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Divine CallingsUnderstanding the Call to Ministry in Black Pentecostalism$

Richard N. Pitt

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780814768235

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814768235.001.0001

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“A Stutter and a Stick”

“A Stutter and a Stick”

The (Non-) Value of Educational Credentialing

(p.107) 4 “A Stutter and a Stick”
Divine Callings

Richard N. Pitt

NYU Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the ways in which these ministers legitimate their sense of themselves as clergy in spite of a nearly complete absence of what we have come to believe is an essential feature of religious credentialing: Bible school, divinity school, or seminary training. The respondents assert that their special competence as ministers comes not from any particular training (which they often deride) but instead through what they call “the anointing.” The chapter describes how ministers explain this anointing, detailing the complex ways they say the anointing operates within them as a resource, rendering their lack of seminary training irrelevant. It also demonstrates how many of these ministers denigrate educational credentialing as an illegitimate means of certifying one's calling, thereby claiming less easily challenged evidence of their position as religious laborers.

Keywords:   seminary training, educational credentialing, the anointing, religious laborers, clergy

Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.”

Jeremiah 1:9

Moses delivered a nation with a stutter and stick. I think I can do what I’m supposed to do whether I hold credentials from men or not.

Kasim, Elder

The economist Robert Reich refers to professionals as “symbolic analysts,” experts who use specialized knowledge to solve problems.1 The sociologist Andrew Abbott describes the work of the professional in three parts, stating that professionals make “claims to classify a problem, to reason about it, and to take action on it; in more formal terms, to diagnose, to infer, and to treat.”2 The autonomy and authority, which also characterize the professions, flow to a large degree from their abilities to deliver on these claims in ways that nonprofessionals cannot. This expertise makes them accountable only to their peers while also earning them the trust and compliance of their clients and supporting paraprofessionals.

These so-called experts make a claim to a professional jurisdiction, an arena of labor, that cannot be encroached upon without going through their gatekeepers. They do this by monopolizing knowledge through a credentialing process, a process intended to reduce access to the social and economic benefits that possessors of that knowledge claim.3 Although there are no secret methods of suturing a wound or giving a persuasive religious speech—two skills that one can learn in minutes online—the skills and the often cognitively indeterminate theoretical underpinings of them have become the intellectual property of the medical and religious professions, respectively. In (p.108) order to practice medicine, law, or theology, one must have the imprimatur of senior members of the medical, legal, and clerical fraternity.

It is not enough to be taught, or even to master, the knowledge. Consider the scores of bright and capable scholars who, after years of study, languish in the liminal category referred to as “ABD” (all but the dissertation) until a panel of experts in their field deem them acceptable to carry the title “Dr.” Even more starkly, those trained in medicine or taught to make legal arguments can practice neither craft without passing a medical board or a legal bar exam. Training at even the top medical school or law school does not make one a professional: receiving a license does. We have come to understand professions—particularly the classical “learned professions” of medicine, law, and theology—as closed labor communities, where considerable amounts of training in the art and the science of the craft are normal and essential.

In 2001, the Black Pentecostal pastor Thomas (T. D.) Jakes appeared on the cover of Time magazine as part of an article asking if he was the next Billy Graham.4 In addition to pastoring an eighteen-thousand-member church, Jakes is a best-selling author of more than thirty books, an owner of a gospel record label, a movie producer, and the organizer of one of the largest evangelical ministry events in the country, Megafest. He’s a remarkably successful religious professional. He’s also a college dropout. And he’s not alone.

The Potter’s House’s T. D. Jakes, Church Without Walls’ Paula White, Lakewood Church’s Joel Osteen, Calvary Chapel’s Bob Coy, and the international televangelist Benny Hinn lead some of the largest and fastest growing ministries in the United States. None of them has a bachelor’s degree, let alone a master of divinity degree or any other degree from an accredited seminary. Yet they pastor a combined total of more than one hundred thousand congregants, not including the other hundreds of thousands who follow them on television. They clearly have considerable power and prestige, traits that accrue to occupations, nay professions, whose members have “special competence in an esoteric body of knowledge.”5 In the absence of seminary or Bible college training, where do ministers like these claim to get this “special competence”?

A General History of Religious Educational Credentialing

In the United States, professional knowledge was first learned while in the employ of a practitioner in the field. For example, aspiring physicians learned their craft working with and for mature physicians. Similarly, those men who sought training as ministers learned theological practice and theory through apprenticeships with practicing ministers. Before the advent of the American college or professional (p.109) school, these apprenticeships were the access point to most occupations. These apprenticeships, which included some study of pertinent texts, were likely to focus more on practice than theory. Students learned by doing, a system that was markedly unsystematic in the way novices were exposed to techniques or to the theoretical ideas that might undergird those procedures.6

While most apprenticeships were individualized, some enterprising ministers began to accept groups of students for training. These “schools of the prophets” were precursors of the religious professional schools, remedying some of the inconsistency in training that ministers were otherwise encountering.7 Like their biblical namesakes,8 these academies sought to routinize piety, inculcating religious principles with moralizing lectures and rehearsed catechisms rather than the more earthy, but disorganized, apprenticeships. The turn to fully integrating the two in a systematic way occurred when Congregationalists sought to combine the practical training ministers received in apprenticeships with the more theoretical training—and attendant professional prestige—that others acquired in religious academies. The creation of Andover Theological Seminary in 1807 (now Andover Newton Theological School) marked the beginning of an experiment in professionalizing the clergy. By 1850, seven other denominations had joined the Congregationalists in creating forty-three more seminaries.9

Faculties at Andover and other seminaries helped to concretize the image of a professionally educated clergy. Like any other professional school at the time, these seminaries began to systematically establish jurisdiction over the knowledge that aspiring practitioners would need. As the historian Brooks Holifield explains:

Seminaries promoted the vision of ministry as the “noblest of professions.” They aimed to elevate their students into a “learned profession” by providing a body of knowledge and the principles for applying it. A clerical professional was, according to the ideal, a person of “sound scholarship,” a person “learned and accomplished,” capable of scaling “heights of knowledge.”10

The academics in these schools trained aspiring ministers to do more than represent the voice of man to God. As preachers, they were becoming more responsible to serve as the voice of God to man, which required more than knowledge of ceremony and ritual. It required the kind of intellectual spirit that elite education could instill in these religious professionals. Just as the master craftsman served as the gatekeeper for apprentices, seminaries and Bible colleges became the portal through which acceptable ministers needed to go.

(p.110) Competence in ministry became tied to one’s educational pedigree, and that pedigree could be earned, in certain religious traditions, only by attending these institutions. These schools were attractive to many Congregationalist ministers who were losing their hold on local congregations and being forced to become itinerant preachers. Without the status inherent in being head of a congregation, they needed some other way to separate themselves from the laity. The seminaries gave them “new bases of professional status; where revivalists distinguished themselves from the laity by fiery preaching, the new breed of Congregational ministers would seek this distinction in a learned and autonomous elaboration of theology.”11 The belief in seminary’s importance was so strong that when their status was threatened by itinerant preachers, seminary-trained clergy succeeded in passing laws making it illegal for parishes to call a pastor without a college degree.

The Resurgence of the Untrained Revivalist

This practice of requiring a degree was effective when most colonists were members of presbyterian, congregational, and episcopal congregations; in 1776, 55 percent of religiously active Americans belonged to one or the other of these denominations.12 As new religious sects born in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—the Methodist Episcopal church, the Baptist Triennial Convention, the Latter-day Saints, and others—began to blossom and challenge more established denominations, the preeminence of seminary training began to falter. These new sects ballooned in size as a result of the ministry of effective, energetic, but uneducated itinerant preachers. This brought them into open conflict with mainline clergy such as Timothy Dwight, the Congregationalist president of Yale College (1795–1817) and founder of Andover.

Dwight denounced followers of the upstart denominations, using an argument that equated the clergy with other classical professions. He said:

[T]hey demand a seven years apprenticeship, for the purpose of learning to make a shoe, or an axe [yet] they suppose the system of Providence … may be all comprehended without learning, labour, or time. While they insist, equally with others, that their property shall be managed by skilful agents, their judicial causes directed by learned advocates, and their children, when sick, attended by able physicians; they were satisfied to place their Religion, their souls, and their salvation, under the guidance of quackery.

(p.111) In spite of the charges leveled against them, the new denominations decried the need for formal religious education well into the mid-nineteenth century. They argued that seminary education would “make them dependent on their books and written sermons rather than the movement of the Spirit which was central to the revival experience.”13

There were clear benefits for not depending on seminary-trained ministers. At the organizational level, denominations could grow quickly without the lag between someone’s professing a call and their ability to start operating in it. Clergy shortages were almost unheard of. Training for new preachers occurred in short apprenticeships, often while those preachers co-led smaller units of larger local congregations. There were also benefits to the ministers themselves. Men from non-elite backgrounds could claim a calling and pursue ministry, with all of the authority and autonomy that comes with the title. They assumed the status of professionals, at least within their own religious denominations, without one of the most important trappings of professionalism: formal religious training. Most importantly, they seemingly maintained some level of effectiveness at their craft, which enabled them to continue to attract adherents.

While the Baptists, Methodists, and other new denominations fought credentialing for many years, once their prominence made them the new protectors of the clergy’s professional status, these now-mainline institutions began to turn to seminaries as a means of patrolling the borders of that status. Today, a non-seminary-trained member of the clergy in the mainline denominations is the exception rather than the rule. If not a requirement, seminary or seminary-like training is becoming a clear expectation for ordination in these formerly “new” American sects. In the contemporary mainline denominations, ordination usually follows some evidence that the aspirant has mastered specialized knowledge. While internships in a local congregation or chaplaincy position along with some kind of denomination-sanctioned examination may constitute part of that evidence, neither is a strong substitute for an advanced degree in religion. Consider that there are seventeen seminaries or schools of theology affiliated with the United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations. Similarly, twenty seminaries are affiliated with three of the largest Baptist denominations. Not surprisingly, like their nineteenth-century antagonists, these denominations are beginning to experience the very clergy shortages they warned against.14

Both the memberships and the clergy pools of many mainline denominations (including former upstarts like the Methodists) are being dwarfed by sects born in the latter part of the nineteenth century. These include (p.112) the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostal-Holiness sects. Zikmund’s study of clergy determined that less than half of the ministers in (predominately White) Pentecostal denominations attend seminary.15 While not being stridently anti-seminary, these denominations have returned to the apprentice-style of training that characterized early versions of practically every new American religious tradition.

