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How Do I Know If I’ve Been “Called” to the Pastorate?

The Call to Pastoral Ministry

shepherd with sheep

By James M. George

The call of God to vocational ministry is different from God’s call to salvation and His call to service issued to all Christians. It is a call to selected men to serve as leaders in the church. To serve in such leadership capacities, recipients of this call must have assurance that God has so selected them. A realization of this assurance rests on four criteria, the first of which is a confirmation of the call by others and by God through the circumstances of providing a place of ministry. The second criterion is the possession of abilities necessary to serve in leadership capacities. The third consists of a deep longing to serve in the ministry. The final qualification is a lifestyle characterized by moral integrity. A man who fulfills these four qualifications can rest in the assurance that God has called him to vocational Christian leadership.

I often receive calls from men who for various reasons are interested in seminary training. Most of these men believe God is directing them into the ministry as a full-time vocation. This inclination has often been termed “the call.” This chapter will explain what is involved with the call and will seek to alleviate the misunderstandings surrounding this unique experience.

The call of God to vocational ministry has several different dimensions. First, there is the call to salvation. This must be the starting point for any call to service or ministry. The one seeking to identify his call to vocational ministry must first be sure he is called to Christ (2 Cor. 13:5). One dare not contemplate a ministry of the gospel of grace to God’s people until he has experienced God’s grace in his own life through saving faith in Jesus Christ.

The calling to salvation also entails a call to serve (Eph. 2:10). God not only predestined us to salvation, but He also predestined us for a life of service. Service is every Christian’s privilege and obligation. This calling to service means that we as Christians constitute “a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). Our privilege is to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Käsemann sees this as referring to the duty of one who has personally experienced the gracious power of God to publicly acknowledge that fact (Ernst Kasemann, “Ministry and Community in the New Testament,” Essays on New Testament Themes. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964, 80-81). Thus, all believers should engage in the ministry of service as priests of God. To accomplish this, they have the Holy Spirit through whom God has given them spiritual abilities (1 Cor. 12:11). These spiritual gifts are for the express purpose of service for the common good of the church (1 Cor. 12:7). The apostle Paul wrote the Ephesians, “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7). First Corinthians 12:8–10, 28–30 and Rom. 12:6–8 list these gifts. Christians are stewards of these gifts and will give an accounting of their stewardship (1 Pet. 4:10).

Beyond the call of all Christians to use their spiritual gifts, God extends a call to the vocational ministry of leadership. Realizing that every believer should be involved in ministry, we will use the term the ministry in the present context to refer to a specific type of service rendered to the church by a particular group of leaders.

The call to leadership involves gifted men given to the church by the Lord of the church (Eph. 4:12). This responsibility is both general—providing leadership in worship, preaching, teaching, shepherding, and evangelism—and specific—discipling and counseling.

God used Charles Haddon Spurgeon greatly during the latter part of the nineteenth century. He preached to thousands of people weekly in London at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Besides his strong passion for preaching, he had a great desire to develop young men for the ministry. This yearning spurred him to institute what he called the “Pastor’s College” as a part of the ministry of the church. His book Lectures to My Students, a compilation of lectures to students of the college, gives keen insight into the serious nature of the call to vocational ministry. In the early pages of his book, he asks,

How may a young man know whether he is called or not? That is a weighty enquiry, and I desire to treat it most solemnly. O for divine guidance in so doing! That hundreds have missed their way, and stumbled against a pulpit is sorrowfully evident from the fruitless ministries and decaying churches which surround us. It is a fearful calamity to a man to miss his calling, and to the church upon whom he imposes himself, his mistake involves an affliction of the most grievous kind (C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students. reprint of 1875 ed., Grand Rapids, 1980, 22).

Spurgeon continues by stressing the importance of recognizing the call when he says, “It is imperative upon him not to enter the ministry until he has made solemn quest and trial of himself as to this point” (Ibid, 23).

William Gordon Blaikie also ministered in London about the same time as Spurgeon. He too saw the importance of a call to the ministry and gave six criteria for evaluating a call: salvation, desire to serve, desire to live a life conducive to service, intellectual ability, physical qualifications, and social elements (William Gordon Blaikie, For the Work of the Ministry: A manual of Homiletical and Pastoral Theology. London: J. Nisbet, 1896, 18-25).

Calvin divided the call into two parts when he stated, “If one is to be considered a true minister of the church, it is necessary that he consider the ‘objective or external’ of the church and the secret inner call ‘conscious only to the minister himself’” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962, 2:326).

Oden concludes his chapter on “The Call to Ministry” with a discussion on the correspondence between these internal and external aspects of the call, when he concludes,

The internal call is a result of the continued drawing or eliciting power of the Holy Spirit, which in time brings an individual closer to the church’s outward call to ministry. The external call is an act of the Christian community that by due process confirms that inward call. No one can fulfill the difficult role of pastor adequately who has not been called and commissioned by Christ and the Church. This is why the correspondence between inner and outer call is so crucial for both the candidate and the church to establish from the outset with reasonable clarity (Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1983, 25).

