God had chosen). Second, let me just note that sometimes this becomes almost a tool wielded by churches -- even if it's unintentional. "We believe God has chosen someone, and after months of praying we're convinced it is YOU." Third, my main objection is that it seems to misunderstand the divine-human relationship God desires. He has chosen in his sovereign will to make us partners rather than puppets. He has given us free will; he's blessed us with the challenge of making decisions. Could it be that God hasn't "chosen the person"? Maybe there are any number of people who might please God in a certain ministry. Perhaps much of what he wants is for us to think spiritually, to use discernment, and to ask for his quiet guidance. As this happens, a deepening of our relationship with God takes place. Eventually, after much discernment and prayer, a "call" is issued and accepted. Couldn't we then say that this is the person God chose? Just not in some deterministic way that diminishes our partnership with him!


  • It amazes me when I start to think about it that God put us, mere humans who can and do make wrong descisions, in charge of His church. Well, for now anyways.

    By Blogger Brandon Moore, at 12/14/2004 04:50:00 PM  

  • Mike,

    This reminds me of something I read of David Lipscomb. He chastised a group of ministers who all wrote a mainline church in Cincinatti that the Lord had "called" them (individually of course) to preach for the church...which just happened to be one of the largest churches in the midwest (with a presumably large salary waiting for the divinely selected one)

    In all, I think there were 15 or so who were convinced that the Lord wanted them in this church!

    By Blogger Josh.Graves, at 12/14/2004 06:43:00 PM  

  • I've never been on a search committee (and - by the way - hope that there will be no need for me or anyone else at Highland to be on one any time soon!), but I really appreciate what you had to say in your third point.

    More and more frequently, I hear people asking themselves questions along these lines. "What is God wanting me/my church/my family to do about x-decision?"

    Those questions always make me squirm a little. On the one hand, I don't want to be blind to the will of God, if I really am being called to take one - and only one - course of action in a particular circumstance. But on the other hand - it always seemed to me that - in scripture - God doesn't usually struggle to let people know what he needs from them when he has something very specific in mind, whether they want to do it or not. Witness characters such as Jonah, Saul, and Daniel.

    I sometimes get puzzled looks when I say this, but I'm convinced that there are (sometimes, at least) LOTS of righteous, holy choices that can be made in response to a particular circumstance. (Remember, in Eden there was only ONE forbidden tree in the entire garden).

    For me, the bigger questions in life have more to do with "who am I becoming?" than "what should I do next?" Usually, the answers to the latter question are informed by the former, but I love the way you put this - that we act in a divine partnership, in which the use of our own capacity to make decisions is an integral part of the way we are spiritually formed.

    By Blogger Matt, at 12/14/2004 07:18:00 PM  

  • It is challenging enough for me to figure out what God has in mind for me (I usually see it in the rear view mirror), but when someone else is sure they know God's will for me when I do not, I get a little bent out of shape. I guess it's an old wound being nudged by this post, but I'm glad to have the wound.

    I'm not so sure God makes all of the decision many people think He makes. Rather, I think God gives people as much freedom as He possibly can. I'm not a Deist or anything, I do believe God is with us, in us, the All in All, but I do not believe he goes around making up all of our decisions, picking our ministers and so forth.

    It is probably rare that God has to have one certain person in one certain place to do one certain thing. We are quick to flip over to Exodous and read about Moses and then say, "See, that's how God works." NO. That's how God worked with Moses. I think about the Rich Young Man story. Jesus would have taken him on as a disciple, but He didn't. The man could have gone either way, and he chose poorly. Jesus offers freedom, really - even if it means He has to watch someone walk away.

    God teams with us, as opposed to going around playing the ace of spades every chance He gets. He can. He holds all the trump cards. But just because he holds them does not obligate Him to play them.

    Sometimes it can be a lack of faith to require a "God says..." in order to legitimize a decision. Don't we trust that God knows what He's doing when He gives us free will? We should have faith that God does not force His will on us and have faith that some way, some how, that is the very best way for God to run the universe.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 12/14/2004 07:26:00 PM  

  • What is perplexing is when the folks who said, "God has already chosen our minister," a few years later change their mind. Now they say, "We believe God is calling you to go somewhere else."