Joining them have been what sociologist Donald Miller calls “new paradigm” congregations: nondenominational churches and innovative religious movements like the Vineyard Church and Calvary Chapel, which train their ministers in similar ways.16 In Miller’s study of the leadership of these predominantly White and moderately charismatic ministries, he encountered the kind of emphasis on calling above all else which was present in my interviews with Pentecostal ministers. Rejecting the need for seminary, the founder of the Calvary Chapel network is quoted as saying, “God does not call those who are qualified, but qualifies those who are called.”17 In listing the kinds of qualities that guide the selection of leaders, Miller points to characteristics like “passionate commitment to God” and “a Spirit-filled life” as the only prerequisites for effective ministry according to these movements. “After all,” he adds, “they say, Jesus used a group of fishermen to establish his kingdom.”

The Black Church and Educational Credentialing

Formal religious training has been a factor almost from the beginning for the Black church in America. In fact, barely three years after its founding in 1816, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church had created a publishing house that produced study materials for young ministers. Soon, they began to develop Sunday school programs, a development that helped to solidify the Black church’s position at the heart of many Black communities.18 In the absence of opportunities to do so in any other way, former slaves and their descendants were learning to read in these classes, with the Bible as a counterpart to the “New England Primer.”

In 1844, while the AME’s White Methodist peers were still debating the Congregationalists about the value of seminary training,19 this new sect created the Union Seminary in Ohio. The seminary’s objective was explicitly to educate “young men who propose to enter the Christian ministry.”20 Soon after Union Seminary became what is now Wilberforce University (the oldest private degree-granting historically Black university), the church organized the Payne Theological Seminary. Alongside Atlanta’s Gammon and Turner (p.113) seminaries, which were also founded by AME bishops, Payne is one of the oldest historically Black seminaries in the country. In many ways, the AME church has been the only one of the Black denominations to fully embrace the value of formal religious training as an important component of credentialing. While there has been a considerable increase in the numbers of Black clergy graduating from accredited divinity schools or seminaries, much of that growth has been in the AME denomination, which has the highest percentage (48–51 percent) of “trained” clergy.21 They are also the only historically Black church that has made the degree of master of divinity a requirement for pastoring.

The majority of Black clergy do not have seminary training. According to most studies, it is believed that about one-third of all black clergy have had some religious training beyond the college level. Only 10–20 percent of Black clergy are estimated to have completed their professional training at an accredited divinity school or seminary.22 Of the largest Black Protestant denominations, the Church of God in Christ has the smallest percentage of ordained clergy with graduate degrees (19 percent).23 Certainly some of this trend is a function of cost and time. Many Black pastors are bivocational, splitting their time between full-time secular employment and part-time pastoring. But there is also a cultural angle: as in the “new paradigm” congregations, most of the religious talent in Black Pentecostal and Baptist churches is homegrown. For the majority of clergy in these denominations, apprenticeship training with a senior pastor is often the only educational requirement for ordination.24

Specialists without Spirit, Sensualists without Heart

In many Black denominations, the same arguments that White Methodists and Baptists used to reject training at Andover are still being used to reject seminary degrees today. These arguments, when based on scripture at all, are often drawn from passages like 1 John 2:27, which reads “the anointing which you received from [Christ] abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you … the same anointing teaches you concerning all things.” The message implicit in this warning about false teachers, a label occasionally used to describe seminarians, is that anything a religious leader needs he can get directly from God; everything else is counterfeit. The historians C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya explain that contemporary efforts to mandate seminary training collide with these long-held attitudes:

(p.114) The educational issue is problematic for most black churches because the historical evangelical background of the Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals did not have stringent educational demands but only required evidence of a personal call from God to the ministry. The anti-intellectual and fundamentalist strains of that tradition have made it difficult for innovative church leaders and bishops to make professional seminary education a requirement for the ministry.25

These anti-intellectual strains are evident in statements made by Black congregants in the recent past. In Melvin Williams’s book Community in a Black Pentecostal Church, the author quotes COGIC congregants: “Jesus chose common men, everyday men, men used to the sunshine, men used to the rain, not seminary men or college men” and “You may be trained, but not have the Holy Ghost. Education is trivial.”26

The AME bishop William DeVeaux points to “an interesting phenomenon that occurs in some churches. When a guest preacher is introduced, the following comments are often made. ‘She may have a BA, Bachelor of Arts degree, but what really matters is her ‘BA,’ her born again credentials. Some African American Christians go a step further by saying, ‘As you get the learning, do not lose the burning.”27 This milder denigration of educational credentialing points to the continuing suspicion that education is good, but being directly led by God is better.

The fear that too much (religious) education does damage to one’s ability to preach with “power” or conviction finds some resonance among Black preachers and their congregations. This belief was displayed quite prominently in a 2003 forum on the role of the church in Black America. In his introduction to a conversation about Black clergy and religious credentialing, the talk show host Tavis Smiley led with “there ain’t nothing that’s messed up the minds of black folk like crack and Harvard. You put too much education in the minds of black preachers and black pastors, too much spirit exits.”28 In the conversation that ensued, the tensions that still exist among Black clergy were evident.

Some argued that new challenges pastors face—administering larger churches, counseling congregants with more complex problems, learning to recognize less overt incidents of racial disenfranchisement—require pastors to have more training than may have been necessary in the past. For example, one of the issues attracting considerable attention by those studying Black churches is the criticism that those churches are no longer interested in either social justice or social service activism. To this end, the United Church (p.115) of Christ pastor Jeremiah Wright spoke in response to a question posed to him about why Black preachers “preach until we shout” but don’t have any services serving Black people. In particular, he was asked to address why Dr. Martin Luther King endeavored to put theology into practice as a social activist. To cheers, this former professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary replied, “Dr. King was seminary trained, my brotha. So that’s where you get the intersection of the social and the theological hermeneutic. Ninety percent of African-American clergy persons are not seminary trained.” He paused while the audience loudly cheered and then continued, echoing the sentiments of Timothy Dwight spoken centuries before him, “I cannot be a lawyer if I don’t go to law school. I cannot be a doctor if I don’t go to med school. But all I got to do is turn around my collar and ‘hallelujah, I got the anointing’ and I got fifty thousand Negroes following me.”29

Dr. Jacquelyn Grant, a professor of theology at Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center, who also spoke at the Smiley conference agreed with Wright, arguing that:

seminary for the African-American pastor or preacher is in fact crucial. Today our congregations are more educated and it seems then that what is required is an educated pulpit in order to be able to address the needs of educated people. I see no discord between education and preaching. They both are necessary. Other professionals have to go to school to be properly trained and we would expect no less of persons who are called to do the work of God.30

In Dr. Grant’s comments, another important factor in arguments supporting religious credentialing can be found. Today, the ministry remains the only class of Black professionals where most practitioners do not have graduate training.31 In many congregations, this puts the heads of those religious bodies far behind some of their congregants in terms of educational attainment. The historian Jackson Carroll states that “in denominations that have not previously emphasized clergy education, the rising tide of educated laity has had what might be called a ‘push-up’ effect on clergy, with an educated laity pushing for better-educated pastors. Simply put, educated laity generally expect more of their pastors.”32

This consideration may be especially important for Pentecostal churches. While, historically, Black Pentecostal churches were considered the province of poor, southern Blacks, the migration of well-educated, well-heeled Blacks from the North to the South is causing dramatic shifts in the demographic (p.116) makeup of many Pentecostal congregations. In her study of sixty-six black megachurches—all of which were Pentecostal or neo-Pentecostal in their worship style—the political scientist Tamelyn Tucker-Worgs discovered that these predominantly urban churches have overwhelmingly middle- to upper-middle-class memberships.33 It is very likely the case that Black congregants want their religious leaders to be educated. Many studies of Black Americans point to the Black community’s appreciation for education, particularly at the postsecondary level. In fact, Mark Chaves argues that African American congregations are more likely than their White peers to engage in programs that encourage, and even facilitate, congregants’ pursuit of (nonreligious) educational opportunities.34 That said, the desire to have an educated clergy does not necessarily mean they desire a religiously educated clergy.

Pastor Marvin Winans, who was raised in the Church of God in Christ and now pastors a nondenominational Pentecostal church in Detroit, spoke to this point at the Smiley conference. He argued that there is a danger to depending on seminary training:

I believe we should be trained. I believe we should be taught. But can you imagine what educational institutions would have charged for us to receive eternal life or the knowledge of Jesus Christ? How much tuition would it cost us to be filled with the Holy Spirit? How much would they charge us for us to be healed from our diseases?35

Winans gives voice to the Pentecostal (and likely Neo-Pentecostal) perspective that the important components of ministry cannot be taught in a seminary.

COGIC and Educational Credentialing

While the current leader of the COGIC, Bishop Charles Blake, has earned a master’s and a doctoral degree in divinity, no other COGIC Presiding Bishop has earned more than a bachelor’s degree. The founder of the denomination, Bishop C. H. Mason, was admitted to and attended the Arkansas Baptist College. While considered a talented student by the college’s leaders, Mason withdrew after three months because of frustrations with both non-scripture-centered teaching methods and the doctrinal perspectives of the faculty.36 In spite of this, Mason was a strong advocate for education, encouraging education-leader Dr. Arenia Mallory to found the denomination’s Saints Industrial and Literary School (now Saints Academy) in 1926 in Atlanta. His (p.117) successor, Bishop J. O. Patterson Sr. later established the C. H. Mason Seminary and the system of jurisdictional colleges that have since become the Jurisdictional Institutes discussed earlier.37 The jurisdictional college for the Memphis area became the All Saints Bible College in 2002 and offers a bachelor’s degree in religious studies.

The COGIC denomination now owns both undergraduate and graduate institutions designed to train aspiring ministers but still has no requirement that aspirants possess degrees of any kind. While some of my respondents have taken at least one Bible college or seminary course, many ministers maintain a fairly negative appraisal of seminary and seminary-trained clergy. This is not to say that COGIC ministers are anti-education; nearly two-thirds of those I interviewed have some college experience. In fact, the educational range of these ministers is a broad, and likely surprising, one. A little more than a third of the ministers have no college experience at all. Three of those—all women—have less than a high school diploma, with one having attended formal schooling only to the fifth grade. Even if they wanted to, these ministers (half of whom have terminal clerical licenses) would not qualify for seminary admission because they don’t hold bachelor’s degrees.

About 43 percent of the ministers are college graduates.38 Only two of my respondents have undergraduate degrees in religion or theology. Consistent with the norms for Blacks, the men in my sample are less likely to have gone to college or received bachelor’s degrees than the women. One in every five ministers has received some kind of post-baccalaureate degree, but most of these degrees are in something other than religion: either business, education, or social work.39 Two female ministers were pursuing law and medical degrees. Only eight ministers—five men and three women—have master’s degrees or doctorates in divinity. In addition to these eight, twelve other ministers report spending time in some kind of formal religious training.