Why is it so necessary that a person experience internal and external compulsion to ministry? In his classic volume on ministry, Bridges has stated the reason why a call was so important:

To labour in the dark, without an assured commission, greatly obscures the warrant of faith in the Divine engagements; and the Minister, unable to avail himself of heavenly support, feels his “hands hang down, and his knees feeble” in his work. On the other hand, the confidence that he is acting in obedience to the call of God—that he is in His work, and in His way—nerves him in the midst of all difficulty, and under a sense of his responsible obligations, with almighty strength (Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry. reprint of 1830 ed., London: Banner of Truth, 1967, 101).

As Bridges has stated so eloquently, the issue is with the man himself and with his confidence before God. The man is confident that God has commissioned him for a task that only the power of God can sustain. Criswell speaks of this confidence: “The first and foremost of all the inward strengths of the pastor is the conviction, deep as life itself, that God has called him to the ministry. If this persuasion is unshakable, all other elements of the pastor’s life will fall into beautiful order and place” (W.A. Criswell, Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville: Broadman, 1980). 

Answering the question, “How important is the assurance of a special call?” Sugden and Wiersbe say, “The work of the ministry is too demanding and difficult for a man to enter it without a sense of divine calling. Men enter and then leave the ministry usually because they lack a sense of divine urgency. Nothing less than a definite call from God could ever give a man success in the ministry” (Howard F. Sugden and Warren W. Wiersbe, When Pastors Wonder How. Chicago: Moody, 1973, 9).

The minister of today, like the prophets of the Old Testament, are under constant attack and pressure as they speak of the things of God. Lutzer has spoken of the difficulty of ministry as follows:

I don’t see how anyone could survive in the ministry if he felt it was just his own choice. Some ministers scarcely have two good days back to back. They are sustained by the knowledge that God has placed them where they are. Ministers without such a conviction often lack courage and carry their resignation letter in their coat pocket. At the slightest hint of difficulty, they’re gone (Erwin W. Lutzer, “Still Called to the Ministry,” Moody Monthly 83, no. 7. March 1983: 133).

Believing in the importance of the call as these men do, I suggest four questions that a man can use to evaluate whether he has a call to the ministry. The acrostic CALL summarizes the four steps outlined by the questions: Confirmation, Abilities, Longings, and Life.

Is There Confirmation?

Confirmation is of two types: confirmation by others and confirmation from God.

Confirmation by Others

Acts 16:1–2 gives a good idea of how important public recognition is in confirming the call to leadership and the ministry. Timothy was probably a convert of Paul on his first missionary journey (see Acts 14:6). Paul called him “my true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). As Paul started his second journey, he traveled through the regions he had visited on his first journey “strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41). He arrived in Timothy’s hometown where he found that Timothy was “well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). The result was, “Paul wanted this man to go with him” (Acts 16:3). Timothy’s public confirmation made him a desirable asset to Paul’s missionary team. Later as Paul wrote to Timothy, he reminded him of this public confirmation by referring to the “laying on of hands by the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:14). Both Paul and the leadership in the local community had seen how God had blessed and used Timothy in local service, so they recognized and commissioned him to serve God in the ministry on a broad scale.

Spurgeon agrees that public confirmation is a necessary step beyond the internal feeling that a man has concerning his call to the ministry. He concludes, “The will of the Lord concerning pastors is made known through the prayerful judgment of his church. It is needful as a proof of your vocation that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God” (Spurgeon, Lectures, 29). Many men who have the internal compulsion to enter the ministry are hesitant to subject this feeling to a church for confirmation. For whatever reason, they do not trust the church with this important area of their lives. Spurgeon told his students,

Churches are not all wise, neither do they all judge in the power of the Holy Ghost, but many of them judge after the flesh; yet I had sooner accept the opinion of a company of the Lord’s people than my own upon so personal a subject as my own gifts and graces. At any rate, whether you value the verdict of the church or no, one thing is certain, that none of you can be pastors without the loving consent of the flock; and therefore this will be to you a practical indicator if not a correct one (Ibid, 30).

Bridges also gives sound advice when he speaks of the counsel of others, especially friends and experienced ministers: “[They] … might be useful in assuring the mind, whether or not the desire for the work be the impulse of feeling rather than a principle, and the capacity be self-deceiving presumption” (Bridges, Ministry, 100-101).

The Bible says much about seeking advice and wise counsel. Proverbs is especially excellent in this area: “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (11:14); “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (12:15); “through presumption comes nothing but strife, but with those who receive counsel is wisdom” (13:10); “without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed” (15:22).

Besides the advice and counsel of others is the procedure of ordination, which is the step of publicly recognizing one set apart for the ministry. The Bible indicates that the early church had a specific process whereby bodies of Christians chose and set apart leaders for service. Paul’s instruction that Titus appoint elders (Titus 1:5) exemplifies a number of passages that point to the idea of an ordaining process. The basis of the appointments was the recognition of qualified men in each of the cities. A good definition of ordination is the public confirmation of an inner qualification and giftedness (Clifford V. Anderson, Worthy of the Calling. Chicago: Harvest, 1968, 56-57). It is a public testimony of a man’s gifts, his education, and his ministry experience. Even though the man being ordained is no different than other members of the congregation, public ordination provides a visible affirmation that God has called an individual to use his unique abilities and gifts for the whole church.

Confirmation from God

Newton found three indications of a call to the ministry: desire, competence, and the providence of God. He termed the third indication “a correspondent opening in providence, by a gradual train of circumstances pointing out the means, the time, the place, of actually entering upon the work” (John Newton, cited by Spurgeon, Lectures, 32). 

