How Can We Know It Is Authentic?
Whatever "call" a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to the ministry.
—Charles H. Spurgeon
The call to the ministry has been described in many ways. Some say they have received a direct revelation from God telling them audibly that He has chosen them for their special work. Others describe their call as coming to them in a dream or some mystical experience. Another will say God actually appeared to him in a vision to call him into the ministry. Some preachers say their call was an overwhelming compulsion to become a pastor, or the feeling that they were a misfit in every other occupation and thereby could not find happiness until they "surrendered to the ministry."
Thus one can see how the general public would be very confused by what has been designated "the call to the ministry."
Let's look for a moment at the Scriptures. First Timothy 3:1 says that the elder (pastor) must desire or reach out for the office. First Timothy 5:22 says that we must "not be hasty in the laying on of hands," meaning that we should be careful about whom we recognize as candidates for the ministry. First Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 teach us that to fill the office, the person must be qualified by certain moral characteristics. In the 1 Peter passage the person must be an example to the flock. First Timothy 4:9-16 tells us that the pastor's "life and doctrine" must be sound. That would require that the church make an assessment of the men who reach out for the office. And 1 Timothy 5:17-21 gives us instructions on to how to correct an elder who sins and, by implication, does not measure up to the office.
So, to summarize: The biblical concept of a "call to the ministry" does not include a vision, special revelation, or mystical experience.
Rather, it involves factors such as: (1) Does the man reach out for the work? (2) Is he qualified biblically? (3) Does he possess the gifts necessary to fulfill the functions? (4) Do the elders and the church think he is gifted and morally qualified? (5) Are his life and doctrine sound? (6) Will he live as an example before the flock?
It is true that in the Old Testament and in the first century of Christianity, God did intervene directly and call men to ministry. But today His revelation has been completed by the New Testament, and it is our reliable guide. Therefore, a local church should be able to take God's Word and help the candidate assess whether or not he has been called to the gospel ministry.
Pastoral Duties Must Not Crowd It Out
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
After entering the ministry, I found it difficult to cultivate a personal devotional life. That may surprise you, but the problem was manifold. Among the reasons were late-night meetings and counseling times, early-morning staff and committee meetings, and the constant demand to prepare notes, lessons, sermons, and the like. In addition, there were so many needs in the congregation about which I needed to pray that they took up most of my own prayer time. In fact, part of the blessings I looked forward to in retirement was the regular and extended opportunity to feed my own soul.
It came as a surprise to me that one of the problems I faced in the ministry was that when I opened the Scriptures I found it extremely difficult to forget the need to determine the background, outline the passage, divide it into an appropriate package for delivery, and think of ways to get this particular truth across to others. It became very difficult for me to just sit down with the Scriptures and let them speak to me, alone. Also my prayers, which certainly were needed for my own personal needs, would often drift off into the pressing needs of our church body.
That makes it tough on one's personal devotional times. Perhaps some can discipline their minds better, but I found it difficult. I don't really think I was trying to escape my own responsibilities. Rather, after being in the ministry for a period of time, we know about so many hurting people in the congregation, so many people who need to change their actions, attitudes, or thinking, and so many who need to be involved in specific service opportunities that they often take first priority in our minds. With the Scriptures in hand, we see many verses that address their particular situation, and thus our own personal devotional time becomes intercessory work.
I am not sure I have a good solution. Perhaps getting away regularly, taking the first day or two to help cleanse your mind of the urgent problems, and then a day or two just between you and the Lord, would be one way. Reading and praying with our wives on a regular basis is helpful also. Each pastor will have a different circumstance, and so how each one solves this dilemma will be different. But it does deserve constant attention.
It would be a great tragedy to see our members growing in service and godliness, while our own souls are starving for personal fellowship with our Lord!
Our Lifeblood and Real Power
He that is more frequent in his pulpit to his people than he is in his closet for his people is but a sorry watchman.