Hidden in these numbers is a more surprising finding. Half of the ministers without any college experience currently hold either an Elder’s or Evangelist’s license. One of these is a pastor. Of all the ministers who have these terminal credentials, only one-quarter indicate having spent any time in a seminary or Bible college; less than half of those have degrees. Of the pastors I interviewed, only half have seminary degrees. These numbers make clear the role that educational credentialing plays or, more precisely, doesn’t play, in the ordination process of Black Pentecostal ministers. Not only is seminary or Bible college training not a requirement of ordination, it could not even be considered normative. It is the rare COGIC minister who has pursued or completed such training. There is a structural reason for this.

(p.118) The most likely explanation would be that most Black ministers, regardless of denomination, come to recognize a call to ministry late in life. These “late-career” clergy are, understandably, less likely to pursue seminary degrees. While this trend is especially prevalent in Black churches, studies of other religious communities suggest that many clergy decide to pursue callings at a later age than in the past.40 Compared to their counterparts who have been in ministry for ten to twenty years, clergy in both mainstream Protestant and historically Black denominations are getting ordained six to seven years later. According to religion Jackson Carroll, the median age at ordination was thirty-nine for Black clergy who have been in ministry for less than ten years. That number ranges from twenty-one to thirty-two for clergy who have been ministering longer than that.41 One can see from my sample that many COGIC ministers are also late-career clergy. The average age of Aspiring Ministers and Missionaries is forty-five, with men claiming a call to ministry two years later than women.

Concomitant with their late-career decision as clergy is that every one of my respondents would be considered second-career clergy as well. Accordingly, for many of them, their educational training is more closely aligned with their pre-call occupation than with a clerical one. This too is becoming the norm, regardless of race and denomination. While young men and women are still coming into the ministry directly from college, they are in the minority. Most new clergy, including those who have attended seminary, are coming to ministry from another career path. While the second-career trend is not abnormal for mainline and conservative (White) Protestant denominations, where nearly half of the clergy are second-career, it is more significant in Black churches. Almost 80 percent of Black pastors had a different occupation before actively pursuing a call.42

In terms of both late-career and second-career entrants, the clergy is quite different from medicine and law. The age for entry in these professions still hovers around twenty-four to twenty-six; the decision to pursue a law or medical degree generally happens at age twenty-one. The average age at which aspirants seek ordination is thirty-one.43 Compare that number to the average in my sample (forty-five years), and it is clear that pursuing a call by seeking additional educational credentials is prohibitive, based on the disruption to one’s life that decision might cause. This disruption is exacerbated by the twin challenges of finding—and affording—an appropriate seminary.

While the structural barriers are quite real, the church does not see them as insurmountable for someone claiming a call to ministry. The pressures to have appropriately trained ministers weighs heavily on many congregations, (p.119) especially those in urban areas. As COGIC leadership changed, they launched new priorities for the church as it moved toward the new millennium. One of those priorities was responding to the need for a more professional clergy.

In 1995, the COGIC Assembly mandated that anyone seeking professional status via ordination must complete the denomination’s two-year certificate program. Part of the curriculum for the certificate can be found in the Understanding Bible Doctrine as Taught in the Church of God in Christ textbook and workbook.44 The book is “designed to acquaint the candidate [for ordination] with the biblical teachings which constitute the doctrines of the Church of God in Christ.” Aspirants are trained in eleven doctrinal areas: the Bible (Bibliology), God (Theology), Christ (Christology), the Holy Ghost (Pneumatology), Angels (Angelology), Demons (Demonology), Man (Anthropology), Sin (Hamartiology), Salvation (Soteriology), the Church (Ecclesiology), and the Last Things (Eschatology). In addition to doctrine, the other pillars of training (i.e., those tested in written/oral examinations) for ministers are church history and organization. They are required to know COGIC history, COGIC polity and structure, and church protocol. Some training is also offered in Bible study techniques and homiletics (sermon preparation and delivery).

The assumption (stated in the introduction to the handbook) is that “all candidates for ordination must complete the catechism before receiving ordination.” In spite of this mandate, few of my sample’s recent licentiates or ordinands had even seen, let alone completed, the catechism in the back of the training manual. As with many mandates in the Church of God in Christ, the decision to require completion of the seventy-six-page catechism belongs to the Jurisdictional Bishop alone. If he does not require the catechism as part of the credentialing process, it may or may not be used. In larger COGIC churches, the training in catechism is facilitated by in-house courses overseen by a, usually, seminary-trained Elder or Evangelist. The courses themselves are often taught by clergy, but many churches draw on expertise wherever it may reside in their congregation. As a result, licentiates and ordinands may be taking courses taught by lay-members and lay-leaders.

In order to receive a terminal license or to be ordained, female Deaconesses and male Licensed Ministers must pass both an oral and written test created by each jurisdiction’s ordination board. The jurisdiction’s Commissioner of Ordination uses these tests as the key qualifiers for his recommendation to the Jurisdictional Bishop (and for women, the jurisdiction’s Supervisor of Women) that the aspirant be given their final credential. This test, (p.120) based largely on the catechism, can be a stumbling block for some. Ordination committee members gave examples of ministers who could competently give stirring sermons and served the church passionately, but could not pass the written test. In some cases, the minister had to retake the test multiple times until he or she could pass it. Again, as with most COGIC mandates related to training and credentialing, the final decision resides in the hands of the Jurisdictional Bishop. If the recommending pastor can make the case, as one ordination committee member quoted, that “no number on some test should get in the way of this young man’s destiny,” the bishop may waive the test as a requirement.

It is important to note that these are requirements for ordination. In most cases, the local requirements for licensing (which are entirely controlled by the local pastor) are much less structured. In addition to offering some suggestions for aspiring licentiates (e.g., “write one message or lesson each month and present it to your pastor”), one jurisdiction’s training manual for aspiring ministers informs them of how the process might proceed:

Wait for the day that your pastor tells you that he will bring you before the church to be licensed. The process may differ from pastor to pastor. You may desire to ask your pastor to tell you his manner. This is not to question his manner or to tell him how someone else does it. You are asking that you man [sic] know how best to wait with patience. Some pastors will have you preach on a given evening and after you have preached he then will go forth to issue you the license. Other pastors will license you based on your faithfulness alone. The manner is left to the local pastor and you will be licensed based on your fitting into his system.45

This description is a very real example of how imprecise the local-licensing process is for Licensed Ministers and Deaconesses.

Much of this flexibility is a result of COGIC’s (and, more broadly) Pentecostalism’s tensions with what historian Grant Wacker refers to as a “primitive” otherworldliness and a very practical and realistic “pragmatism.”46 Pentecostalism, more than any other Christian religious tradition, is practically defined by nonpredictability and lack of standardization—a sovereign God demands the freedom to act, unconstrained by human rationalism. However, Pentecostal religious leaders are working under the same pressures to maintain professional standards of competence that their less Spirit-oriented counterparts are. These pressures have created long-standing tensions, with which Pentecostalism has had mixed results.

(p.121) Weber’s Priests, Prophets, Charisma

Priestly Professionals

To some degree Wacker’s description of those two poles—the pragmatic and the primitive—finds a corollary in Max Weber’s description of two kinds of religious leaders. The clergy can be divided into two ideal types, priests and prophets, the first being the pragmatic professional and the latter the primitive personality.

Weber suggests that “priests” are, essentially, religious bureaucrats whose primary duty is to patrol the borders of religious ideology. They protect religious institutions by sacralizing certain actions, texts, and interpretations of those texts, drawing clean lines between the traditional values of the community and the tendencies of laity to reject that orthodoxy. The danger here is amplified as religious communities interact with other communities or expand via conversion. Whether labeled priest, pastor, or cleric, religious professionals represent the religious establishment. Their professional status is intrinsically bound to the success of the “corporate enterprise of salvation” they protect.47

Like any professional, Christian priests’ claims to authority are tied to their monopoly of some body of knowledge and the practice associated with it. This is not just a question of claiming exclusive rights to mediate man’s communication with God. Weber argues that not only do they claim to “monopolize the regular management of Yahwe worship and all related activities” but they also claim “a monopoly in the employment of certain oracular formulae, priestly teaching, and priestly positions.”48 In essence, they seek to control the methods by which God communicates with mankind.

Of course, in order to control knowledge, a professional group must standardize that knowledge. In this way, people who stake a claim to knowledge can be tested and deemed legitimate. Physicians have done this by embracing empiricism, moving farther away from seeing medical practice as “art” and beginning to depend more on the efficiency produced in scientific and technical discovery. This move has been effective. Beyond first aid, few laymen would consider themselves competent to meet their own health care needs. “Priests” have been less successful, even with the advent of professional schools, at retaining a monopoly over the arcana of religious practice. Inasmuch as most Protestants take seriously the New Testament principle of the “priesthood of all believers,” the doctrine of priestly mediators between man and God loses much of its meaning. As a result, mainline churches are losing members as congregants find themselves fully capable of meeting their own religious needs.

(p.122) Consider, for example, one of the most sacred religious traditions in the Christian church: administration of the Eucharist. While still mystical in some ways, its management by contemporary priests has become as rationalized as any other priestly duty. Many churches use pre-filled communion cups advertised as “a communion wafer and grape juice in one sanitary, single-serving container.” Laymen can buy these in the same stores where they purchase other paraphernalia once reserved for clergy. In fact, the book by the Pentecostal evangelist Perry Stone, The Meal That Heals, encourages readers to take communion at home as a kind of prophylactic against illness.49

The idea of a trained clergy, already firmly embedded in largely bureaucratic organizations, points to the rationalization of ministry. It might be argued that such training promotes the rational over the traditional, a preference for logical answers over mystical ones. Thus the work of religious professionals becomes formulaic: evangelizing a new convert? Just teach them their “ABCs”—A(dmit your sins), B(elieve in Jesus), C(onfess Him as Savior). A congregant is ill? Just “PRAY”—P(raise), R(epent), A(sk), and then Y(ield). Preaching? Wash your mouth out with “SOAP”—S(cripture), O(bservation), A(pplication), and P(rayer). This development has the potential to lead to the kind of “too much education in … and too much spirit exits” phenomena that Tavis Smiley warned about at his 2003 conference. Weber, too, warned of this possibility when he spoke of “specialists without spirit.”50 While he was speaking of any worker who gave into the bureaucratization of life, the larger context of his comments make this relevant to the question of religious professionalism as exemplified in “priests.”

Charisma and Prophets

While the priest still plays a critical role in religious communities, he is not the only game in town. While much of the priest’s influence is tied to his position in the church, that position and its authority rides on the personal holdings of the priest himself. Weber describes these as “his professional equipment of special knowledge, fixed doctrine, and vocational qualifications, which brings him into contrast with sorcerers, prophets, and other types of religious functionaries who exert their influence by virtue of personal gifts (charisma) made manifest in miracle and revelation.”51 In this summary, Weber introduces readers to another trait held by religious leaders—specifically, prophets—a trait whose meaning is as contested as that of the word “professional.”