This factor covers all we have discussed thus far. God’s sovereignty provides for the calling of certain men for leadership in the local church. God gives them the gifts to carry out the functions of the ministry, gives them the desire to serve in this capacity,  and then orchestrates the circumstances to provide for the place of ministry.

All this speaks of open doors and God’s blessing. Paul said in 1 Cor. 16:8–9, “But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me.” He then proceeds to balance the opportunity with the obstacles: “and there are many adversaries.”

These adversaries are a constant element in the ministry and sometimes cause frustration and limit results. Results are not the final indicator of God’s blessing, however. Many have labored throughout their ministries with little or no visible fruit. Jeremiah prophesied for more than forty years (Jer. 1:2–3) without much, if any, response from the people. Adoniram Judson labored seven years in Burma before having his first convert, but he still saw God’s hand of providence in his ministry. The ministry is never easy nor are the results always positive, but a sense of God’s confirmation of the work should always be present.

Besides asking if there is confirmation from God, the man seeking to know whether he has the call must ask himself several practical questions:

Do others recognize my gifts and leadership abilities?

Do they ask me to serve in a leadership capacity?

Am I asked to communicate the truths of God through teaching or preaching?

Are there those who have suggested that I should consider the ministry?

Answers to these questions come only through active involvement in a local church ministry. Receiving public confirmation requires public ministry. This public ministry involves the use of gifts and abilities that others can identify, help develop, and encourage. Without these abilities, confirmation will be missing. So abilities are an integral part in the process of determining the call.

Are There Abilities?

Ephesians 4:11 is the background of this second question, which deals with giftedness. In part, the verse says that Christ “gave some as … pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints.” Pastor-teachers are God-appointed gifts to the church.

Just as God called out men for specific tasks in the Old Testament, so in the New Testament God has His chosen ones to accomplish specific tasks during this church age. The task is that of “equipping of the saints for the work of service” (Eph. 4:12). Fulfilling this responsibility entails an equipping of the called man. Formal and informal education by other men can achieve part of this equipping, but spiritual giftedness from God has the major role in a man’s call to the ministry. Bridges says, “The ability for the sacred office is very distinct from natural talent, or the wisdom and learning of this world.”

Many a man has thought himself a prime candidate for the ministry, because he loved God and was the debate champion in college. As important as these assets are, unless God has selectively gifted the man for the ministry, he labors in vain who builds the house (Ps. 127:1).

Besides the speaking gifts of preaching and teaching, usually considered essential for the ministry, Spurgeon also suggested several other qualifications:

I should not complete this point if I did not add, that mere ability to edify, and aptness to teach is not enough; there must be other talents to complete the pastoral character. Sound judgment and solid experience must instruct you; gentle manners and loving affections must sway you; firmness and courage must be manifest and tenderness and sympathy must not be lacking. Gifts administrative in ruling well will be as requisite as gifts instructive in teaching well (Spurgeon, Lectures, 28).

Many men who want to be ministers go to a seminary or Bible school to get the gifts necessary for the ministry. This is a mistake. Since each Christian at the time of conversion has received all the gifts that he will need for ministry (1 Cor. 12:11), training cannot furnish the necessary gifts, but if the gifts are already there, training can develop what God has previously given.

What are the abilities needed for the ministry? The quotation just cited from Spurgeon alludes to them. Basically the functions of a minister are three types: instructional, pastoral, and administrative.

Instructional. In Eph. 4:11–12 the pastor-teacher’s responsibility is “the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up the body of Christ.” The word equipping is the Greek word καταρτίζώ (katartizō). This word, translated “mending” in Matt. 4:21, occurs in the description of Christ’s call to James and John. He summoned them while they were “mending their nets,” that is, equipping their nets for fishing. This suggests that a major function of a leader is a figurative mending of the saints—getting them ready for service.

In 1 Thess. 3:10 the translation of this word is “complete.” The apostle Paul wanted to return to the Thessalonians to “complete what is lacking in your faith,” that is, to finish what he had started earlier. Galatians 6:1 also has katartizō, this time in the sense of restoring a sinning brother. Abbott-Smith gives the meaning of this word as “to furnish completely; complete; prepare.” Stedman suggests the nearest modern equivalent is “to shape up” (Ray C. Stedman, Body Life. Glendale, CA.: Gospel Light, 1972).

How does this instruction occur? The two major avenues for instruction are preaching and teaching. In 1 Tim. 5:17 Paul refers to certain elders at Ephesus as “those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” The NASB has correctly translated the Greek phrase οί κοπιω̂ντες ἐν λόγῳ (oi kopiōntes en logō) by “those who work hard at preaching.” (BAGD, 477) “Since en logō (“in preaching”) is anarthrous, it should not be identified as the word of God … ,” although the foundation for these discourses was the Word of God (Marvin Edward Mayer, “An Exegetical Study on the New Testament Elder” – Th.D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1970, 129 – translation added). Basically, en logō referred to any general form of oral discourse given in some kind of public assembly. It probably included exhortation, admonition, and comforting, as well as the proclamation of the gospel (Homer A. Kent, Jr. The Pastoral Epistles. Chicago: Moody Press, 1958, 181). 

