Some of the questions we ask when helping someone to discern a calling focus on what has happened in the past? Can’t we just forget the past and look forward to the future?Well, there’s certainly a risk that we can refuse to consider people for ministry now because of what has happened in the past. We can fail to recognise God’s grace and power to change people. We can secretly hold onto grievances and grudges.
However, there are good reasons for looking backwards.
- There may be outstanding issues to deal with
Jesus said that if you bring your offering and have a grievance with a brother, then leave your offering and go and be reconciled to your brother then come back to make the offering. Relationships with other brothers and sisters count. A calling to ministry is not about climbing the career or political ladder. So we should not step over others in order to get our way.
It might be that before you can serve that there’s unfinished business. It might mean telling someone you are sorry. It might mean telling someone they are forgiven. It may be that you have an outstanding responsibility to help someone and you need to fulfil it.
- The past gives us clues about the present and the future
So, where I’ve been tempted and failed before gives me clues about where my weak spots are. Looking backwards tells me about characteristic traits. So, it is unwise to put someone in charge of financial matters if they have previously been in trouble for tax evasion, fraud or theft. There are clues there that the person is going to struggle with temptation in that area. Similarly, if a pastor has previously been unfaithful in marriage, then this highlights a weakness there and I would not personally put them into that type of pastoral role.
This is about looking after each other, recognising weaknesses and temptations and not putting people intentionally into positions where they are at particular risk of falling. It’s not about denying people the opportunity to serve. It’s about finding the best place for them to serve.
If we skip over these things then the risk is that we miss something. A person may seem to be doing well spiritually over a short period of time but this does not mean that they have been tested. It’s one thing to be calm, loving, reading your Bible regularly, praying daily when things are going well but will this be consistent over the long haul and how will you respond to pressure.
I think this is also a vital way of providing objective as well as subjective discernment. What is the real evidence that you are growing? Are there specific signs that you are overcoming? Can we see real change in your life?
So don’t duck those challenging questions about the past. They may be vital to safeguarding your future.