(p.123) Indeed, charisma has the power to make a lowly carpenter the “savior of the world” even more than two thousand years after his death on a cross. It made a German shoemaker able to take a distorted version of that cross and make it the most hated symbol in the world. Its power took four young musicians from Liverpool and gained them crowds of crying, fainting followers in America and around the world. For Weber, the chief distinction between priests and prophets is the prophet’s holding of “charisma,” which he defined as

a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which one is “set apart” from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These as such are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as divine in origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.52

Those endowed with charisma gain legitimacy as authority figures because people believe them worthy of being followed. As a result, churches led by charismatic leaders are initially characterized more by follow-ship than by fellowship. The charismatic prophet’s authority is freely given to him or her, and this legitimates them in a very different way than the traditional or bureaucratically determined authority of the priestly professional.53

Weber argues that the legitimacy of true charismatic personalities resides in the followers’ belief that the leader just has “it” and that it is their duty to be devoted to the individual. There is rarely any evidence of this kind of genuine charisma, that is, charisma not catalyzed by some evidence supporting a belief that the person has exceptional qualities. Weber focuses more on the kind of charismatic authority granted as a result of one’s magical abilities, prowess on the battlefield, or ability to enthrall and manipulate. In order for these actions to legitimate someone’s leadership, they must be perceived as worthwhile or important themselves.

In this way, most charismatic communities are, at least initially, governed by an emotional action orientation. Unfortunately, emotional social action is tenuous and is easily undone. If there is a weakening of the evidence of charisma, the followers may rescind their “offer” of legitimacy and the charismatic’s following would minify. Traditionally, this evidence was based in some magical or heroic ability that was usually not sustainable. Defeats in war, droughts, and locust attacks were easy proof that the charismatic leader may have fallen out of favor with the gods. Today, something like a terrible selection of songs or poor reviews of a movie can just as easily bring a charismatic leader down.

(p.124) Studies of charismatic leadership have reduced charisma to a set of personality traits (e.g., visionary, energetic) or abilities (e.g., a command of rhetoric) likely to be found in both secular and religious leaders.54 Even as our redefinition of charisma has expanded the number of people who can be considered “charismatic,” the concept has been stripped of much of the meaning Weber initially gave it. Certainly, Weber is himself partially responsible for this expansion of the “charismatic authority” to describe secular leadership. He places it alongside “legal authority” and “traditional authority” as the means by which secular leaders might legitimately maintain control of social and economic organizations.55 But his definition of charisma, in its purest form, is a religious phenomenon tied much more explicitly to the supernatural. Again, his charismatic prophet is believed to be “endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.”56 These powers—or the assumption that they exist—are what distinguishes the professional priest from the more divinely inspired, and empowered, prophet.

Weber goes to great lengths to describe the resources charismatic leaders—prophets—bring to bear in their efforts to gain acceptance and a following:

It was only under very unusual circumstances that a prophet succeeded in establishing his authority without charismatic authentication, which in practice meant magic. At least the bearers of new doctrine practically always needed such validation. It must not be forgotten for an instant that the entire basis of Jesus’ own legitimation, as well as his claim that he and only he knew the Father and that the way to God led through faith in him alone, was the magical charisma he felt within himself. There was always required of such prophets a proof of their possession of particular gifts of the spirit, of special magical or ecstatic abilities.57

While my respondents refer first to their vertical call as the source of their spiritual authority, they also make a claim to the kind of supernatural powers that characterizes Weber’s charismatic leader. Along with the vertical call, these abilities set them apart from talented (and maybe even gifted) rhetoricians like Barack Obama or visionaries like Bill Gates, both of whom might be considered charismatic leaders. These men’s abilities to lead are considered notable even exceptional by my respondents. But ultimately their abilities would be considered ineffective in a religious context; talents and gifts are inadequate for religious labor. My respondents argue (p.125) that one must have the kind of abilities that Weber describes: powers that “are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are … divine in origin.” Ultimately, charisma is “made manifest in miracle and revelation” and it is on the basis of these powers that charismatic ministers are treated as leaders in their churches.

Congregants and ministers both demand “charismatic” works if they are going to give any credence to a congregational leader’s claim to religious authority. They don’t follow their pastors because these men are professionals who can apply logic and reason to situations. Instead, they argue that in the kinds of situations they encounter, natural and supernatural alike, reason fails. What good is reason when their child has just been in a car accident? Can reason pay their bills when their boss employs a “last hired, first fired” rule unexpectedly? No. They find the kind of reason represented in the solidly trained, professional priest unsatisfying. Instead they require their pastor to have the supernatural capacity to speak to their situation and do what would be considered unreasonable and maybe even impossible, and that is to effect change in their circumstances. Of course, ministers don’t just apply these expectations to other religious leaders. Many ministers claim these same powers for themselves. Surprisingly, given their assertions to have what, at first blush, appeared to be charisma, no one used that term in the interviews. Instead, these ministers describe their authority as being tied to their holding of a charisma-like quality called “the anointing.”

The sociologist Margaret Poloma speaks of terms like “revelation,” “being baptized in the Spirit,” and “being slain in the Spirit” as rhetorical phrases that have meaning in Pentecostal circles but may not be understood at all by non-Pentecostals.58 The “anointing” may be one of these. In the Time article that profiled T. D. Jakes, a former editor of the Pentecostal magazine Charisma was asked to explain how this country preacher has managed to gain such success. Incapable of extolling Jakes’s educational credentials, the editor, Lee Grady, did not turn to the word “charisma” to describe the source of Jakes’s prominence. Instead, he said, “We talk about someone being anointed. Jakes knows he’s got a special trust.”59 While we might consider the Pentecostal televangelist Oral Roberts’s effectiveness as a preacher a function of his “charisma,” Roberts himself claimed an anointing as the source of his oratorical prowess: “I become anointed with God’s word, and the spirit of the Lord builds up in me like a coiled spring. By the time I’m ready to go on, my mind is razor-sharp.”60 Upon the death of the renowned pastor (and college dropout), even the Economist’s version of Roberts’s obituary referred to the “heavy anointing” that enabled him to preach across the world.61

(p.126) Weber describes the prophet’s powers as the source of his appeal, his charismatic authority. The “anointing” may operate in this same way, granting one the ability to perform in the prophetic role, making the absence of priestly “vocational qualifications” irrelevant. But what is this “anointing” and how does it function?

The Anointing: Defined

The clearest description of “the anointing” comes from COGIC Missionary, Kenya. She describes it as “a special impartation through the Holy Spirit to give you the wisdom, the know-how, the revelation to do what it is you need to do from a spiritual perspective. The things that I go forth to do, I know that me and my own ability wouldn’t come up with the ideas, the creativity, the understanding that I have. That doesn’t come from a natural ability.” Kenya’s description of her abilities as unnatural are, in some ways, surprising. From an outsider’s perspective, one might look at the religious labor she does—teaching in and helping to administer the church’s youth Bible study—as fairly routine and manageable. This is especially the case given her secular training and employment as a program coordinator in the local school district. She says she has a gift to teach and a gift to administer, but in order to be effective in her calling, she must be anointed to do it. She explains:

Like with [Vacation Bible School], a curriculum was set before me. So now I need the anointing from the Lord to tell me how to teach this so it would fit this particular group of people. I don’t perceive me getting that from just regular intellect. I need the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit who knows the needs of the people, who knows how it needs to be set up, who knows what needs to be done. The Holy Spirit gave me the creativity on how to map it all out.

Even though a minister might appear to have the requisite skill set to perform church tasks, they downplay those skills. Kenya certainly has the ability to organize a classroom and teach a set of materials given to her by her church’s education coordinator; she does similar tasks every day as a middle-school administrator. But from her perspective, religious labor requires some skills she does not naturally have. When she speaks of needing to know how to “teach this so it would fit this particular group of people,” she’s referring to something other than being able to teach at a grade-appropriate level. She is speaking of needing a kind of supernatural insight into what approach might (p.127) best be used to have an impact on her students. This “revelation to do what it is you need to do” is attributed to divine intervention via this anointing that she describes.

When this anointing is activated, the ministers claim to be supercharged. Again and again, they used the word “power” to describe what they felt the anointing gave them. Their abilities to do ministry are not just unnatural; they’re supernatural. For example, Amy goes farther than Kenya in describing what she is capable of doing when anointed. She is not just more creative or more capable of understanding complex theology. When in “preaching mode” she says, “even the state that I’m in at the time is not a normal state to be in because I’m hyperaware of my surroundings and what’s going on in the room. I can hear things I couldn’t normally hear, I can see things that I couldn’t normally see. And so that’s not me. I know that that’s not me.”

In the absence of any seminary training to perfect their skills as preachers or teachers, ministers pointed to the impact of their anointing. Even when they described working for hours on sermons, ultimate credit for the success of the sermon went to the anointing. Consistently, ministers described the anointing as empowering them to preach. As Carl says, “Right now, if I were suddenly asked to preach, I feel the Lord’s anointing will come on me to be able to preach. That’s the power of God that comes on you and allows you to do whatever He calls you to do.” At the time Carl said this, he had been an Aspiring Minister for just one year, and yet he believed wholeheartedly that, with very little training, he would be capable of successfully preaching a sermon on the spot. Nothing in his professional training as a baker could prepare him to do that. Prior to having a call (and having it endorsed by his pastor), he likely would not have considered himself capable of such a thing. But he understands the calling and the anointing as a package deal. With one, he has access to the other.

Because most ministers serve in some capacity alongside people who neither claim a call nor claim to “operate under an anointing,” they must have a way to distinguish themselves from other religious laborers. One way they do this is by speaking of the anointing as something different from talents, skills, and gifts. Essentially, they argue that someone might have a set of gifts or talents—which they are as likely to attribute to hereditary origins as divine ones—that enable them to be effective as a religious laborer. But, they explain, the gifts or talents can be absent, and the anointed person can still be effective. The most common example used to explain this phenomena was musical ministry. The comments of one Evangelist, Katherine, capture this idea:

(p.128) See, the calling and the anointing go together, but a gifting and an anointing may not. I can be gifted to sing, hitting all the right notes. And you’re the person that cannot sing. But if God has anointed you, I believe God does something not just to the giver but to the receiver. Although you sound like junk, because the anointing is on your life, they’re not even hearing your bad notes. What they’re hearing is what you’re singing and the message that you’re giving. But if I can sing, but there’s no anointing there, I believe that nobody’s receiving anything from that.