The second avenue of instruction in 1 Tim. 5:17 is “teaching” (διδασκαλία, didaskalia). Teaching overlaps the function of preaching to some degree. Since preaching is more of a public ministry, teaching is the explanation and application of that which is proclaimed. It can be either public or private, as Paul described his teaching ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:20).

According to 1 Tim. 3:2 a leader must be “able to teach.” In Titus 1:9 he must “be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” In Heb. 13:7 the writer describes leaders as those “who spoke the word of God to you,” thus implying that leaders are communicators.

Shepherding. Both Acts 20:18 and 1 Peter 5:2 have commands for church leadership to feed the flock of God. Feeding the flock relates to the function of teaching. In fact, shepherding duties link closely with teaching duties. In Eph. 4:11 Paul combines the two in the title “pastor-teacher.” Yet the Bible makes a distinction between shepherding and teaching. Teaching imparts a body of knowledge, but shepherding imparts a life more broadly. Paul shows this distinction in 1 Thess. 2:8 where he says, “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God [teaching] but also our own lives [shepherding].”

In Acts 20:28 Paul admonished the Ephesian elders “to shepherd the church of God.” He did not command these elders to take care of their own flock but to take care of God’s flock, the church. First Peter 5:2 notes the same stewardship when Peter tells his fellow elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you.” The church leader is an under shepherd who will give an account to God (Heb. 13:17), so he must shepherd with utmost care.

How is he to do this shepherding? Paul tells the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 to face the reality of enemy attacks (v. 29). Attacks will come through the efforts of “savage wolves” who will arise from within the flock (v. 30). The enemy will try to divide the flock, necessitating constant watchfulness by the church’s leaders (note the command “be on the alert,” v. 31). Leaders must “admonish” and intimately involve themselves with the people “with tears” (v. 31). Ultimately, they must entrust the flock to God through prayer, with the assurance of growth in the flock through study of the Word (v. 32).

Administrative. The basic function of a New Testament leader is overseeing (Harvey E. Dana, Manual of Ecclesiology. Kansas City: Central Seminary, 1944, 254). Acts 20:28 calls the Ephesian elders “overseers.” First Peter 5:2 tells the leadership to “exercise oversight.”

Oversight involves ruling, a function to which 1 Tim. 5:17 refers when Paul instructs Timothy to “let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor.” Also, the writer of Hebrews refers to ruling in his reference to leading: “Remember those who led you” (Heb. 13:7). Two other verses in Hebrews 13 refer to the ruling function: “Obey your leaders, … for they keep watch over your souls” (v. 17); “Greet all of your leaders” (v. 24).

How are leaders to rule? Jesus told His disciples in Matt. 20:25–26 that they were to be servants, not lords. As an obedient disciple, Peter gave the same advice in 1 Pet. 5:3: “Nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” As Christ was a servant (Matt. 20:28; John 13:1–16), so leaders are to follow His example and be servants of the church.

How is your ability to teach and preach? Do you enjoy communicating God’s Word in a preaching or teaching environment? How are your leadership skills? Do you take the initiative or are you a follower? How would you rate yourself as a shepherd? Do you have a heart for people? Do you love to care for those “lost and without a shepherd?”

Is There a Longing?

In 1 Tim. 3:1 the apostle Paul has written, “If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” The word translated “aspires” is ὀρέγομαι (oregomai), a word occurring only three times in the New Testament. It means “to stretch oneself out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something” (Henry J. Thayer, Greek English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. reprint of 1868 ed., Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1955, 452). It pictures a runner lunging for the finish line. The second time the word appears is in 1 Tim. 6:10 where it is translated “longing”—related to money, which is the object of so much love as to make it the very foundation for “all sorts of evil.” The third usage is in Heb. 11:16 where it is rendered “desire,” with the object of desire being a “better country.” So each context determines how legitimate the stretching and reaching is.

The second word speaking of inner compulsion in 1 Tim. 3:1 is ἐπιθυμέω (epithumeō), a verb meaning “to set one’s heart upon, desire, lust after, covet” (Abbott-Smith, Manual Greek Lexicon, 170). The noun form of this verb usually has a bad sense, but the verb has primarily a good or neutral sense, which expresses a particularly strong desire (h. Schonweiss, “epithumeo,” NIDNTT, ed. Colin Brown. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971, 1:456-58). This aspiration for the ministry is therefore an inward impulse that releases itself in outward desire.

Sanders notes that it is not the office but the work that is the object desired (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership. Chicago: Moody, 1967, 13).  It must be a desire for service, not for position, fame, or fortune. So this aspiration is good as long as it is for the right reasons.

Spurgeon gives the following warning concerning the desire for the ministry:

Mark well, that the desire I have spoken of must be thoroughly disinterested. If a man can detect, after the most earnest self-examination, any other motive than the glory of God and the good of souls in his seeking the bishopric, he better turn aside from it at once; for the Lord will abhor the bringing of buyers and sellers into his temple: the introduction of anything mercenary, even in the smallest degree, will be like the fly in the pot of ointment, and will spoil it all (Spurgeon, Lectures, 25).