    By Blogger David Michael, at 12/14/2004 07:39:00 PM  

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    By Blogger David Michael, at 12/14/2004 07:39:00 PM  

  • When reading passages like Psalm 104:21 that says God determines when and what the young lions eat, and Acts 17:26, that I understand to say God decides when and where people live, I am inclined to believe that God is more intimately involved in the finer details of my own life than I realize. God’s sovereignty and our free will: I’m glad they’re not spelled out in black and white. Then it might be easy.
    Joey Tilton

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/14/2004 09:14:00 PM  

  • There are two things I rely on in these cases.

    Proverbs 2:1-11
    1 My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,

    2 turning your ear to wisdom

    and applying your heart to understanding,

    3 and if you call out for insight

    and cry aloud for understanding,

    4 and if you look for it as for silver

    and search for it as for hidden treasure,

    5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD

    and find the knowledge of God.

    6 For the LORD gives wisdom,

    and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

    7 He holds victory in store for the upright,

    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,

    8 for he guards the course of the just

    and protects the way of his faithful ones.

    9 Then you will understand what is right and just

    and fair-every good path.

    10 For wisdom will enter your heart,

    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

    11 Discretion will protect you,

    and understanding will guard you.

    Therefore, in decision making, I believe if we seek God's wisdom and the resultant knowledge and understanding, our decisions will be more likely to side-step a misjudgment in any given circumstance.

    2-God has made perfectly clear what His moral law is. If I guide my life in such a way as to remain within that Holy law, I will please Him and He will give me of His knowledge and understanding.

    These two things remind me that Jesus never caused a catastrophe in order to work a miracle, rather He took messes and cleaned them up with miracles and I see Him doing the same in my life constantly, rather than having me live my life as though it were a holy treasure hunt, with God allowing me to muddle around blindfolded until I stumble upon the pre-determined choice He had made for me.

    If we seek His wisdom and guidance, He promises then to give us knowledge and understanding - thereby helping us make decisions, but I think it is rare that He has predetermined what He wants us to do or who He wants us to choose, be it preacher, teacher, boss/supervisor, or spouse.

    Talk about muddled - I need to have breakfast before getting into these discussions. Sorry for the rambling. :o)

    By Blogger Kathy, at 12/15/2004 05:19:00 AM  

  • God called plenty of prophets that the people were ready to fire within a few years. God still called them. They still had problems. They still got frustrated at the lack of response by the people. Some of them stayed the course. Some were run out on a rail. Sound familar.

    All that said, to coin another Blogger's phrase, God often doesn't have just one choice for us but has given us the opprotunity to "choose your own adventure".

    We need to do a better job of identifying those who have the gift of discernment.

    By Blogger Steve Duer, at 12/15/2004 05:36:00 AM  

  • I have been reading with great profit your blog for several weeks now, but haven't felt the urge to post, but today put me over the top. A couple of weeks ago I decided to teach a class where I preach on discovering the will of God. This is an area where I believe very well intentioned people are just nuts. For a number of years I taught a Christian Family class for seniors at a Christian high school. I spent a good deal of time helping them to see that there was more than one person who could become their partner for life. The whole notion of finding a soul mate sound romantic, but it is a setup for failure when the first problems arise. I am glad that I am not the only person dealing with this. I think many people live in frustration trying to find the bullseye for every desision in life. I wonder if anyone has ever read the book Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen?

    By Blogger RC, at 12/15/2004 06:29:00 AM  

  • I think the true power of God is revealed in the fact that none of us on our own are "right" for any job. God takes the "Willing" and uses us to his glory.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 12/15/2004 07:06:00 AM  

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    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 12/15/2004 07:06:00 AM  

  • This post was SO good. In fact, it was so good that it's obvious that God has already composed it and was just waiting for you to finally write it down. :-)

    I feel -- and this could open a can of worms -- the same way about the ways in which people speak of choosing a spouse. The whole "God had already chosen him/her for you" falls into this same line of thinking. But now that I've said that, I'm going to end this comment and run away like the sniveling coward that I am.

    By Blogger Matt Elliott, at 12/15/2004 08:03:00 AM  

  • Wonder how many of those churches who say "God has chosen our new minister" would be willing to put the applicants' resumes on the table and pray, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these you have chosen to take over this ministry" and then cast lots to decide it - as in Acts 1:23-26!