While many describe the anointing as enabling them to do the kinds of tasks one might be otherwise trained or skilled at, like teaching or singing, they also describe its importance in managing other tasks. Many COGIC ministers, both men and women, ordained and licensed, are expected to do more than preach sermons, teach classes, and administer the sacraments. Additional responsibilities that some ministers claim to be anointed to do are drawn from a list of gifts found in Ephesians 4:11–13 that includes serving, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, giving, leading, and showing mercy. Like teaching, many of these responsibilities are shared by lay-members in the COGIC church. Ordained and licensed ministers participate in these tasks but don’t consider them the exclusive domain of someone who is called. That said, many believe these tasks are important enough that anyone doing them should be anointed. Essentially, they believe that everyone who does ministry, including what many might consider lay-ministries like choral music, ushering, and hospitality, should be anointed for it, even if they have not been called as a minister.

There is another set of tasks, though, that COGIC ministers argue requires both a calling and an anointing. In some cases, both COGIC doctrine and the Bible explicitly charge clergy with these tasks. According to the COGIC manual, the church believes in and practices divine healing. It describes scriptural commands for spiritual leaders to heal, pointing most directly at the quotation compelling a sick church member to “call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (James 5:14–15). Healing is still practiced widely and frequently in the Church of God in Christ and, according to the manual, “testimonies to healing in [the] church testify to this fact.”62 My respondents believe that the list of supernatural abilities enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10 and other places—which include giving prophecies, discerning and subduing evil spirits, speaking in or understanding (p.129) unlearned languages, and having special insight into or knowledge of circumstances—are real and actively practiced by COGIC clergy. In fact, many ministers listed one or more of these attributes as a function of their own call to ministry.

While one might imagine not needing any supernatural powers to give a sermon or distribute meals to the homeless, these forms of religious labor would certainly require something more than a course in homiletics. Believing themselves responsible to carry out these tasks, ministers find in those responsibilities their biggest premise for requiring an anointing. For example, Paulette describes her ability to heal parishioners:

The anointing of God comes in and empowers you to do certain aspects that He has called you to do. I couldn’t lay hands on the sick and they recover if I didn’t have the anointing of God. If He calls you, He’s going to empower you to do what He’s commissioned for you to do. The anointing is when it is not you yourself operating. You realize that you could not have done that and it’s not you. You are now operating at a point that you know it is only God himself.

Anointing Carriers and the Anointing Infused

When it comes to understanding how the anointing operates in their lives, ministers seem to come in two types. While some ministers blur these distinctions in their descriptions, the vast majority of them tend to fall into two clear categories. The first, and smaller category of ministers, are “anointing-carriers.” They consider the anointing to be something they always have, making them certain that whenever they have an opportunity to do ministry, they will be effective. In light of this, some believe they carry their anointing with them in nonreligious environments, such as shopping malls, as well as religious venues. Some ministers believe that their anointing is useful for what we might consider secular tasks, but which they see through a spiritual lens. For example, Courtney claims to use her anointing when shopping:

When I go shopping, my thing is I need God to lead me. I pray and ask Him first for the parking space, then I pray and ask Him to guide me to be a good steward over what He has blessed me with. Once, I had to buy something for my daughter and the thing was like $700, but I found it in this little obscure place for $30. I consider He led and He guided me. He anointed me to spend the money that He blessed me with.

(p.130) For others, the anointing is not used to function in these situations. As Katherine says, “it’s not that deep with me. I don’t use the anointing in the mall. I’d rather use my natural abilities when it comes to certain things. Not to say that I don’t need the Lord or the guidance of the Holy Spirit in my everyday life. Yes I do. But it’s just certain things that I feel capable of.” Most carriers argue that the anointing’s presence within them makes them capable of operating in their calling at any given moment. In fact, some claimed to be anointed during the interview, suggesting that this power would ensure that they said what God needed them to say in response to my questions.

Anointing-carriers tend to describe the anointing as “rising up” in them or “coming out” of them, almost as if it lies dormant until they have a ministry opportunity. Natalie says:

I would say that there is an anointing on my life, but I don’t believe it’s activated except when I have to step before God’s people to do ministry. Sometimes I can be on my way to prison ministry and just be fleshly Natalie, driving in traffic trying to get there on time, screaming at the other drivers to get out of my. But I know that as soon as I get behind the podium, there’s no more flesh there. It’s all just anointing then.

Like Natalie, the anointing-carriers describe feeling anointed from the very moment they begin to do ministry. Raquel says, “it’s there in me. It’s part of me. I don’t have to wait to get up behind the podium. It’s in me before I even leave the house, so I know it’s in me as I’m doing the work.”

The second set of ministers refers to the anointing as something that comes upon them during an act of ministry. Like the “carriers,” they expect the anointing to operate whenever they are doing ministry, but they were more likely to talk about the anointing as something they can feel descending on them at some point during the ministry act. For example, some would describe being in the middle of a sermon and feeling their “help coming on.” This “help”—the anointing—was described as something they could literally feel, either as a flush or tingling of the skin or as a kind of head rush. Often this moment was accompanied by outbursts of glossolalia (or “tongues”) or involuntary muscular tics ministers referred to as “quickening.” Whatever the particulars of the infusion, ministers claim to know precisely the moment when the anointing is activated. Mylisha described the moment this way:

God, how can I explain it? I can feel the presence of the Lord and I can feel the change within me and how the Word of God is just coming up, as the (p.131) scripture says, “out of your belly shall flow rivers of living water”? I know it’s God because of the things that are happening, how the Word of God is coming and coming, and then it’s just overflowing. I can tell that the spirit of God is just taking over and I’m operating under the anointing.

It became clear in ministers’ descriptions that this infusion of the anointing tended to occur only during acts of ministry they might consider needing to be “empowered” for. The moments most often given in examples were preaching, praying, and teaching—in that order. Ironically, no one mentioned “feeling the anointing” while participating in sacramental tasks (i.e., administering the Eucharist or baptism) reserved only for ordained clergy.

The anointing may also be activated, in a felt way, only during those parts of one’s religious service that they feel a particular call to. Tasha, a Deaconess who also sings on her church’s praise team, feels called to preach but doesn’t describe herself as called, specifically, to music ministry. While she might not feel any particular infusion of the anointing while singing, she describes feeling something when asked to introduce a song to the audience:

It’s like this sensation’ll come over me. And then I’ll get up there, not having practiced anything, and it’s like I can just, I’ll get to talking, and the words aren’t scattered. They’re just flowing and they’re connecting and they’re ushering in the spirit of praise, and by the time I’m done, I’m like, wow, what did I say? When the anointing comes on me, I just know something’s happening to me at that moment. I know this level of authority that comes on me, and it just takes me to another level.

Just as they can describe the moment when they receive the anointing, ministers seem to know when the anointing is withdrawn. They describe the circumstances of the anointing’s infusion and withdrawal almost as one might describe an adrenaline rush. Amy says that “when that moment passes and that anointing kind of subsides, you’re drained, you’re tired, you feel like a wet towel.” Again, they seem to experience the anointing as something physical and real. Kelly describes this moment the same way: “When you’re up ministering and stuff like that, you’re highly anointed to do that. And you can go and do stuff like that, sweat like crazy, and don’t pass out. And then as soon as you finished, then you’re drained. Because that anointing’s lifted off you. It’s a supernatural ability that comes on you to do something at a particular time.”

(p.132) The Role of Audiences

Just as congregants play a role in legitimizing a minister’s calling, they are also part of the process whereby one’s anointing is confirmed. In some ways, the audience’s response to a minister’s preaching or teaching is, at once, a confirmation of both their calling and their anointing. To the extent that ministers believe that an anointing is evidence of a calling, they depend on a response to their anointing to legitimize their sense that they are called. This was not only evident in their statements about their own calling but in their evaluations of other ministers’ callings as well.

Many anointing-carriers spoke of “fruit” as an important component of their belief in their anointing (see Jn. 15:1–8). In fact, their past experience with effective ministry seems to have led many of them to the belief that are always anointed. Katherine exemplifies a common anointing-carrier perspective when she explains:

I know I’m anointed because everything that I do, everything that I set out to do, I see the fruits of it. I see the fruits in other people’s lives. And I see the fruit in my life. I see the things that I’ve done in Christ based on what my calling is and my anointing. I see the fruits. It’s like the seed is planted and here’s the fruit of it.

A history of positive audience responses to her religious labor strengthened Katherine’s belief that she had the ability to be successful in future exercises of her calling. Audiences help give meaning to the ability to do ministry just as they give meaning to the motivation for it.

That said, anointing-carriers didn’t always require a response in order to maintain their belief that they were anointed. Some described situations when they would pray for someone and nothing seemed to happen in that moment. These are the kinds of moments described earlier that might otherwise appear to be a test of one’s calling and, pertinent to this chapter, anointing. In the absence of positive outcomes, they stated that their belief in their calling and anointing never wavered. They have reasons for this, backing up their claims using examples from the ministry of Jesus himself. While in most cases, Jesus’ ministry had “immediate” effects, ministers made the case that his anointing didn’t always operate that way.

Their primary argument was that every act of anointed ministry does not have an immediate effect, describing those situations as “as they went” (p.133) encounters. Most describe these moments in terms of the biblical accounts of Jesus healing ten lepers (Lk. 17:11–19) or healing a blind man (Jn. 9:1–7). In both accounts, the healing did not seem to happen in Jesus’ presence. Instead, the lepers were cured as they went the priest and the blind man was only able to see after washing mud out of his eyes in the pool of Siloam. The ministers pointed to similar examples from their own ministry where they might tell someone to go to their doctor to confirm the effectiveness of a prayer for healing. Alternately, they extend the “fruit” metaphor to these circumstances, explaining that they are only “planting a seed” and that it takes time for the anointing to fully produce whatever outcome it is intended to produce.

They also read these two biblical stories as parables about deference to spiritual authority, essentially arguing that the healings required the lepers and the blind man to trust Jesus and follow his instructions. They suggest, for example, that the lepers’ healing would not have happened had they not had faith in Jesus’ power to heal them. Paulette argued this point exactly, extending it to her own preaching ministry:

In that same way, God anoints the Word, but that Word has to land on good ground. People have to be receptive to it, and you can’t always do something if somebody’s not receptive. If they’re not open to it, if they’re not open to the will of God, you can have all the anointing in the world. It’s not going to change their situation.

This is one of the ways that the anointing is different from charisma. Anointing-carriers like Paulette do not require a positive response from the people she ministers to. Charisma requires a response and is measured by its effectiveness at drawing followers. Paulette doesn’t measure her effectiveness that way. When followers don’t see results, she sees the problem as theirs: she would be more effective if the followers weren’t so flawed. In this way, she can still maintain her belief in her anointing even if it doesn’t engender a response.