Sure, we are involved in prayer all the time. We pray before and after each sermon. We pray at the church prayer meetings. We are often the one called on to open meetings with prayer. We wouldn't think of eating a meal without at least someone offering thanksgiving. When we visit people at the hospital, we pray for them. At secular events or sporting events, we are often called on to offer the opening prayer.
In our public life we are men of prayer. But what about in our private lives? Are we men of prayer then? That's the acid test. The public occasions can be mere performance. The private times demonstrate whether we are men of spiritual integrity.
Prayer is an acknowledgment that we are needy individuals. It also demonstrates to us our personal relationship with our Lord. And it reflects our genuine love and concern for our flock as we labor in prayer for their spiritual good.
As a young pastor I once asked an aging pastor about his readily apparent spiritual life. He explained to me that he arose at 4:00 every morning to begin his two-hour daily, private prayer life. He spent the first hour each day acknowledging the Lord's wonderful attributes and His goodness. Then he moved into requests for the remaining hour. He said that those two hours were the most important of his daily functions.
There was no doubt that this man's personal godliness came as a direct result of his daily communion with the Lord. Just as Spurgeon spoke of John Bunyan when he said that if you "pricked him, his blood flowed Bibline," so if you were to prick that faithful, aged pastor, he would flow grace, gentleness, and holiness.
Do we want deep spiritual lifeblood and power? It starts with a personal relationship with our God. We know Him through His eternal Word, but we communicate with Him through prayer.
We can fake a spiritual life by public prayer, but the One who knows us best cannot be fooled. God can give us real power in our ministry, or He can withhold His grace as we fail to develop that deeply needed personal relationship with Him.
We All Need One or More Honest Friends
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Nothing is more stimulating than friends who speak the truth in love.
It is the best and truest friend who honestly tells us the truth about ourselves even when he knows we shall not like it. False friends are the ones who hide such truth from us and do so in order to remain in our favour.
—R. C. H. Lenski
It is a luxury to have people with whom we can let our hair down and just be ourselves. Pastors especially need that sort of relationship because as public figures we are always on display and open to close scrutiny. But as human beings we also sin, have weaknesses, suffer from fears, have hang-ups, and live with emotions, both good and bad.
Obviously, pastors' wives must be their number one resource to fill the need for friendship. Our relationship with our wives must be open and honest. She can be our faithful critic and comforter. She can help us analyze, plan, correct, implement, and react properly. Apart from Christ and our salvation, she is God's greatest gift to us.
But it is also helpful and necessary to have other close (male) friends who will be painfully honest with us without the emotional involvement of our wives. These men can call us to account, tell us when we are thinking incorrectly or reacting emotionally, ask the hard questions, not let us slide by or dodge an issue, and stand by us when they think we are right. These men can also honestly assess our leadership, our messages, and our shepherding. We need their help in all of these areas.
Who should they be? Preferably one or two should come from our own congregation and perhaps one or two from another ministry or geographical setting. By selecting men from those two areas, we gain the advantage of having friendly critics within the sphere of our ministry and also those who have no personal involvement in our ministry and thus can provide a bit more objectivity.
It does no good to have such accountability partners if we do not take the time to be with them and do not open up before them. They are not little gods and cannot read our minds, and they do not always know how to read between the lines.
There will definitely be things that these men should keep in strict confidence, but in other areas they must be free to talk with our wives or elders or associates. Without trying to be specific in this area with examples, there may be those times when our accountability partners cannot be bound to total confidentiality since they may judge that the situation calls for us to make a public apology or undergo some form of public correction.
True friends are wonderful gifts from God. Proverbs 18:24 says they will stick "closer than a brother." And their wounds are definitely better for us than the kisses of our enemies (Prov. 27:6).
It Is Best to Admit Them and Move On
He that is down needs fear no fall; he that is low, no pride. He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide.
Let's admit it. Sometimes we are wrong. At times we say things that we learn later are incorrect. There are times when our judgment is poor. At times our reactions will be purely emotional and improper. And worst of all, our pride wells up inside us, and we just don't like to speak the three hardest words in the English language: "I was wrong."
