Archive for October, 2010

Call to the Ministry

October 20, 2010

Call to the Ministry

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9).
So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land that I should not destroy it, but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:30).
He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor… (Isaiah 59:16a).
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:36-38).

Some months ago I was in conversation with a former President of a major denomination about the difficulty of finding a suitable pastor for a vacant pulpit. We agreed that there is a dire shortage of suitable men. There are some men available, but not enough to fill all the vacant pastorates. Besides, not all the men are suitable, for one reason or another. The few excellent men available are quickly settled into a pastorate Some of the men who have made themselves available are already in a pastorate but want to move. Either they want to leave or have been asked to leave their present position. Some of those men may be very able and sound and have good reasons for wanting to move. In the case of others it raises a question in the minds of those responsible for finding a pastor. The Scriptures cited above suggest that, in a sense, God Himself is looking for men suitable for His service. In considering this shortage it is worth asking the question, what are the necessary and the desirable qualities in ministers of the Gospel? This is how I see these matters.

1 A definite call from God.

Some would deny this. A few months ago when I mentioned in a discussion this need for a call a prominent evangelical minister retorted that there is no difference at all between the call to be a minister and the call to be a dentist . Another evangelical minister said to me, ‘The only call in the New Testament is the call to be a Christian. There is no such thing as a specific call to the ministry.’

Now granted that we use the word ‘calling’ in a general way to describe any person’s job, and therefore every person has, in that sense, his or her ‘calling’, is there really no difference? The Scripture does use the word ‘calling’ in that general sense in 1 Corinthians 7:20. But is there no difference between the sacred ministry and any other calling? Surely the vast majority of people in what we may term ‘secular’ employment actually choose their vocation. While in school or college they consider the various options and select the one that most appeals to them. In some cases they may have had that goal in mind from childhood, perhaps following in a parent s footsteps. It is certainly possible that in a very few cases their particular vocation was impressed upon them by God, but that is surely rare. It is certainly possible that a person may feel that God has specifically called them to be a dentist or a dustman, a farmer or a fisherman, but the impression one gets is that most people choose their vocation. Please note that to be doing one s job as to the Lord and serving Him in one s chosen calling is not the same thing as to be called by God in the first place to do it.

But for a man to choose the Christian ministry as his option without any sense of it being God s will, would seem to fly in the face of biblical teaching. Normally the ministry chooses the man, or the Lord does! Let me stress that I am not seeking to deny that a person may strongly feel that God led them into a particular ‘secular’ employment, but merely seeking to make clear that the call to the ministry is a definite and distinct calling, different from other ‘callings’.

Consider the Biblical evidence.
In the first place, we are told quite clearly in Hebrews 5:4 concerning the Old Testament priesthood that ‘no man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God.’  John the Baptist was ‘a man sent from God’ (John 1:6), and Jesus said to the apostles, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…’ (John 15:16).   Again, in Ephesians chapter four we read that the ascended Christ ‘gave gifts unto men,’ and ‘He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers’.  In Acts chapter Thirteen we read that ‘as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”’  Clearly that was not the call to salvation, but a distinct and definite call to ministry.   Of course there are several ‘callings’ in Scripture which are common to all Christians, such as the call to salvation, the call to holiness, etc (e.g. 1Cor. 1:1-9).   But the calling to an Ephesians four ministry is not common to all Christians, for Ephesians 4:11 states that it is only some that are so called.  This calling may not come in a dramatic way.   In fact one of the striking features about those called to ministry in the Bible is that each call to ministry seems to have been distinct; Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul.  Only the fishermen friends and brothers seem to have been called in a common way to be Christ s apostles.
Now if it is being taught that there is ‘no difference at all’ between the call to be a dentist (or any other work) and the call to be a minister, which means in effect that you can choose to be a minister if you like, is it any wonder that there are men in the ministry without a sense of definite call from God?    And is it any wonder that, if the idea of a distinct call from God to the ministry is denigrated, men do not expect to hear it or, if there are a stirring within them from God, His voice is ignored as being an erroneous suggestion?
Jesus looked with compassion on the multitudes and said to the disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.’ (Matthew 9:37,38).  Surely that passage implies that labourers are specifically sent by God into the harvest? But why bother God with such prayers if there is no definite and distinct call into the ministry? Why not spend our energy in persuading men that they should choose that vocation? The answer to the dearth of ministers is to earnestly beseech God to send forth labourers, and to expound the Scriptures so that God may use such preaching to call men.
James M. George in his chapter on The Call to Pastoral Ministry writes:

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 fulfils these four qualifications can rest in the assurance that God has called him to vocational Christian leadership. [Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, John MacArthur, et al, Word Publishing, 1995, p. 102].

2. A Knowledge of the Bible.

This may seem obvious, but, alas! It cannot be taken for granted today. Many men coming from Bible Colleges and University Theological departments just do not know their Bibles. A minister showed me a letter from an officer of one of the largest city missions in this country, in which he gave examples of five candidates for posts as city missionaries who, in a fairly simple and straightforward Bible examination, revealed an appalling ignorance of Scripture. Three of those applicants had degrees in theology from British Theological colleges! A graduate of Oxford University told me that a lecturer in Theology there complained that he found it extremely difficult to get theological students to study their Bibles. When he set them a passage to study they went straight to the commentaries and quoted them, rather than studying the passage itself. This may be a reflection on the churches from which those students came, but sadly one hears of supposedly evangelical churches where drama, testimonies, family services have replaced the reading and exposition of the Word of God. And how many churches have dropped their Bible Study meetings? A minister must know his Bible.

