In my local association of churches, one out of every four churches is currently without a pastor. Most of those pastor-less churches cannot provide a full-time salary, and due to the financial landscape in the rural region of Central Appalachia, men are not really lining up to move here to serve as a bi-vocational pastor.
Which presents a dilemma: how are these churches going to find pastors?
The answer, of course, is the Lord. As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2). God can and will provide pastors for these churches. God can and will provide church planters to start new churches. But, I am convinced that He will do so primarily by calling and sending out those who already live in the area.
So, a few weeks ago, I conducted a 6-hour workshop (over the course of 3 weeks) titled “The Call to Ministry” to help call out the called in our region. Using Southern Seminary’s excellent workbook as a guide, a total of four men completed the workshop.
I believe the workshop was helpful for these men. Perhaps it might be helpful to you as well. Whether you are someone who is currently sensing a call to ministry and you don’t know what to do about it, or you are a pastor helping a young man in your church assess their ministry calling, or you are a denominational servant like myself who is desperately praying to the Lord to send out more laborers into the harvest, consider these 6 elements when assessing any ministry calling:
- Beliefs. Warnings against false teachers abound in the New Testament, meaning that it is possible to enter the gospel ministry and not even be saved! Therefore, before moving very far in the process of evaluating one’s ministry calling, it is essential that a candidate be examined for his doctrinal beliefs. For those of us in Southern Baptist life, the standard is the Baptist Faith & Message (2000). If a man does not hold to the core doctrines of the faith, he is not called to ministry no matter what he says.
- Expectations. Many enter pastoral ministry with some faulty expectations. Maybe they expect that the demands of ministry won’t be difficult. Maybe they expect to be liked and respected by everyone in their church and community. Maybe they expect to make a lot of money. Whatever it may be, those who enter ministry with faulty expectations will be sorely disappointed. And many with these faulty expectations don’t usually stay in the ministry for very long.
- Motivations. 1 Timothy 3:1 says “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Twice in this verse, Paul speaks of aspiration/desire for the ministry. Another word for this is motivation. Some enter the ministry with the proper motivation: for the glory of God and the good of His people. However, others enter the ministry with good intentions, but without the proper motivations. Some want to enter the ministry because they are gifted public speakers, or they have compassion for hurting people. Others simply want to make a difference in the world. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things, but they cannot serve as a minister’s primary motivation for ministry.
- Qualifications. Even if you have the proper beliefs, expectations and motivations, one should never enter the ministry if he fails to meet the biblical qualifications that Paul describes in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. While no one perfectly meets these qualifications, these things should be generally true of any minister of the gospel. As we have seen among several high profile church leaders in recent days, these character qualities are always more important than gifting when assessing a man’s qualifications for ministry.
- Gifts. If a candidate for ministry has the proper beliefs, expectations, motivations, and qualifications, the next area to assess is spiritual gifts. A candidate for ministry should spend much time reading through the biblical passages that address spiritual gifts: 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; Romans 12: 3-8; Ephesians 4:7-16; and 1 Peter 4:7-11. In addition, he should consider taking a spiritual gift assessment to assist in identifying his spiritual gifts. After that, he should see how many of his spiritual gifts are among those typically true of gospel ministers (such as shepherding, teaching, leadership, prophecy, and wisdom). If there’s no overlap, he should seriously question whether he is called to be a pastor. And again, if a man has the proper gifts, but not the prerequisite character qualifications, he is not qualified for the ministry.
- Affirmations. Most of the previous elements are often referred to as one’s “internal calling”. This last element is often referred to as the “external calling”, which simply seeks to answer the question, “Do others in the church agree?” Do they agree and affirm a man’s calling to ministry? Do they agree that he is biblically qualified and has the proper gifts for ministry? Have they evaluated and confirmed that he has the proper beliefs? If so, praise the Lord! If not, then he is not called.
There you have it. Proper beliefs. Proper expectations. Proper motivations. Proper qualifications. Proper gifts. Proper affirmations. All are necessary in order to be confident in one’s calling to the gospel ministry.
If you are someone who senses a call to ministry and would like to be properly assessed in each of these areas, talk to your pastor or other trusted ministry leader, and they can help you through this process. Be assured of my prayers for you as well!