This inner desire should be so single-minded that the aspiring leader cannot visualize himself as pursuing anything else except the ministry. “Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,” was the wise advice of an old preacher to a young man when asked his judgment regarding pursuing the ministry (Ibid, 23). Bicket said, “If you can be happy outside the ministry, stay out. But if the solemn call has come, don’t run” (Zenas J. Bicket, ed., The Effective Pastor. Springfiled, Mo.: Gospel, 1973, 1). Bridges calls the “constraining desire … a primary ministerial qualification” (Bridges, Ministry, 94).

Do you long for the ministry? Is it impossible for you to function in any other vocation? Do you see yourself only in the ministry? If your answers to these questions are yes, one more area is critical for determining your call to the ministry.

Is There a Lifestyle of Integrity?

The Bible says much about a leader’s character. It is interesting that it says more about what a leader is to be than it does about what he is to do. This is a good clue as to what God thinks about this important prerequisite. It does not matter how much education or how much experience a person has. If he does not meet qualifications of biblical morality, he is unfit to be a leader in God’s church. Phillips Brooks, a prominent clergyman during the nineteenth century, says of this important subject: “What the minister is is far more important than what he is able to do, for what he is gives force to what he does. In the long run, ministry is what we are as much as what we do” (Cited in David Wiersbe and Warren W. Wiesbe, Making Sense of the Ministry. Chicago: Moody Press, 1983, 32). 

Paul told Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself” (1 Tim. 4:16). Why is this so important? The Old Testament priests had to practice elaborate washing and cleansing procedures, as well as sacrificing offerings for their own sins, before they could minister in behalf of the people (Heb. 5:3). How could they intercede for others when their own sin had not been covered? So it is for the New Testament leader. Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity, possibly religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy.

Henry Martyn wrote in his journal, “Let me be taught that the first great business on earth is the sanctification of my own soul” (Ibid, 33). Peter commands every Christian to be “holy as your father in heaven is holy” (1 Pet. 1:15–16) and exhorts the leaders “to be examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). As those who are to assist the people in worship and be examples, New Testament leaders must have lives that set a standard for the rest of the church. The standard for conduct and character to guide the leader as he guides God’s people is the Word of God. The qualified leader is a man of the Book, using it not just to prepare sermons and teaching notes but, first and foremost, to prepare himself. The Bible is not a textbook but a manual for transforming the life of one who aspires to leadership.

Within the covers of the Bible, certain sections are particularly relevant to the qualifications for leadership. First Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 are key passages that deal with a leader’s qualifications. Certainly no man claims that his life measures up to these standards perfectly as a model for what the rest of the church should be, but the Bible gives the standards as an ideal to strive for. As an added safeguard, God usually also provides a core of godly men in each church to supervise and hold one another accountable to fulfilling these standards.

These, then, are the four major questions for a person to ask when considering the ministry.

(1) Is there confirmation?

(2) Is there appropriate giftedness?

(3) Is there an insatiable longing for the ministry?

(4) Finally, is there a life of integrity?

If a man can answer these questions in the affirmative, he can in all confidence say he has the call of God to pursue ministerial options. He can proceed with joy, for God has an exciting and rewarding—but also an incredibly demanding—life waiting for him. To cope with the incredible demands, he has the assurance of God’s help and empowerment.

*Article adapted from Chapter 6 in Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry: Shaping Contemporary Ministry With Biblical Mandates. Edited by John MacArthur, Richard L. Mayhue, and Robert L. Thomas. Dallas, Word, 1995.

 

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Joe Aldrich on Some Marks of Maturity For a Pastor

LE Aldrich

Some Marks of Maturity for a Pastor

To help identify the kind of shepherd who stimulates beauty, let’s look now at some marks of maturity for a pastor. These are goals to shoot for, a direction to move. Since pupils are to become like their teachers, they are really goals for all of us.

The Mark of an Expanding Faith

Faith is that God-given ability to take the promises of God out of mothballs and apply them to the challenges of everyday living. Men of faith dream God-sized dreams and then move out to transform those dreams into reality. God has said that without faith, it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). Pleasing him is believing him. Faith as belief is affirming who he is while faith as action is responsible behavior in the light of who he is and what he has promised.

Sometimes it is behavior which overcomes overwhelming odds. By faith men of God “conquered kingdoms … shut the mouths of lions … became powerful in battle” (11:33-34). More often it is a tenacious behavior which endures in the midst of intense struggle and personal loss. “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection” (11:35). Some accepted joyfully the seizure of their property because they knew they had a better and an eternal possession (10:34). Faith is not shrinking back, whether one faces opportunity or oppression. Our Lord warned against the leaven of the Sadducees (rationalism). Rationalism—eliminating the supernatural—becomes the great enemy of faith. The deceptive thing about the leaven of the Sadducees is its reasonableness. Rationalism is reasonable and safe. Faith often appears unreasonable and risky. It was both unreasonable and risky for Peter to attempt to walk on water. It was unreasonable for Noah to build a boat, for Abraham to expect a son, for Moses to abandon the prestige of Egypt, and for George Mueller to care for orphans. We must all grow in faith if we are to please him. Certainly we want to do that! The great faith chapter (Hebrews 11) gives us three clues for faith building.

1. Belief in the Invisible. These faith giants saw through the problems of the natural world to a supernatural Being. They saw him who is invisible (11:27). The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to do the same: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (12:1-2). Our eyes must move from the waves to the Master of the waves, from the storm to the Savior, from the fire to the Father. Abraham left the familiar and went out into the unfamiliar, the new, the untested, the uncharted, because he saw that God was the architect and builder of his future (11:10). Cultivation of our relationship with him who is invisible is the first key for building faith.

