Ask Steve: The Call to Pastoral Ministry

Preacher 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am debating whether or not to become a pastor. How do you define “the call” to pastoral ministry?

Answer: Entering the pastoral ministry, especially as a teaching pastor, is one of the greatest privileges that any Christian could undertake. At the same time, it is a calling to be taken seriously. As a pastor, you are essentially an overseer of the church who is directly responsible for the health of the church and the growth of believers. You are a shepherd who is tasked with the responsibility of feeding and guarding the sheep with your very life. Failure to do this adequately would not only damage the church, but would dishonor the Lord. In fact, Scripture gives a warning concerning those who enter the ministry lightly, because those who teach false doctrine and lead others astray spiritually will be judged greatly (Jas 3:1). This is why the Bible gives some helpful guidelines on what characterizes an overseer of God so that those who take it on vocationally will do so with soberness, confidence, and integrity.

Many times Christians struggle with whether they are suppose to be in pastoral ministry. They do not know what defines “the call.” Other than the brief imperatives presented in Scripture, the way to discover this truth is a mystery to some Christians. Some pray to God thinking that He will respond in an audible voice, affirming or denying their ministry interest so that the process would be easier. I would like to provide you with some helpful tips on how to discover whether or not you should enter ministry as a senior pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor, or some form of missionary work.

The first key to consider is Scripture’s guideline on what characterizes a qualified pastor. The most well-known passage that highlights this principle is found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. It states, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity…and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” In short, those whom God has called into ministry excel in personal morality, which means that they are sexually pure, content, kind, loving, and are not given over to lust, hatred, greed, or drunkenness. They must also a good relationship with their family, with other believers, and even with unbelievers. They must possess a reasonable gift of teaching and of leadership, and should not be a recent convert – since new Christians generally lack the knowledge and maturity needed for vocational ministry.

Preacher 1If your life does not match this guideline (ex. you are living in sin, your ability to teach is mediocre, you are an incompetent leader), then you should consider holding off on your pursuit of pastoral ministry to see if your shortcomings can be improved or worked on. If you discover that it cannot, then you most likely are not called for ministry. If you can, then you should continue to discover the veracity of your calling by considering a couple other factors.

The second key is to consider the feedback from other believers. Many pastors and elders testify that one of the things that have helped guide their decision to enter into ministry is the affirmation from other Christians. They have received comments like “You have a great gift of preaching and evangelism. Have you considered ministry?” or “You possess a great deal of leadership and know your Scriptures well. Have you considered seminary?” This does not automatically prove that a Christian should be in ministry, but it is a noteworthy indicator, especially if these affirmations line up with other factors that affirm a Christian’s pastoral calling. There are many instances in which God moves in other believers to help Christians find answers to issues that are not clear in the Bible. And one of those issues is the personal call to pastorate ministry. That is why the Bible extols the act of seeking counsel from other godly men in making important decisions like these. Proverbs 15:22 declares, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.” Proverbs 11:14 also says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” A Christian seeking to enter ministry should listen to the amount of feedback he is getting from others and to intentionally get counsel from elders regarding this blessed path.

The third key to consider is personal conviction regarding this matter. Once you have established the first two keys, then you should examine yourself to see what your convictions are in this matter. You must ask yourself, “Do I really want to become a pastor/minister? Can I do this for the rest of my life with endurance and joy? Do I feel that this is the only thing I can do well in my life? Will I regret this if I decide to enter into another vocation?” Christians constantly seek God in prayer for answers to which job they should take, where they should live in, what doctor they should go to, what car they should purchase, etc. Christians will not be able to discover God’s sovereign will (at least not in the short run), but they can first and foremost be obedient to God’s commanded will (what is revealed in Scripture). Once they honor this, then Christians have every right to pursue the endeavor that most pleases, intrigues, or convicts their heart (Ps 16:9; 20:4; 37:4). In other words, if Christians follow the Bible’s moral instruction to weed out undesirable vocations and are still left with two or more possible choices, then he is free to choose according to his heart’s conviction. Much of the time, those convictions are placed there by the Holy Spirit (Acts 17:16; Phil 2:13), especially if it has to do with a pastoral calling.

It must be said that a person entering ministry should be cautious regarding his heart motives. It is a great thing that a Christian be trained to become a minister. However, there are many instances in which pastors have destroyed their own reputation, those of other Christians, and the church because they entered into their vocation with evil intentions. You must ask yourself, “Am I doing this for the glory of God? Or am I doing this for my own glory?” Even if candidates do not have the motives of fame, riches, or glory, they can still weaken the reputation of the church because of other poor inclinations. Some believers enter ministry because they have nothing else to do in life. Some believers enter because of peer pressure from godly parents and/or the community. Some believers enter because of excitement from the heat of the moment.

Preacher 2Whatever the case, make sure your motives are good. Be committed to keeping your actions selfless, especially in your commitment to serve others in the church as Christ Himself served the church in humility (Matt 16:24; Mk 10:45). Be sure that you want to enter into the pastorate because you desire to teach others the word of God. You want to disciple weak brethren to grow in Christlikeness. You want to reach the lost with the gospel. You want the glory of God to spread through your local community in the Great Commission effort. If this is your burning passion and conviction, then you should seriously consider pastoral ministry.

The role of a pastor/shepherd is an important one that requires sound character and lasting commitment. That is why approaching this field requires careful self study, prayer to God, and counsel from others. However, this process should not be so mysterious or painstaking that a Christian labors for many years in trying to find the answer, or thinks that he should not become a pastor/elder because he is not perfect. If a Christian is at ease in his conscience regarding the principles I described, then he should by all means enter into ministry. There is a great need in the world for pastors and evangelists. Many will perish eternally for not hearing the gospel and many others will starve spiritually for lack of nourishment. That is why teams of pastors are needed throughout the world. That is why Christians should step up to the plate if they have the character and conviction for this task. It is hard work, but a blessed one that will surely pay off with spiritual blessings (2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:8).