Those who experience an “infused anointing” depend as much on their own physical sensations as the responses of an audience, but even they are clearly affected by audience interaction. In fact, they are more likely than anointing-carriers to speak of outcomes as a determinant of anointed ministry. Justine, a Deaconess at the time of her interview, spoke of the common occurrence of being drafted to do ministry without preparation and how much she depended on the anointing:

(p.134) So often in my experience I get surprised by chances to preach. There’s no real chance to do a lot of study and preparation before I have to get up there. I believe that that’s why He does that; so that I don’t try to make my whole purpose be to get up and to preach the people crazy. Half the time I’m not feeling anything but fear when I get up there. And I don’t always get effects. One time I thought I was a bad preacher because the people just sat there.

This feeling of uncertainty, of wondering if the anointing will (or did) “show up” was described by many as an important, and even desirable, attribute of the phenomena. For example, Joel defends his lack of certainty about the anointing, claiming that this uncertainty keeps him humble:

Most of the time I know I’ve been operating in the anointing only when I’m walking away from a time of ministry. Because, see, I think that’s where the flesh will come in if you say, “I’m walking in here and I’m going to blow these people away with my anointing.” It’s not like you can turn the anointing on or off. I have to go in thinking I’m going in here to do what God has me to do. Then whatever happens happens.

Obviously for ministers like Joel, the goal of any ministry opportunity is success at it. These ministers often measured their success both in the degree to which they “felt” anointed and on the level of response they got from their audience. These measures of success were more readily available in certain specific ministry situations.

While anointing-carriers occasionally spoke of their anointing’s activation in the absence of an audience (e.g., while praying alone or even doing the dishes), those who experienced anointing infusions almost always gave examples of ministry interactions with other people. In those cases, the audience’s response played an important role in confirming their sense that even if they weren’t on track with their plans for the lesson or prayer, they were still operating in an effective manner. Reflecting on this, George described how he feels when he comes prepared to minister and God chooses to do something different:

I have my objectives and all the key points that I want to hit. But when He begins to sidetrack me, make me deter from that, that’s when I can see where people’s hearts are being touched and the tears begin to flow. It’s not me doing it. I don’t think I’m saying something so amazing. I don’t think it’s just emotion either. I consider it the anointing of God working through me destroying that yoke, breaking those chains and those binds in the people’s lives.

(p.135) When the Anointing Falls

While George suggests that he is able to reflect upon his in-the-moment experience of ministry, some ministers claim to be so overtaken by the anointing that they go into a kind of dissociative fugue state. In that state, they are incapable of measuring their success by audience response. They suggest that under the anointing’s influence, they are no longer in control of their bodies and have little recollection of the events that took place while ministering.

In some cases, they were very clear that they were lucid when this was happening. In explaining a moment when the anointing enabled her to pray with a congregant, Sharon said, “I don’t know what I said to her after that, but I know it was words of encouragement. A whole different tone. I’m not saying I went into a trance or nothing, but God just spoke directly through me like in the movie Ghost with Whoopi Goldberg. That’s how I knew it was the anointing.” While Sharon knew the point when the anointing started to affect her, she had no recollection of what she said after that point.

This phenomena seems to occur in a variety of situations. Monica says, “when I’m speaking, I’m not there. When I’m praying for somebody, I’m not there. I guess I just zone out for lack of a better phrase. I do things and have no idea that I did it. So I know it’s not me because I’ll have no recollection of saying or doing what people tell me I’ve done.” Monica describes various ministry opportunities where she was overcome by the anointing, experiencing it so powerfully that she describes herself as not even being conscious. A more dramatic version of this was relayed by Jeff who was also required to minister with little preparation:

We have a model here where you need to be ready when called. One time they just called me up because the guy whose time it was didn’t come. I got up there and I didn’t have any idea what I was going to say. To tell you the truth, even now I can’t tell you what I said. Afterwards I had to ask my wife what I said because I was gone. I remember standing up behind the podium and leaving the podium, but all that in between? No clue, Doc.

The most common element in these explanations of the anointing’s function was these moments when ministry was required but the minister had no time to prepare. In a practical sense, this is no different than a lawyer having to think on his feet as his opponent changes course in the midst of a trial or a physician suddenly being called on to render first aid. (p.136) But imagine that same physician having to do an emergency procedure and claiming, once done, that he “zoned out” and doesn’t remember doing the operation. While our trust in that physician would be shaken by such an admission, similar admissions by ministers are intended to strengthen the hearer’s trust in them as someone who is truly dependent on God for their successes.

Just as ministers resisted any suggestion that their calling was self-initiated, they consistently spoke of their actual religious labor as being outside of the scope of their own abilities. Unlike other professions, personal inadequacy and even lack of knowledge or skill authenticates one’s membership in the corps of called and anointed ministers. Jimmy spoke of his ministry on the street team:

To be able to have people crying in the street and accepting Christ? That ain’t me. That’s when the anointing’s going. I’m just being used by God. So you know it’s Him that draws everybody to hisself, not me. I’m just there. Like I said, I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but Lord I’m available. Once again, I depend on Him and I trust Him to give me what to say and to do the work.

While charismatic leaders are often assumed to be outsiders—rabble-rousers who seek to usurp priestly authority—that is rarely the case. The prophet is often a member of the traditional organization who, through normal means, probably could not attain a leadership position at all. They could not make any claim to power based on position or purse. So, in a way, the possibility of charismatic authority allows nobodies to rise up and lead. The anointing enables seemingly unqualified men and women to do the same.

For example, Jimmy’s assertion that he’s not the “smartest guy in the world” is one that was repeated in different ways by many of my respondents. They would often say things like “I know it wasn’t me” or “I’m not smart enough to come up with that” as a way to underscore the authenticity of their calling. By claiming non-elite status (i.e., “I don’t deserve to be used this way”), they strengthen the claim that their ability to effectively play out the prophetic role isn’t a function of origins, training, or even hard work. Instead, they argue, they depend fully on God’s favor and His anointing. Success in ministry is not theirs to claim; the credit—or as they describe it, “the glory”—remains His.

(p.137) When the Anointing Fails

An important rationale for only recognizing one’s successes in ministry as a function of an anointing, rather than one’s talents, training, or even preparation, is that sometimes the anointing fails. One of the most surprising characteristics of the anointing, and one that makes it quite different from the skills/knowledge one might gain by training, is the possibility that someone could “lose their anointing.” For many of my respondents, a person could find themselves dis-empowered.63 Some had biblical examples for this possibility. The two most common examples were the biblical judge and strongman Samson and the first king of Israel, Saul.

In most cases, people were adamant that disobedience—whether in your use of your anointing or in your character—was grounds for losing one’s anointing and that this loss could hinder one’s effectiveness even if they are called. Apparently, an important aspect of access to this anointing, this power source, is the required absence—figuratively—of the body. Referred to as “the flesh” by many respondents, the body seemed to be a hindrance to the full activity of the anointing. The body, or “flesh,” is considered to be the locus of sinful behaviors and motivations; it is profane. As a result, it must be managed in order for the anointing, a sign of the minister’s sacredness, to be fully activated. Amy speaks of this management, “Like at work, I’m having a hard time staying out of flesh. I really got to get that under subjection. When I know I ain’t been right all week, I feel like God can’t use me. My anointing can’t be as high as it should be.”

While some speak of having to actively manage their flesh, claiming to tamp it down or bring it into submission, others suggest that the anointing itself does the work of managing their flesh. As Jeff argues, “having the anointing is knowing that the spirit of God is there upon you. You’re out of the way. The flesh is out of the way and it’s the anointing of God, the spirit of God that has taken over with the power.”

Ministers are adamant that even if a person is called to do ministry, there is the possibility that they could fail in that ministry if they haven’t managed their flesh. They tend to describe the problem as the sociologist Emile Durkheim did when he described sacred things as “par excellence, that which the profane should not touch, and cannot touch with impunity.”64 It seems that the profane “flesh” and the sacred “anointing” cannot abide in the same vessel. This idea was expressed more plainly by Mona:

(p.138) I just don’t see how God can bless mess. Now understand me. They may look effective. The people might shout and things, but if the ministers’ life ain’t holy, there’s not going to be any real change going on because the anointing won’t be there. God’s anointing can’t rest in an unclean vessel. Even David. He was a man after God’s heart, but when he did that dirty thing with Bathsheba even he was praying, “Lord don’t take your anointing from me”

Seminaries: Not Really “A School of the Prophets”

My respondents claim to have supernatural gifts and talents—an anointing. Why not do what other “prophets,” like Jeremiah Wright or mega-pastor Rick Warren did and take those gifts to seminary? Why don’t they become priests? The answer came early in the interviews when I asked some of my respondents a seemingly simple question: “Without any additional information, if you had to place your children in a Sunday school class taught by a teacher who claimed to be called to the ministry or one taught by a teacher who also claimed a call and had been trained in seminary, which teacher would you choose?” In every case but one, the respondents paused for a moment and then answered, often shyly, that they would choose the nonseminarian. Their answers came with critiques similar to this one from Deana, a forty-year-old teacher with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in education: “I would say the one who hasn’t gone to seminary. Personally, I think if you need to go to school to learn how to do ministry, that’s a crutch. You can tell the difference between someone who was schooled by man and someone who was schooled by the Holy Ghost.” In different ways, ministers seem to share Deana’s rejection of seminary or other formal (i.e., outside of their local church or jurisdiction) training as part of the formula for effective ministry. They are likely advocates for general education, not only for themselves or their children but also for members of their congregations. But while they believe education is necessary for success in other occupations, most see ministry differently. They argue that the important ministerial skills cannot be taught and that people trained in seminaries are either “handicapped” or inauthentic ministers.

Seminaries Can’t Teach It

As our discussion of the anointing shows, the primary reason for rejecting seminary is ministers’ beliefs that the knowledge required to do most religious labor cannot be learned in the classroom. Claims to be able to heal illnesses, prophesy, and exorcise demons have long been central to Pentecostalism’s (p.139) understanding of itself as distinctive among Protestant religious movements. The historian Grant Wacker describes the testimonials of early American Pentecostals who sought the kind of power my respondents claim comes with the anointing: “Many, perhaps most, spiritual memoirs began by referring to years of intense yearning for an ‘enduement of power.’ For some it meant the ability to perform apostolic miracles of healing and exorcism, for the others the ability to witness for Christ with extrahuman boldness and effectiveness.”65 What is notable about this description of the Pentecostal’s desire for supernatural ability is its inclusion of both “miracles” and of what might appear to outsiders as more natural, and trainable, achievements.

It is not enough for Pentecostals to depend on the anointing to be able to do miracles. They also consider the anointing to be critical for witnessing, preaching, and other tasks that are taught in seminary courses. As such, they find seminary training in these areas irrelevant to one’s effectiveness as a minister. While this was consistently voiced by ministers without any seminary training, it was echoed by some who had attended Bible colleges. Kelly explains:

I went to Bible school. I learned the facts about the Bible and the history of the Bible and all that kind of stuff. But there wasn’t much that they could teach me that I could really use to change people’s lives. The revelation that I get directly from God is something different. When the anointing’s there, it’s like a supernatural ability to take that Word and really use it.

