Calvin’s Pattern of Excellence in the Ministry

John_Calvin_2John Calvin was not the only person involved in Geneva during the time of the Reformation. Recall the timeline of the relationship between Calvin and Geneva. Calvin begins his work, for the first time, in Geneva in 1536. It was the guilt trip from William Farel that secured Calvin initially in Geneva. Farel in his persuasive effort was described by Calvin as, “working with incredible zeal to promote the gospel, bent all his efforts to keep me in the city.”

Together they ambitiously set out to reform the city. Initially, they wrote a confession of faith that was adopted by the city council. Later that year (1537) however, they fought the council leaders over a variety of issues. One issue was the council wanting Calvin and Farel to use unleavened bread for the Communion service. Calvin refused for a number of reasons and instead of complying with the council decided not to administer communion for the Easter service. A great debate followed and both were told to leave Geneva. After a series of events both ended up in different cities. 

In 1540 with low church numbers and a political change, Calvin was asked to return to Geneva. Calvin’s initial response was,

“Rather would I submit to death a hundred times than to that cross on which I had to perish daily a thousand times over.”

Eventually he would return in 1541 and with Calvin’s arrival came his reforms.

One of his pressing tasks was recruiting qualified ministers of the Gospel. Calvin labored to bring in qualified and competent ministers to labor alongside him in the city. He built up the Company of pastors to oversee the ministerial duties over the city and county-side churches. His initial assessment of some of the pastors in the city was blunt and telling.

Our other colleagues are more a hindrance than a help to us. They are proud and self-conceited, have no zeal, and less learning. But what is worst of all, I cannot trust them, even though I very much wish that I could. (Letter to Oswald Myconious March 1542)

He provided specific observations of some preachers. Philippe de Ecclesia was considered a poor preacher and unpopular with the people. Pierre Blanchet showed tendencies that were not satisfactory. Calvin said of Louis Treppereaux that he “has more levity and less self-control in his conversation and behavior than becomes a minister of the gospel.” Calvin carefully scrutinized ministers that were given pulpits and ultimately the responsibility of the office of pastor. The average term of service for this first group of recruits in the 1540s was three years.

Eventually it turned for the better. Calvin attracted quality ministers that shared his reformed convictions and were loyal to him. According to Scott Manetsch, in his book Calvin’s Company of Pastors, the Company (as it became known) grew to around twenty men, including between seven and ten city ministers, nine to eleven rural pastors, and several professors from Genevas’ Academy (usually the professors of theology, Greek, Hebrew, and the arts).

There is a precedent in the reformed DNA to strive for excellence in ministry. Unfortunately the tendency to lower our standard of excellence in ministry over time shows itself in different ways. We owe a great debt of thanks to the seriousness that was given to the office Minister early on. We continue in the strand of excellence, as Reformed church, in the calling, training, equipping, and sending of talented men into the Gospel ministry for the sake of Christ.