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 12/15/2004 08:07:00 AM  

  • One church I know began their search for a pulpit minister by saying, "We will pray that God will send us just the right person to lead this congregation, but it must be someone who is married and has a family." As time went on, the number of conditions increased. When it was obvious that one particular candidate might indeed be the person God selected (altho' not foolproof, but perhaps good indications, the search committee and the ministerial staff unanymously recommended the person), the elders rejected him for shallow reasons. So, it seems from this case, that God sometimes can't even get the person he wants in the right position.

    By Blogger MarkS, at 12/15/2004 09:16:00 AM  

  • Keith,

    The church where my mom went as a child never believed that God worked through the lottery described in Acts 1:23-26. They believed that the apostles jumped the gun and selected Mathias to take Judus's place, when all along, God planned for Paul to be the replacement.

    Matt reminded me of a memory from my freshman year in college. I accepted a date with a young man who told me that God had told him I was "the one". I guess I just wasn't tuned in to God's voice. Honestly, I think we both benefitted from my not hearing "God's voice".

    Then, on another occasion, another young man of my acquaintance called me up and told me that God had revealed to him that I would pay off all of his bills. Once again, God was strangely silent on my end.

    But back to the original point: When our humble school district interviews teachers, we hope that certain ones will choose to come work with us. Being a rural community, we don't always have the luxury of laying the many applicants before the Father and asking, "Which one, Lord?" And for you who think this would be rather tongue and cheek for a public school, we have been gifted with Godly leaders within our system who do pray over these matters in their meetings.

    I do think that God did have our current middle school principal in mind for us. And I am a little ticked off right now that after 5 years, God has called him elsewhere.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 12/15/2004 09:24:00 AM  

  • I'm glad to see others struggle with this idea. I always felt uncomfortable when people said that God had told them to do......whatever. I felt like I was left out in the cold, because God had never "told" me to do things.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/15/2004 09:37:00 AM  

  • I find "Anon's" comment interesting in light of a lunch I had this week with a friend who in the past has openly mocked any form of religion. Monday we talked at lenght about matters of faith and something he focused on was how uncomfortable he feels when people claim that God led them to this job or that person or this home. He wondered how someone like himself could ever belong if God doesn't talk to him that way. He admitted to praying, but not to getting obvious answers. He actually said that being around people who claim to scares him because he does not think God behaves that way. I think that is a telling commentary on how some of our language is received by those we are trying to reach. Nevertheless, pray for him. I really think he is searching and softening.

    By Blogger Val, at 12/15/2004 10:04:00 AM  

  • Mike you are one of the only people I know brave enough to start a disscussion about this "divine selection issue". Thanks!
    I really appreciate both Matt and Val's comments too. I am one of those who has been secretly very intimidated by those who seem to have a Xeroxed copy of God's specific will for their life. A very few rare times, I have truly felt called to a work or a person. I have a friend who seems called to everything.. even what she has for dinner. Sometimes I wonder why God doesn't talk to me that way. Am I just not listening the right way?

    By Blogger SG, at 12/15/2004 10:46:00 AM  

  • I can't resist posting the joke about the psychologist who thought it would be interesting to combine the counseling sessions of two delusional patients. She asked the first "Who are you?" and he confidently replied "The Son of God!" She asked, "How do you know this?" He responded, "God told me!" - whereupon the other patient objected loudly: "I did not!"

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 12/15/2004 11:03:00 AM  

  • ...and all of this reminds me of the time I had a house for sale in a distant city, and my comment that it was God's house, it would sell when He was ready for it to. After being on the market for longer than I was comfortable with, I realized God needed to lower the price a little. He did that, and it sold. Amazing.

    By Blogger don, at 12/15/2004 11:16:00 AM  

  • What a great feast this has been! I feel so blessed by everything written here today. Is this what heaven is going to be like?

    Mike, like most of the people who have commented, your opening quote makes me uncomfortable also. It also makes me cringe when you see people take the bull by the horns and take care of something down the smallest details and then pronounce in a very holy voice "Look what God did in my life!" The truth is they didn't allow God to do ONE thing.....they were too busy taking care of it themselves to let God even get his little finger in there edge wise. So, both extremes cause tension in my life. I am still asking for wisdom to understand this thing we call "faith".