Seminarians Are Handicapped

Ministers’ critique of seminary training goes farther than this. Not only do they consider such training unnecessary but they also describe it as problematic. Thus they would not just avoid prescribing seminary training for aspiring ministers, many offered proscriptions against it. One reason they denounce seminary training is their sense that seminaries hamper effective ministry. They worry that material taught in most university settings, but particularly in seminaries, is likely to be contrary to their beliefs. Their evidence for these suspicions are, in some ways, dependent on their own experience in these environments.

Some point to courses in religious studies, sociology, anthropology, or English literature (e.g., “the Bible as literature”) they had taken as undergraduate students at secular institutions. Tanya, a Deaconess, told us that “the professor told us on day one that he wasn’t a believer and that we were just studying it as a book just like any other book. I should have (p.140) known what I was getting into just from that, but I stayed anyway. I admit it caused me to question some things.” Some ministers state that they took these courses prior to receiving a call to ministry, and that these courses made them wary of similar training they expected to get in seminaries.

Others, who had taken courses in Bible colleges or seminaries, reported similar experiences. Kathryn, a fifty-five-year-old Deaconess who has gone to seminary part-time over the course of three years, made the case that COGIC ministers need to be prepared to go to seminary. She discussed arguments she had gotten into with Sunday school students who had taken noncredit courses offered by a local Lutheran-affiliated seminary: “I’ve had some seminary training and I got caught up in it too. There was a way of thinking when I came out that made me look at things different. I think there’s a danger in seminary. The Bible says ‘lean not on your own understanding’ and I think seminary can really take you away from that.”

The harshest critiques against religious training came from a third group. Most ministers who criticized seminary training had had no experience at all with religious training outside of either their local church or their COGIC jurisdiction’s training institutes. Their apprehensions were based on the testimonies of other ministers or on their own impressions of ministers who had pursued seminary degrees. Sheba, another young Deaconess, says she still occasionally considers taking courses at a local seminary but is skeptical of the benefits that training is supposed to provide. She worries that the courses might “take [her] backwards,” a fear based on conversations with a seminary-trained mentor: “My old pastor—who had a degree, mind you—said that when you go to seminary, most of the teaching is contrary to what the Word is and what you believe. So if you’re going to go to seminary, you better know your Word.”

Curtis, who has been an ordained Elder for nearly twenty years but holds only a high school diploma, is not only critical of seminaries but of their product as well. He, like most of my respondents, maintains a belief that the anointing—more than training or preparation—is the key to a successful performance as a minister. He explains why he believes training is not only futile, but the lessons learned there might hinder effective ministry:

I never prepare a whole lot because I’ve learned the hard way that you’re never going to use that. Why? Because if God gets his opportunity, what he’s going to reveal is revelation. It’s going to be direct from him. That right there is one of the things you see a lot with people who have been [uses (p.141) quotes with his fingers] “trained.” They try to plan out their whole message. I think a lot of people who been taught in seminary are being taught how to do that and not relying on God to do it. The anointing’s coming if you are relying on God to do it.

The emphasis on preaching is perhaps related, to some degree, to the accessibility that both trained and untrained ministers have to that particular form of religious labor. For example, at the church attended by a subset of my interviewees, one of their colleagues had been to seminary to be trained in pastoral counseling. The consensus about that minister was that her roles as preacher and counselor were different. At the time, she was serving as a counseling intern at the church, in preparation for receiving a chaplaincy at a local hospital. They believed that both jobs required an anointing, but the counselor position required the kind of training she received in seminary. In fact, they didn’t criticize her at all, even after rendering more abstract criticisms against seminaries and seminarians. The specific task her training was being applied to had an impact on their acceptance of her training. Again, this suggests that there is no wholesale rejection of education. Instead, it may be the case that training which is attached to one’s professional employment, even if ultimately religious in nature, is acceptable.

Seminarians Are Inauthentic

Curtis’s statement denouncing “trained” ministers also points to another problem Pentecostals have with seminary training: it produces inauthentic ministry. Because so much of the called identity is tied to the idea that ministers cannot take credit for their successes, seminarians’ ability to claim a learned set of skills seems anathema to their untrained peers. Even in those cases where ministers respect the skills of trained ministers, they still disparage them as less authentic than themselves. Carl, a forty-four-year-old Aspiring Minister with no college experience, does this when he says,

It’s not easy to preach. I can share my testimony, but to outline a sermon and really give God’s people God’s Word? That’s not easy. We have some people here who are truly Bible students. They been to school and learned things I would never be able to get. So to stand before them and give them God’s word, you have to come correct. But I know one thing, they can’t hold a candle to someone really flowing in the anointing. Even without a degree. I know where God guides, he provides.

(p.142) Untrained ministers, especially those without college degrees, resisted any suggestion that they needed seminary training to serve as ministers. Tequia, who has two years of college but no degree, argues that “ministry can’t be like a vocation where you go to school and learn it like a trade, like some skills. I know what I have comes from God. I can’t help wondering when some Dr. Such-and-Such preaches what book he got that message from.”

This was a common theme among these ministers. They argued that seminary-trained preachers were fakes, mimicking what they learned in classes, drawing on sermons they’ve read or watched as inspiration for the sermons they deliver. They spoke of religious labor as having technical aspects that accompanied good ministry but which weren’t always necessary in order for that ministry to be effective. It was those aspects that they ridiculed as easily learned and copied by seminarians. Eric, a fifty-seven-year-old Aspiring-Minister whose full-time job as a human resource manager made pursuing seminary training difficult, pointed out the difference between his anointing and others’ ability:

I think that someone can have technical abilities to do certain things and not be anointed to do it at all. Like we can learn the mechanics of something and go through the motions of doing it but it doesn’t mean that we’re really called to do it; it’s just that we can mimic doing it. You see that a lot in seminary-trained preachers. They learned how to do the technical work of ministry, how to talk, how to make sure you have three points, but they don’t really have any real impact because they’re not anointed.

This criticism was not just reserved for seminary training. A number of the ministers complained about being required to go to the jurisdictional courses on homiletics, those courses designed to teach techniques, principles, and standard practices in the delivery of sermons. Angela, an Evangelist with an associate’s degree, argued that these classes simply become showcases for ministers’ abilities to imitate their favorite preacher: “You can learn to do things in those classes. You can learn all the body language and it’s just theatrics to me. I find today a lot of people emulate other big preachers. You’ll know who they really like because you can see part of them in their stance or their presentation. God don’t make copycats.”

The COGIC ministers’ reliance on “the anointing” over seminary training as the source of their knowledge or skills need not be viewed as global antiintellectualism. In some cases, while their defense of the anointing may have left little room for the possibility of training’s impact on the core tasks of (p.143) ministry, my own survey of popular books sold in their churches’ bookstores told a different story. Entire shelves were heavy with books on intercessory prayer, expository teaching, counseling, leadership, spiritual warfare, healing, and even prophecy and divination. While these books were likely being purchased by clergy and laymen alike, it stands to reason that some of the clergy were using these books to supplement and reinforce their understanding of these phenomena. Indeed, some of the minister’s homes had book collections that rival those of any seminarians.66

These books are clearly written as how-to books. For example, there is a hugely popular book by the Black Pentecostal evangelist John Eckhardt titled Prayers That Rout Demons.67 The book claims to teach readers how to preach, prophesy, heal the sick, and cast out demons, the four major tasks my respondents say requires the anointing—not training—to accomplish. The publisher’s description of the book says that it “combines powerful prayers with decrees taken from Scripture to help you overcome demonic influence and opposition in your life. It includes an introduction to spiritual warfare and biblical principles for praying along with specific declarative warfare prayers for every circumstance. Prayers That Rout Demons is your reference handbook for defeating the devil.” The popularity of this book and a host of others points to the likelihood that Pentecostals believe that there is some room for instruction when it comes to even “supernatural” religious labor. It is likely that this belief is played out by my respondents and other nonseminarians in the church.

It is somewhat counterintuitive that having more education might decrease one’s status in the minds of these Pentecostal ministers and the congregants they serve. But we see a similar dynamic in the ways self-taught artists and musicians describe themselves and the status given to them. The “authentic” artist is the one whose craft is uninfluenced by the established institutions, born of instinct rather than color-by-numbers-trained sensibilities. By producing this “primitive art,” they gain status, not despite their lack of training but because of it.68 Gary Fine, a sociologist, quotes the art critic James Yood’s description of this inverted status system:

Intuitive [self-taught] art is seen then as the sole art of Arcadia, all else is fraudulent, mired in intellectual corruption, needlessly obscure and pretentious. What was low now becomes high, what was high now becomes debased. New York is Gomorrah, education causes loss of originality, knowledge is insidious and rejectable, and anti-intellectualism is to be defended and made officially viable.69

(p.144) We could easily replace the word “art” here for “ministry” and “New York” with “Harvard Divinity School” and find this an apt description of the beliefs about seminary training that many Pentecostals seem to hold.

While we might expect untrained ministers to use such criticisms to counteract any damage to their own reputation or sense of themselves as serious pursuers of a call, this doesn’t explain why even those ministers with religious training or even secular, but relevant, training provide the same appraisals. Again, we see the tension between pragmatism and primitivism, the priest’s reason and the prophet’s revelation. Although reason and pragmatism may be more valued in non-Pentecostal denominations, that is not the case among members of the Church of God in Christ. If there are only two explanations for a spiritual problem, “we figured out a solution” and “your faith has made you whole,” the more appropriate answer in a denomination that considers its leaders prophets and not priests falls into the latter case. It is for this reason that many professionally trained teachers in my sample don’t claim the “logical” explanation for their success in Sunday school, claiming instead that their talents would be ineffective without the anointing. In this cultural context, the pragmatic or technical solution to spiritual problems—and every problem is, ultimately, spiritual in nature—is simply insufficient. It would be like trying to fix a crooked nail with a spoon. There’s nothing wrong with the tool; it’s just the wrong one for the job.

A Caveat on the Value of Seminary Training

It would be unfair to suggest that all of my respondents were ill-disposed toward seminary or other formal Bible training. Some spoke quite eloquently about the evolution in their perspective about seminary training, an evolution that started at the same place that many of their peers remain. In contrast to those who saw seminary training as a handicap, these ministers spoke of the training as a possible asset. Like their peers, they still retained the sense that the ability to do successful ministry was dependent on the anointing. But they also recognize that outside of Pentecostal circles, a profession of an anointing might be insufficient for some opportunities. Angelo, a twenty-nine-year-old Elder, has recently begun to pursue his bachelor’s degree in the hopes of eventually earning a master’s degree in divinity. The son of a Baptist pastor and a COGIC Evangelist, he is well aware of the benefits of seminary training; his father has a doctorate in divinity.