2. Faith in What Has Been Promised. The heroes of faith not only saw him who was invisible, but they welcomed his promises from a distance (11:13). As we cultivate a relationship with God we are able to claim with assurance (faith) the promises which grow out of that relationship. Sarah was enabled to conceive because Abraham believed God would be faithful to what he had promised (11:11). He believed God was reliable. Our pastor must know both the person of God and the promises of God if he is to be a man of faith.

Two things hinder this process: 1) A lack of knowledge of the promises of God, and 2) a lack of faith in the person and character of God. Men and women of faith welcome the promises of God from a distance. That is, their major expectations are in the future, in life beyond the veil. Moses claimed the promises of God and turned his back on the prestige, power, and wealth of Egypt because “he was looking ahead to his reward” (11:26). Others joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property knowing that they had “better and lasting possessions” (10:34). They will be winners; they will not be ashamed for the choices they made because God is faithful, his promises are true, and “he has prepared a city for them” (11:16). An expanding faith must be marked by confidence in God’s promises.

3. Living a Faith Life Style. A real winner feels the gold medal around his neck before he enters the race. So should the pastor. He should run to win, and motivate by his courageous example a multitude to run with him. The promises of God should be the fabric of his future. Faith begins with the person of God, moves to his promises, and then to a pattern for living. Ours is a living faith and a faith to be lived.

There is a faith life style summed up in Hebrews 11:13: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

Pastors of all people must make this confession. It is the Magna Carta of Christian living. These heroes of the faith abandoned any hope of ultimate fulfillment in this life. They determined to ever be foreigners in their own countries, to live as aliens in their own land.

No city on this earth, no geographical location, no second home in the mountains has foundations which will last. We should abandon all hope of being satisfied and fulfilled with what is temporal. Our heartache is eternal, and no temporal bicarbonate will ease it. Nothing less than seeing Jesus face to face and dwelling in his presence will ever satisfy our deep longing. It’s a longing for home, and this world will never be our home.

Much of the Christian community acts as though this world is its home. Materialism is rampant. We have followed the gospel of the worldling who hopes that by doubling the cost of his new home he can double his happiness. This perverted gospel cripples the impact of countless Christians. The visible mark of faith is an alignment with an eternal home which creates an attitude and life style marked by its contrast with the secularism of our day. This alignment refocuses everything else. It changes our goals and objectives. It redirects our gifts and abilities and resources. It redefines our mission. Suddenly eternity with the Lord is everything, and his purposes become critical as we prepare for that great day. The “alien and stranger” lives for the possibility of hearing his Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Like Moses, he looks forward to the reward.

Pastors must be examples to the church of total stewardship. They should richly enjoy all that God has given, but their heavenly citizenship should be obvious. The deceitfulness of wealth, of any treasure but God himself, is a dangerous time bomb. Some pastors err in the other direction. They parade their poverty and continually let their needs be known, and then praise God for his wonderful provision. Be careful, and pray for balance.

Faith is the essential ingredient that pleases God. Faith is fueled as the pastor cultivates the presence of God. As D. L. Moody used to say, “I am a leaky vessel, and I need to keep under the tap.” Faith is freed as the pastor develops confidence in the promises of God. It is properly focused as he adopts God’s pattern of living. The man of faith is an alien sent by God as an agent of reconciliation. An ad in a secular magazine stated, “Once you discover you can change the world you’ll never be the same.” How true! Faith moves mountains.

The Marks of a Positive Ministry

Faith and hope are inseparable friends. The gospel itself is literally “good news.” A pastor should both be and communicate good news. It’s largely a matter of attitude. Many pastors gravitate toward a negative, critical, condemning pattern of life and ministry. Such a life style is not from God.

It is often thought that the Christian faith is a deprivation of joy in living, or that it is a mere pattern of religious observances, or that it is a hairsplitting system of beliefs. Christianity does involve some of these elements but they are only incidental. The modern evangelist has to sell the biblical point of view that the Christian faith is God’s way to undreamed of personal fulfillment. This will necessitate a shift to a more positive point of view in order to change this false but popular image of Christianity (James Jauncy, Psychology for Successful Evangelism [Chicago: Moody Press, 1972], 39).

Pastors need to be ministers of hope. It should permeate their lives and their preaching. Recently I heard a speaker say that the one who brings the most hope gains the most authority. That’s an amazing and scary thought. Lenin came with a message of hope and changed the world. As his “Utopia” unfolded, people gave everything, even their very lives, to further the cause. People rally around the bearer of hope and submit themselves to him. Hope is a vital quality for pastors.

Peter reminds us that we are to be ready to give an answer, with “gentleness and respect,” to everyone who asks us the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). This is not “pumping sunshine.” Ministry is tough. It involves heartache, tragedy, and despair. The shepherd needs to have a faith which produces a hope that encourages, comforts, and strengthens even as the dark clouds gather. Those who worship Jesus Christ have reason for hope.