2. Doctrinal Integrity.
If there is a lack of Bible knowledge in the churches today there is certainly also an ignorance of basic doctrine, or at least woolliness about fundamental truths. A man must be sound in doctrine if he is to be a preacher of the Gospel. A leading evangelical minister stated recently that every evangelical minister ought to be able to preach on the doctrines of grace without any notes. In other words, he should know basic doctrines so well that he could preach on them extempore.

3. Preaching ability.
It goes without saying that if a man is to be a preacher he should be able to communicate truth in a clear and compelling fashion.  This ability will grow, however, if someone is called.   This alone, however, is not enough. Even non-Christians can be eloquent speakers, and many liberal ministers are able communicators.

4. A man of prayer.
The apostles refused to take on other tasks because they insisted that they must give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.    Notice the order, prayer first.  Notice also that they were to give themselves continually to these matters.  It is a sad reflection on our churches that few candidates for the ministry today seem to have experienced spending a day, a half-night or a whole night in prayer, still less done this with any regularity.  What is even more alarming is that some will confess that they do not have a daily time of prayer and meditation on the Word.   Some pour scorn on the term Quiet Time but cannot suggest a better name for it.  It is usually reckoned to be wisdom not to destroy something good until you are ready to replace it with something better, and the danger is that publicly denigrating the title of a Quiet Time may result in the practice of it suffering as a side effect.

5. Consecration.

The ministry should be their all-absorbing passion.  Like Paul they should be able to say, ‘this one thing I do..’.  They may, of course have other interests.  It is good for a man to have a hobby, a means of relaxation.   But if the hobby, the sport, television, or whatever it is, looms too large in his life so that at times the ministry takes second place, the balance is wrong.   Some men today are so obsessed with sport that the ministry seems like an avocation and the sport is what they live for.  The hymn, Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee, must be a reality in a minister s experience.

2. Separation.
This is a contentious issue, and standards and opinions vary widely among evangelicals today in a way that they did not fifty years ago. Worldliness is an increasing problem in Western churches at the present time.   But let us take an issue which is very clear; our use of time.   It is surely incontrovertible that before the advent of television no man of God would have spent as long in the cinema each week as some ministers today spend in front of the television.   Oh yes, we all know that some programmes are informative and interesting, but the vast bulk of television is distinctly unedifying, and much of it is degrading and depraved.  It seems to me that one application of Romans 1:31 is that to ‘have pleasure’ (AV) in those who do wicked and depraved things could include being entertained by watching people enact them.  That would rule out all the ‘soaps’.  But let us assume that a godly minister will not allow himself to be entertained by watching evil perpetrated on the screen.   Let us simply draw attention to the amount of time spent watching TV.   A recent survey revealed that many ministers spend very little time reading.   It is a question of priorities.   There are many other smaller issues one could mention such as dress, demeanour, general attitude, behaviour of children, attitude of wife, use of money, etc, which in themselves might not debar a man from ministry, but when added to the more serious matters turn a congregation off, or even more seriously, lead a congregation into worldly ways.   By way of illustration, think about buying a second-hand car.  If you are getting it for a good price then one small defect that can easily be remedied, such as one cracked wing mirror, or one worn tyre, might not put you off.   But if there were many such ‘small’ defects you would almost certainly look elsewhere.  It is just the same with ministers.   No man is perfect, and one small defect such as a fondness for television, keenness on sport or a less than tidy appearance, might not deter some churches.    But if the candidate watches a lot of TV, is very keen on, say, football, is untidy in appearance, his wife uncooperative, his children undisciplined, etc, a church would have to be either very undiscerning or desperate, or both, to call such a man.

3. Willingness to sacrifice.
It is deplorable how some churches treat their ministers.  But entering the ministry is for most men a sacrifice in that they could earn more money and live more comfortably in secular employment.   A man may have to go to a church that can afford only a small stipend at first, until God has blessed the work and the church has grown.  Indeed he may have to take a part-time job as well as the pastorate to support himself, as the apostle Paul did.

4. Godliness.
Godliness is a general term for a way of life that is God obsessed.   Some years ago the writer was at a conference and sitting next to the Principal of a well-know Bible College.   In conversation it came out that we were seeking to train men for the ministry in the church I was pastoring at the time.   I remarked that my aim was to produce men of God.   To my astonishment the Principal remarked. ‘Oh, that s impossible in Bible College. The students are so bolshy, wanting their rights, and so on.’  What are things coming to?

5. A stable home life.
In the qualifications for an overseer in I Timothy 3, two out of the seven verses refer to the candidates family life. A minister has to set an example.  Not only that, his home life will have an effect upon his own life and ministry.  It will either support him or hinder him.  The maintenance of family worship will be a great support and will help guide his children and support his wife.

These are some of the issues the present writer considers essential for a call to the ministry.