(p.145) Angelo, who was called to the ministry as a teenager, originally believed the anointing was all he would need to be effective in ministry. Using the apostle Paul as a model, he described how he came to realize it might not be enough:

Initially I thought there were some things I had to work on like stage presence or people skills. When I was younger, I felt that while I needed to work on that, the anointing would help me through those deficiencies. But I’ve come to believe there’s a greater quantity of people you can reach with the skill that comes from an education. Paul said we need to be all things to all people. He was trained in the religious seminaries of his time. He was a Jew but also had learned the culture of the Greeks and Romans, their language, their culture. Even though he had this undeniable experience with God, he was able to minister to the Gentiles because he had this education. While God can definitely give me the skills without a degree, there might be a need for it so I can identify with a greater number of people. There are some people who won’t listen to me preach because I don’t have a degree.

In his description of Paul, Angelo draws on a statement in 1 Corinthians where Paul proclaims “to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak: I have become all things to all men, that I might be all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:20–22). While Angelo suggests that seminary would be instrumental in enabling him to “be all things to all people,” three of the ministers mentioned earlier—T. D. Jakes, Paula White, and Joel Osteen—are experts at shaping their messages to reach different audiences, and none of them learned those skills in seminary classrooms.

Shayne Lee, a sociologist, and the historian Phillip Sinitiere, in describing T. D. Jakes’s particular talents state, “Some may call this God’s anointing, others may acknowledge it as the preacher’s craft; but however one frames it, Jakes radiates the kind of energy that leaves audiences spellbound.”70 Lee and Sinitiere detail moments when Jakes, literally, follows Paul’s example by “speak[ing] in the place of those hurting and longing for relief,” sometimes reviewing his own struggles before audiences in a way that makes his message more persuasive, more “touchable,” more “real.”71 These talents, shared by Osteen and White, are described as effective because of their conformance to sound psychological principles. Yet, we are also reminded that these powerful models of effective ministry, for example Osteen’s “simple, pragmatic, and positive message … the force behind his mass appeal” come from “unlettered evangelical innovators.”72

(p.146) Deprofessionalizing Religious Professionals

It stands to reason that many Pentecostal ministers, and possibly many of those I interviewed, do not give much thought to the professional clergy’s “seminary project.” The religious labor that most of them engage in on a regular basis does not require study of systemic and philosophical theology, homiletics and liturgics, or even pastoral care and counseling. In most cases, licensed and even ordained COGIC ministers are completing tasks shared with lay-members of their churches. In fact, these ministers engaged in many of these very tasks—from praying for other congregants to directing church auxiliaries—before they ever considered pursuing a clerical credential. Certainly some kinds of religious labor require considerable skill or talent (e.g., instrumental ministry), but to be blunt, most ministry really isn’t brain surgery. As a result, few ministers see any incongruence between their claims to be called to do ministry and their ignorance of the not-so-esoteric knowledge their seminary-trained peers might possess.

In a way, this approach to credentialing makes the clergy very different from the other classical professions. As noted in the introduction to this chapter, both professionals and paraprofessionals may work in the same environments, contributing to the same cases, and even possessing similar knowledge. The distinction between the paralegal and the lawyer is both training and credentialing. The lawyer’s educational background is substantially different, and she has earned that legal credential certifying her possession of that knowledge. Can we truly consider even the layman-clergy, let alone deacon-clergy, distinctions analogous to the paralegal-lawyer or nurse-physician ones? Certainly, ordained clergy have reserved some legal authorities (e.g., to solemnize weddings) that are not available to laymen or lay-ministers, but even those authorities aren’t tied to a foundation in any truly “esoteric” body of knowledge.

In many ways, the clergy in these “new paradigm” denominations are more like certified public accountants (CPAs) than lawyers or physicians, but barely so. Even CPAs are required to pass a national standardized test (the Uniform CPA Exam) and prove that they have 150 credit hours of postsecondary training in accounting or in a field related to it.73 In COGIC, the intermediate licenses—Licensed Minister and Deaconess—give possessors of those licenses many of the rights and most of the responsibilities of their terminally licensed peers, the Elders and Evangelists. Because COGIC ministers, like accountants, never have to pursue the terminal license in order to do most of the profession’s essential tasks, pursuing either a terminal license (p.147) or ordination becomes optional. As CPA’s do not need to hold an MBA in order to be licensed as accounting professionals, so Pentecostal ministers do not have to hold a master of divinity degree or its equivalent to be licensed (or ordained) as religious professionals. This new reality, at least for this portion of the clerical population, certainly brings into question how professional these professionals may actually be.

Because the success or failure of many religious tasks—prayer, evangelism, preaching—is determined by congregant response, ministers can measure one’s anointing the way social scientists might claim to measure charisma. If an Evangelist preaches a sermon that moves people, she considers herself anointed. On the other hand, COGIC “prophets” don’t have to have big followings; they’re not movement starters. They see themselves as people with a message. If people hear that message and are changed by it, they believe they’ve done the work of the prophet. But in their minds, it isn’t charisma that moved the followers. They consider charisma to be a gift, something Barack Obama or the motivational speaker Les Brown might have. For them, the work of the prophet is done through the anointing.

What’s particularly fascinating about the anointing and makes it quite different from charisma is that one can continue to claim to be anointed even if no one else believes it; even if there is no response. Charisma is an almost explicitly social phenomena; we know someone has it because people respond to it. In that way, it is like “status.” While you can take power, you must be given status. One’s charisma is evident only if an audience buys the message. As discussed earlier, though, ministry doesn’t always have an immediate response. In fact, sometimes there is no apparent response at all. Congregants move forward with divorces; no one joins the church at the end of a sermon; prayers are prayed, but the child still dies. In these circumstances, these ministers take the same pragmatic response to seeming failure that other professionals do. In spite of years of training, physicians have patients that die, lawyers lose cases, professors have to give some students failing grades. If these situations happen continuously, any professional might doubt his competence. Even if he didn’t, others would.

But if these situations happen only infrequently, it is easier to attribute that failure to other culprits. For the physician, it may be the body. For the lawyer, it may be the system. For COGIC clergy, it seems to be the follower himself. They invoke Jesus, Weber’s favorite example of prophetic charisma, for support of this decision: “But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.’ Now he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands (p.148) on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mk. 6:4–6). They argue that even Jesus wasn’t always effective in attracting a following. In spite of ample evidence of his charisma—or, in their words, anointing—elsewhere, this hometown “prophet” was not received as a religious authority and his usual abilities to do charismatic miracles failed because of potential followers’ flawed faith. Jesus was still competent; after all, he laid hands on some people and healed them. But his inability to perform his usual raft of miracles—raising the dead, casting out devils—suggests to some that even anointed leaders have their bad days. Their belief in that person’s anointing—and their own when their anointing fails—remains unabated.


(7.) Ibid., 201.

(8.) The idea for a “School of the Prophets” is derived from the prophetic guilds that the biblical priest organized (see 1 Sam. 19:20 for an example). Also called the “sons of the prophets,” these groups of prophets are believed to have been training grounds for potential religious leaders.

(10.) Ibid., 117.

(13.) See Finke and Stark 1992; Fraser 1988; Hall 1994; and Hatch 1989 for more on this history.

(17.) Ibid., 20.

(18.) AME webpage (http://www.ame-church.com).

(19.) A group of Congregationalists founded Howard University and its Divinity School.

(20.) Wilberforce University webpage (http://www.wilberforce.edu).

(36.) See Range 1973 and Clemmons 1996. In a Christianity Today article, Joe Maxwell (1996) quotes Mason: “The Lord showed me that there was no salvation in schools and colleges, for the way that they conducted themselves grieved my soul,” Mason recounted later. “I packed my books, arose, and bade them a final farewell to follow Jesus, with the Bible as my sacred guide.” According to Daniels (2002), Mason transferred to, and eventually graduated from, the College’s Minister’s Institute.

(37.) The Mason Institute (now the Charles H. Mason Theological Seminary) is part of Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC). As part of an ecumenical group of seminaries, the Mason Theological Seminary is joined by the Gammon Seminary (United Methodist), the Morehouse School of Religion (Baptist), the Phillips School of Theology (Christian Methodist Episcopal), the Johnson C. Smith Seminary (Presbyterian), and the Turner Theological Seminary (African Methodist Episcopal).

(38.) This is much higher than Lincoln and Mamiya’s (1990) findings of about 11 percent for COGIC clergy. It is important to realize that their count only includes male pastors and does not include the many more nonpastoring male clergy and unordained women.

(39.) This number is consistent with Lincoln and Mamiya’s (1990) findings of 19 percent..

(40.) For more on late-career clergy, see Carroll 2006; Weems and Michel 2008; and Witham 2005.

(p.241) (41.) Carroll 2006.

(45.) In order to maintain the anonymity of the source of this document, its bibliographic information is not being supplied here.

(52.) Ibid., 241.

(53.) A more refined view from Peter Berger (1963) helps us understand that, in the biblical case, there was no great antipathy between priests and prophets. If anything, the prophets of the Old Testament were an extension of the priest. Some (e.g., Ezekiel, Jeremiah) either served as priests or were born into priestly families. Priests and prophets represented the same God and preached, essentially, the same message. The prophets certainly did not seek to draw the Israelites into some new cult; their message of reform was intended to turn people back to Jehovah.

(56.) Ibid., 241, emphasis mine

(57.) Ibid., 440.

(63.) Some ministers describe the anointing in a way that is reminiscent of the Force from the Star Wars movie series. They speak as if the flesh must be managed because the anointing’s power is undifferentiated; it can be used for good or for evil. Both Sharon and Dwayne spoke of it this way. Sharon, who believes she is called to prophetic ministry, suggested that some people were trying to make a living on their anointing to give prophecies or “words of knowledge”: “I think you can misuse or abuse the anointing. You can use your anointing inappropriately and it can be taken away.” Similarly, Dwayne described scenarios in which God would have to take away someone’s anointing because of the damage they might do with it: “He’d have to because maybe the person strayed or was going out on their own, really believing and trusting in their own beliefs instead of God’s principles and precepts. And so the calling can be there, but the fact that God is not behind what you’re doing can be very impairing and dangerous. God can’t leave that kind of power in the hands of someone who can’t be trusted with it.”

(p.242) (66.) Nearly 15 percent of these interviews were carried out in the homes of the respondents.

(68.) See Conwill 1991; Fine 2004; Peterson 1997; and Russell 2001 for more on this.

(72.) Ibid., 44.