    By Blogger David U, at 12/15/2004 11:48:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Today you and I left the church and were headed to Rosa's for some good Mexican food. We even planned on leaving at 11:30 to beat the crowd. Then on the way we began to discuss the quality of Rosa's and compared it to Abuelos. We then basically talked each other into eating at Abuelos and so we went to Abuelos. We walked in and saw Gina and some others and then were waited on by Kayla. You ate the quesadilla and I had the chicken. I had the water and queso and you had the diet dr. pepper and the salsa. You paid and I got paid for.

    What if Mike? What if?

    What if we weren't supposed to eat at Abuelos? What if it wasn't Gina and Kayla we were supposed to run into? What if God's will was for me to get the diet dr. pepper and you were chosen to drink the water? Could God have called me to the quesadilla and lead you to the chicken? Perhaps God wanted me to pay?

    No way.

    I'm convinced that we "ate and drank" in the Lord's will. God spoke to me when you were signing the ticket.

    Okay, here is the deal/dilemma:

    If you follow both ends of the conversation to their logical extreme then God is either puppet master or himself a puppet. He either directs all our steps or we, through the higher power of free will and choice, direct all our steps.

    How far do you go on either way? Does God pick your new minister? Does he pick their benefit package? Does he decide what to serve at the welcome potluck? Or does God not really care who is the next guy but does care about what kind of guy he is.

    Is God to pick my marriage partner but not my menu preference? How far is too far?

    Where does the "sovereign" will of God fit with the "permissive" will of God? Was Saul God's choice or was David? Or both? Or neither?

    Considering that the brightest of the human race know about one hundredth of one percent of our planet let alone our solar system let alone our galaxy let alone our universe, I'm going to leave room for some ignorance and child-likeness on my part.

    I'm going to get in the back seat and go along for the ride and leave the deep theological questions of the ages to the "wise" among us.

    I don't if we were supposed to eat at Rosas or Abuelos Mike.

    But I'm pretty sure God wanted you to buy!

    He did, didn't He?

    What if...?

    By Blogger Joel Quile, at 12/15/2004 12:25:00 PM  

  • Joel,

    As long as you thanked God for the food and thanked God for putting it into Mike's heart to pay for it, I think you are covered theologically.

    By Blogger Serena Voss, at 12/15/2004 12:58:00 PM  

  • God has willed that there be gravity. So, if I jump off a building to my death, was it God's will specifically? Was it in God's will, but only generally? Was it outside of God's will? Did God participate in my death since He created gravity?

    Of puppets and puppet masters I do not know, but I do tend to lean toward mystery, creativity and surprise. Yes, surprise. For a God who has a pretty good track record of surprises, it sure is tempted to think we've got Him figured out.

    I confess, the more I get to God the less familiar He becomes.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 12/15/2004 01:04:00 PM  

  • Worship Circus has a song called "I Was Made for Loving You" which includes the following line:

    "And when I danced with you I finally found my place/its so extraordinary in a normal way/'cause I was made for loving you/I was made for loving you"

    These guys are generally great lyricists, but I always loved this chorus. Mystery, surprise, and choice. All of those elements rolled into one thought.

    I've always identified with the metaphor of dance as a way in which we relate to God. I hear a lot of that idea in what many of us are saying.

    By Blogger Matt, at 12/15/2004 02:07:00 PM  

  • I wasn't going to comment on your blog today, but then I was called to do so. But seriously, it is a difficult topic. I for one, don't ever want to limit what God can or might do in any situation. I do believe that He works in some pretty intriguing ways... I know He certainly has in mine. Blessings! sd

    By Blogger SkipD, at 12/15/2004 02:37:00 PM  

  • It seems like I remember you telling a story about a church that inadvertently hired a transvestite for its pulpit minister, or something like that. I'm pretty sure God was NOT behind that one.