But there can be no better way to lead a group of people than to admit our human weaknesses. Mistakes are part of the human predicament. As we continue to study, there will be times when we will change our minds on points of theology or the way we have interpreted a passage. When we do, we must not only correct our personal position but let our congregation know also.
I know of a pastor who began as an Arminian. Over the years he has become an outspoken Calvinist. This is clear to everyone. Yet he maintains that his understanding of the Scriptures has always been Calvinistic. He needs to acknowledge to the congregation that his study over the years has led him to a new conclusion, that his theology was defective, and that by the grace of God he now has a better grasp of the Scriptures. Such is not a weakness but a strength. Those who will not learn should not teach.
I also remember hearing a true story about a man who was committed to the position that a believer could fall from grace. He began a series defending that position. In one of his sermons he was preaching through John 10. Right in the middle of delivering his sermon his eyes were opened to what Jesus was saying. He stopped his sermon and explained to his congregation that he now saw clearly the opposite position taught in this passage. He finished the sermon proclaiming the preservation of the believer. That is an outstanding example of a man who was willing to admit his error immediately once the truth was made clear before his eyes.
We will not only be wrong on theological positions, but in implementing certain programs in our church, or in the shepherding of certain members, or in choosing message topics. The point is, at times we are going to be wrong, and we need to be humble enough to admit it, make the correction, and move on.
Our members will usually be very forgiving and ready to support us in our new direction, providing we teach them enough to show them the error of our ways and the correctness of our new approach. Members appreciate leaders who will acknowledge their humanness and those who are willing to ask to be forgiven.
Improper Stewardship Can Destroy Our Ministry
Let no debt remain outstanding.
Years ago a credit company informed me that insurance salesmen and pastors were the nation's worst credit risks. Another company said that professions beginning with the letter p were bad risks: preacher, painter, policeman, politician. Whether or not such reports are true, at least they contain some bad publicity for the ministry. We constantly live in a fishbowl. And the way we handle our financial affairs will certainly come to light.
Let's face it, the ministry generally is not a lucrative occupation. Most pastors have to struggle financially to make ends meet. The story has been told that a deacon once remarked that pastors should be poor and humble, and if the Lord would keep them humble, the deacons would see to it that their pastors were kept poor. And it seems that sometimes such is the case. Pastors are viewed by those who do not really know the burdens they carry as having easy jobs with flexible hours, only really working forty-five minutes a week on Sundays. You and I know better. Yet often the pay structure is loosely based on that perspective. And that increases the financial burden on the ministry.
But that goes with the territory, at least until the deacons, the church leadership, and the members are duly educated as to the duties of the job when well done. They need to know that it is an advantage to the church when she gives double honor to her faithful pastors. The church I was privileged to serve before retirement recognized the pastoral needs and did a wonderful job of providing for all of us. The salaries and full benefits package were very adequate.
Regardless of where the church is in this matter, we still must live responsible lives financially. No debts should be made that cannot be fulfilled on schedule. We must learn to go without if necessary.
We really have but a few choices. We can either live on our salary, educate the leadership and members on their responsibility to pay us a deserving wage, take a second job if absolutely necessary, or drop out of the pastorate altogether. We don't have the option to let our bills go unpaid or delinquent. Otherwise our financial reputations can destroy our effectiveness in our church and our community.
Self-Control Is a Ministry Qualification
Watch your life . . . closely.
—1 Timothy 4:16
The man who disciplines himself stands out and has the mark of greatness upon him.
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Have you ever noticed that many of us preachers are overweight? In fact, some are just plain obese! That could be because we are often invited to our members' homes for very fattening meals. And regularly we must go out to eat with our members and prospects for fellowship and counseling.
Eating has become an American pastime. Overeating has become a regularity with us also. Sometimes as I sit in airport terminals as hordes of people are hustling by, I can't help noticing that the majority of us are overweight. This is in direct contrast to people in other lands that I have had the occasion to visit. Outside the U.S.A. you do not see as many overweight individuals. No doubt they do not have access to the many food selections we are privileged to enjoy. But it also appears that they eat only enough to enable them to live and do their work.