A ministry founded on and giving rise to hope is composed of several positive factors:

1. An Unveiled Face—Authenticity. One of the joys of the new covenant is that the veils can come off. Moses came down from the mountain and veiled his face so that his people could not see his glory fade away. In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 Paul tells us that we no longer have to function as did Moses. When one “turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (3:16). Let’s not bring back what God has taken away. The Christian pilgrimage is not one sanctifying experience after which we put on the veil. We don’t reach a point where a veil becomes necessary. The longer we walk with him, the less a veil should be needed. Paul encourages us to look at him with unveiled face as we “are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (3:18).

People are attracted by authenticity. The pastor must guard himself against accepting the illusions, fantasies, or distorted expectations of his congregation. Integrity is the critical element. It is so easy to deceive from the pulpit, to preach about things we have not experienced and do not consistently practice. It is so easy to overstate, to play on guilt, and to imply that we solved a particular problem long ago. If we haven’t and imply that we have (often by what we don’t say), we are inauthentic.

2. A Diligent Student of the Word. The demands of ministry are great, but they must not take the pastor away from the Book. Since when should the pastor do the calling, teach Sunday school, chair three or four committees, fold the bulletins, oversee the youth ministries, plan the retreats, and on and on? His job has never been to do the work of the ministry. He is to equip others to do it.

Bible study, however, is hard work. There are plenty of things to keep a pastor “busy” and to provide an excuse for his lack of preparation. Poor preaching keeps most churches poor. Poor preaching in most cases is the result of poor priorities and procrastination. The minister who is going to build a contagious congregation must handle truth skillfully, knowing that truth is the foundation of beauty. Besides direct study of Scripture, the pastor must continue to learn. Seminars, books, retreats, and significant fellowship should have high priority in his schedule. Many secular management training programs are excellent. Each local church should set aside a substantial sum for its pastor’s continuing enrichment. It is money well spent.

3. A Liberator of the Body. The marvelous doctrine of reconciliation helps us see that ultimately evangelism is what Jesus Christ is doing through his church to reach his world. The pattern looks like this. At Christ’s incarnation, God was “reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Since Christ ascended to his Father’s right hand, the Father “has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (5:19-20). That’s what Christ is doing today. He entreats a lost world to be reconciled through his church, which is his body. Christ sows his good seed (beautiful seed) in the world, where his work is to take place.

The pastor must focus his church outward, not inward. His motto should be, “When the saints, go marching out!” The church is not a holy huddle, it is a task force whose primary focus must always be the “fields ripe for harvest.” Unfortunately, bigger buildings, larger programs, and more staff dictate church mission. We must justify our large expenditures, and the basic evangelism strategy becomes herding fish toward our expensive, stained-glass trap. Instead, the church should be God’s family extending itself to meet needs in the name of Jesus. Evangelism is what Jesus is actually doing through the preaching, the worship and fellowship, and the service of the church.

The pastor more than any other individual determines the character of the church’s preaching, fellowship, worship, and service. The content and style of his preaching is critical to the church’s health and beauty. If a church is to be a learning center, the pastor must make diligent preparation so that what is delivered is biblical, balanced, relevant, and liberating. Likewise, the pastor is the key to liberating the church to be a healing communion as he gives himself to building up the body so that it moves toward health. The pastor is also the key to whether or not the church is free to worship and to respond as a family to the presence of God in its midst. Finally, the service of the church is conditioned by the pastor’s vision (or lack of it). Liberating a congregation to be God’s people in service can be threatening. It often involves a rethinking of the pastoral and leadership roles. In most cases it means seeking a lower profile and elevating the gifts and abilities of others.

Jesus desires to explode himself through the lives of his people and do greater works than he did while on earth. He wants once again to touch the untouchables, feed the hungry, bring light where there is darkness and life where there is death. He wants to invite the thirsty—whoever they are, wherever they are—to discover living water. In the counsels of eternity, God decided for a time to link himself (and in a sense limit himself) to the frailties of his creatures. Why he has not evangelized with the hosts of heaven we do not know. What we do know is that Jesus’ mission today is done through us, his ambassadors. We are now members of the second incarnation called to make visible the invisible God. His impact, his mission, is linked to our obedience and vision. If we draw limits he has not drawn, he becomes limited in his outreach. If our hearts have no compassion for the lost, we neglect our commission and Christ’s mission is aborted.

Who do you think God wants to use to reach your neighborhood? Is he doing it? Why not? Pastor, you are God’s instrument to set people free—to encourage them, to liberate them, to give them your blessing to mark the lost for Christ. It may mean you will have to change your attitudes toward the unsaved. You may need to realign your understanding of separation with biblical truth. Perhaps you will have to eliminate some programs, change the thrust and tone of your preaching, focus again on the essentials, and start reaching your own neighborhood. People may need to be encouraged not to attend the programs and activities of the church so they can spend time with the unsaved. Your church may need, with your firm leadership, to move out into the community and serve it. Neglected widows may need help, injustice in your community may need to be confronted, programs may need to be implemented to care for the poor and needy … with no strings attached. You may need to brainstorm with your leadership team about where Jesus would go in your community to meet needs, and then direct resources and people into that area. Christianity in action under qualified leadership is always effective evangelistically.