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 12/15/2004 03:01:00 PM  

  • Deana, how can you be so sure it was not God's will? Not to be a smarty pants or anything, but sometimes God has some pretty strange means by which He accomplishes rooting out sin. Maybe the church needed some target for their judgments to be unleasehed upon in order to expose their judmentalism. I'm not advocating transvstite ministers, but I am also quite certain God is against a Pharisee-like response to sin. Maybe this experience was the only by means by which the sin of this church could have been teased out. If that were true, then this terrible mistake might have been the greatest blessing that church had ever experienced.

    Then again, it could have been outside of God's will.

    "God has already selected our new minister." Hmmm. Watch out. That does not necessarily mean He selected him for the same reasons a church would select the minister for themselves.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 12/15/2004 06:44:00 PM  

  • Thank you.

    You have the ability to say what I feel, things that tend to be looked down on by other Christians. I appreciate your courage in being the voice of reason.

    "God has already selected our new minister." I think what bothers me most about that statement is that it implies that God is the only force in our world. I think of a minister at my grandmother's church- his actions caused a hateful split- was that God's will? Or was Satan working, seeing an opportunity to gain a foothold? My faith remains intact when I don't attribute anything to anyone. More important than knowing the proverbial "will of God" is what you actually do with a given situation.

    The other thing that makes that statement hard is that it takes all responsibility off of ourselves. I've been told many times recently "God already has a church picked out for you"- how tempting it is to sit back and wait for him to get around to showing it to me, instead of working towards it myself- actually giving him something to work with!

    So thank you, Mike, for yet another moment of "yeah, I am a good Christian" even though I think differently than the prevailing attitudes.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/16/2004 08:13:00 AM  

  • "Why would God withhold the info if this is a win/lose decision (which it would be if a church didn't "call" the person God had chosen)."
    Throughout scripture, we are told that God hand-picked certain people for certain jobs - ones we KNOW were picked by God. Not all of these “worked out” (according to our standards). Who chose Saul to be the first king? How well did he “work out?” How well did the hand-picked Judas “work out?” Examples of hand-picked-by-God-people are too numerous to list. Does God put certain ministers with their respective congregations? If a church says that God has chosen their minister, they are demonstrating their faith. This faith was, at least partially, given to them by God (Romans 12:3 …each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned). Even if that faith seems simplistic or not as well thought out as mine, they are expressing their faith. And God is pleased with that. The other extreme is to say that God has nothing at all to do with the selection of our minister. Is that the case?

    I am absolutely convinced that God was no less involved in bringing my wife and me together than he was is with Abraham and Sarah or Isaac and Rebecca. Please don't mock me for believing this way.

    I am absolutely convinced that God determines how much money I have – down to the last penny. What I have is not determined by how hard I work, or how smart I am in business. My being a physician was determined by God – not by how smart I am or how hard I worked or how self-disciplined I am. God put me in the family I was born to. He put me in the country I am in. He put me in a society that highly values its (perceived) control over its health. He put the drive in me. He opened the doors for me to become a physician. I can take no credit for what I am or have. Please don't mock me for believing this way.

    I want God to control me. I specifically ask God to control my eyes, my tongue, my thoughts, my hands, my feet, my money, my heart. I WANT Him to control everything about me, because I make a mess out of so much.

    I might be wrong in my thoughts. But if we are to question the validity of how someone else demonstrates their faith, then we need to know for certain that our way is right and theirs is wrong. So it seems to me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/16/2004 09:24:00 AM  

  • I think this discussion is getting bogged down in semantics. Regardless of how tight or loose a reign we think God holds on all decisions, he is still in control. He still blesses us and sustains us and gives us our daily bread. He wants all people to come to him and he has provided one avenue for us to his throne.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/16/2004 05:24:00 PM  

  • Getting bogged down or getting "blogged" down?

    Romans 8:28 may also be relevant here.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/17/2004 05:58:00 AM  

  • I have had many occasions when, for whatever reason, my spirit had a catch about a certain decision. I think that can happen with churches and potential preachers as well...unaniminity is a powerful tool of the Holy Spirit among elderships and search committees. I usually view even the slightest hint of doubt in one person as Holy Spirit, given the group is seeking the Lord above all.
    Do we wander around waiting for the Lord to guide us to our next destination? Does he choose our parking spaces for us? I don't think so. My philosophy has usually been to act while praying, and let God close doors as He sees fit.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 12/17/2004 07:22:00 AM  

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