Our passage instructs us to watch our lives closely. Other passages warn us against the sin of gluttony. Yet somehow we can preach against all other sins and rail against the decadent immorality around us, while at the same time exhibiting a belly that has been stuffed too much and too often. That is clearly a sin.
Perhaps we excuse it as a "little white sin" that amounts to nearly nothing at all. It seems that the two acceptable sins are worry and overeating. But God is concerned about them, or He would not have talked about them.
It is a matter of self-control. The fourth specific qualification for the office of elder/pastor in 1 Timothy 3 is "self-control." Does that involve our eating habits? You bet it does!
First Impressions Are Often the Lasting Ones
But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
—1 Samuel 16:7
There is a biblical truth for which I am very thankful. That truth is that men look upon the outside, but God sees the inside. For many of us the outside is not a pleasant thing to behold. But God sees our hearts, our motives, our desires, and He knows what we are all about. Sometimes this is both reassuring and humbling, especially when that which is inside is especially dirty.
But unlike God, we are not omniscient. And we form impressions based on what we see on the outside. Others see our demeanor, our talk, our walk, and our dress.
Very little is said in the Bible about the way we should dress. Some who dressed in unusual ways—for example, John the Baptist—stood out. Of course, women are encouraged to dress modestly. And all of us are told to not cause offense, and this would include our manner of dress.
What, then, are the standards for preachers? Should we wear a thick, dark robe in the pulpit, such as we see on occasion? Or can we wear an open-neck shirt and slacks with no tie, as we find in many of the new churches of our land? What about our daily dress? Should we wear a suit and tie or, like some southern and western preachers, shirts and blue jeans during the week?
And what about the quality and cost of our clothes? Will a J. C. Penney suit suffice, or should we show up in a Jos. A. Banks suit?
There are no set, specific rules. But there are some personal guidelines. Some of them are: What is the custom of the church? How do the members dress? What can our budget reasonably cover? What standard does the general community condone? What is typically modest? What can be nice enough but not draw attention to ourselves? What is the appropriate dress for the occasion? What clothes enable us to be proper stewards of God's money?
A simple rule is: Clothes should be clean and neat, not flashy but enhancing, and should neither take attention away from nor draw attention to the pastor. Our words and walk are more important issues than our dress.
Barnabas and Saul: Acts 13:1-3
Timothy: Acts 16:1-3
Paul and the Ephesian elders: Acts 20:17-38
A general call: Rom. 12:1-8
A call and work: 1 Cor. 1:12-3:23
A trust: 1 Cor. 9:16-18
Ambassadors: 2 Cor. 5:16-21
Set apart from birth: Gal. 1:1-16
Pastors/teachers: Eph. 4:11-13
Desire and qualifications: 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9
Correction and selection: 1 Tim. 5:17-22
Final instructions to Timothy: 2 Tim. 2-4
Leadership: Heb. 13:7, 17
Serving as examples: 1 Peter 5:1-4.
Psalms 1; 8; 9; 19; 23; 24; 27; 28; 29; 30; 32; 33; 34; 36; 46; 47; 48; 63; 66; 71; 84; 86; 89; 90; 91; 96; 99; 103; 111; 113; 119; 121; 145; 150.
The Christian described: Matthew 5-7
The greatest commandment: Matt. 22:37-40
The bondage broken: Rom. 6
Practical service: Rom. 12
Submission to and serving others: Romans 13-14
Qualities of genuine love: 1 Cor. 13
Being made alive: Eph. 2:1-10
United, serving others joyfully: Phil. 2:1-18
Rejoicing: Phil. 4:4-7
Serving as examples: 1 Tim. 4:11-16
Discharging our duties: 2 Tim. 4:1-5
Faithful examples to follow: Heb. 11
Trials: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Growth: 2 Pet. 1:3-11
Final victory: Rev. 21:1-4
Final warning: Rev. 22:18-19.
—Practical Wisdom for Pastors