Ministry (11): Perceiving whom God has destined for a ministry

Decisive is the will of God, but first of all humans have to perceive His will. Here are some answers to the question of how the ministry comes to its bearer.

Praying and observing … is how the retired Chief Apostle Wilhelm Leber described what happens long before an ordination takes place. “It begins with a prayer that God guides our thoughts,” he said in an interview shortly before his retirement. “And then you simply observe.” Over time an idea begins to crystallise, he said, which you begin to pursue further under constant prayer.

What matters is God’s will

The Catechism says that ministry, “is not a human work, nor is it ultimately that of the congregation. Rather it is God’s gift to His church”. The newly formulated understanding of ministry has not changed this perception: “The fact that it is God who designates a person for a ministry and that this is the foundation for every ordination continues to apply unreservedly in the ministerial order now in effect,” we can read in the Special Edition of the Divine Service Guide 2/2019.

Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider notes in the Special Edition of the Divine Service Guide 3/2017 that belief in this calling is based on “the First Article of Faith, which expresses our belief in God the Almighty”, as well as on the “Fourth and Fifth Articles of Faith, which state that Jesus rules His church and that God designates those who are called to exercise a ministry”.

Where man plays a part

“To believe that ordination is a divine calling does not mean that God alone is the agent. It is the triune God who chooses the brother, and it is the Holy Spirit who communicates this choice to the church,” the Special Edition says.

Recommendations for possible candidates will be made by the responsible ministers in the congregation or district, and the Apostle will make a decision regarding the ordination. “It is therefore indispensable for the responsible ministers to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and sanctify themselves before they recommend a brother for a ministry.”

Keeping a person’s gifts in mind

It is therefore the Apostle’s task to recognise the will of God and to act upon it. That means that he has to perceive that the qualities and gifts required for the exercise of the ministry are present in the future minister—whether these are of pastoral, teaching, or organisational nature. This is how the fourth Special Edition of 2017 defines it.

The gifts present in the recipient of the ministry “are awakened, strengthened, multiplied, and dedicated to the service of the Lord” the Catechism in Questions and Answers says (No. 416). “In addition, additional powers are imparted through the blessing.”

However, new gifts, competencies or abilities are not imparted by the ordination. This is made very clear in several places in the publications and background material on our concept of ministry. At best, such qualities would develop during the exercise of ministry.

Special Edition No. 3/2017 points out: “We believe that God has chosen those designated to serve Him.” And that means that “He has carefully guided things in such a way that these ministers would be in the place where He needed them at a specified point in time.”

It is God who accomplishes these things

Does this only apply to ordinations or also to appointments of, say, congregational or district rectors? The official answer: although the Fifth Article of Faith only speaks about ministry, this does not mean that appointments and assignments are excluded.

Leading ministers continue to pray intensively that appointments and assignments also correspond to the will of God. At the same time, the Apostles are called upon to occupy themselves with the competencies and qualities of the persons concerned.

Whether ministry or mandate, the Chief Apostle’s advice applies either way: “In the past we have often seen that God is capable of doing great things through imperfect human beings.”

Photo: Андрей Яланский -

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Andreas Rother