4. A Builder of Men. Men attract men, especially in a church context. A primary part of the pastor’s job is the building of men. To nudge men on toward maturity takes time and commitment. His must help others to minister—not do the work of ministry himself. The minister is like the foreman in a machine shop, or the coach of a team. He does not do all the work, nor does he make all the plays. (Though he is a working foreman and a playing coach!) If a man can’t operate a lathe, the foreman rolls up his sleeves and shows him how. If a player can’t carry out an assignment, the coach demonstrates how to make the play (Leighton Ford, The Christian Persuaders [New York: Harper & Row, 1969], 49).

Even though the pastor is a shepherd who loves the entire body, a ministry to men must have a special place in his heart. While in the pastorate I met with at least five groups of men each week. I met one on one with a dentist friend, with two other board members, with a group of twenty or thirty businessmen, with the entire board, and with the pastoral staff (seven men). Although the group dynamics were different, the purposes were similar. With mutual accountability we shared the Word, prayer, schedules, and relationships. Each year, at my request, the board of elders met without me to evaluate my ministry, my marriage and family, and anything else they desired. This information, often painful, was shared in love and resulted in growth and encouragement. It also set a precedent. As they saw the value of evaluation, the board members requested that each of them be evaluated too.

We as a board recognized our need to be a redemptive community. We structured our weekly board meetings so that the first hour focused on instruction and worship. Board members rotated the teaching assignment among themselves. I spent hours working with some of the men helping prepare them to preach and teach. What an exciting experience to sit on the front row as one of them delivers the morning message! Men, help your pastor by being honest with him. I remember so well the evening a man in my congregation said to me, “Joe, you’ve been my pastor for two years. I’m disappointed you haven’t built into my life more effectively.” It was a time of soul searching … and growth. You may need to pose a similar question to your pastor to nudge him into one of his most important responsibilities. An effective pastor builds into his leaders to establish the base for a healthy and attractive ministry. Before a church is ready to add members, it must increase the quality and quantity of its leadership. A wise pastor learns how to be a builder of men, then makes this challenge central to his ministry.

5. A Family Specialist. Focus on the family! Target sermons regularly on marriage and family living. Take advantage of the excellent video series and printed materials available. People are hurting desperately in this area. Meet these needs and evangelism problems are practically solved. If your church cannot accept the wreckage of broken homes and shattered dreams, it is not a place where Jesus lives. Your church should be the greatest garbage dump in town—a place where the broken, oppressed, misplaced, abandoned, and unloved can come and find a family where they are accepted and loved … as is. “As is” people are Jesus’ kind of people. The Pharisees despised them. They still do. “As is” people become great disciples and great soul winners. Those who have been forgiven the most love the most. The effective church ministers effectively to families because it is a family. Pastor, you’re the key. Father the fatherless, rebuke the offenders, encourage the discouraged, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep, weep, weep. If your heart is not broken by broken people, you don’t have Jesus’ heart. If your heart is not compelled to go when lost men stumble in darkness, you don’t have Jesus’ heart. Pray that his mission will recapture the hearts of his children and of their leaders.

6. A Careful Planner. The old adage is true: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. A goal is a statement of faith about the future. Visions remain visions unless goals are established as steps to the visions’ realization. Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time. A careful planner simply puts a foundation under his fantasy.

Some years ago I put together a document which has been very influential in shaping my life. It contains my personal objectives, goals, and standards. I established objectives and goals in five areas: spiritual, intellectual, physical, family, and ministry. Objectives became broad statements of purpose. Suppose one objective in my spiritual life is to be conformed to the image of Christ. That is a broad, unmeasurable purpose. To achieve it I must establish several goals. One goal would be to maintain a regular Bible study program. Another might be to develop a significant prayer life. Reading Christian biographies could be another goal. If I meet these goals I will be well on my way toward my objective of Christ-likeness. Unfortunately, these goals are still too general and unmeasurable. Therefore, I must establish standards to quantify my goals and make them measurable. Here is a sample:

I. Objective: To be conformed to the image of Christ.

Goal: Regular Bible study Standard:

30 minutes each day in Bible study

Standard: 10 minutes each day in devotional literature

Standard: Weekly reading of pertinent journals, such as Christianity Today

Goal: Develop a significant prayer life

Standard: 30 minutes each day

Standard: Written requests with answers recorded

Standard: Daily prayer with wife and family

Standard: Daily prayer with staff

Goal: Read significant Christian biographies

Standard: One biography per month

Such an exercise is invaluable. The more you plan, the more efficient is your time spent in working. Perhaps the greatest value of planning is the “self-fulfilled prophecy” effect Planning plants seeds which enable visions to grow into realities. Planning is simply taxing the mind to solve the problems that keep us from a fruitful future. Not to plan is not to set in operation the incredible resources of the human mind, a resource which when linked with faith can move mountains. A man of vision plans … so does an effective shepherd.

Our fifth and final question is one only the pastor can answer: “What changes must take place in the life of the pastor to make him that kind of a person?” It is a critical question. Pastors need the insight and the feedback of their leaders to answer it effectively. The question cannot be answered unless it’s asked. My prayer is that many pastors will take the risk … and ask.

Article adapted from the ‘Pastor and Evangelism” in Joe Aldrich. Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You (pp. 149-160). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

About the Author:

Dr. Joe Aldrich (Th.D – Dallas Theological Seminary) was the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Newport Beach in the 1970’s, and the President of Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon in the 1980’s and early 90’s.

 

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