Archive for November, 2012

An Inadvertent Sin

November 28, 2012

Well informed Christians are aware that there are such things as sins of ignorance.  We sin constantly in thought, word and deed.  Often on reflection we are aware of our sin and repent of it and confess it to the Lord.  But we also do, say or think things that at the time we do not recognize as sin.

One of the most nauseating characteristics of modern society is the cult of celebrities.  People whose private lives are anything but clean and moral are given much publicity and become feted as celebrities.  This is one of the symptoms of the sickness of our civilization.  But we can come very close to making celebrities in Christian circles.  Of course these are usually godly folk.  They are people whom God has used, and so we tend to admire them.  If they have been used to build a large church, or have held successful missions, or have been used greatly in missionary work, then we want to hear what they have to say.  People flock to hear them, especially if the speaker has traveled a long way!  And so they become a celebrity.  This is so easy to do.  But we need to remember what God has said in Isaiah 42:8: “I am the Lord, that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another” (NKJV).  The word ‘glory’ basically means ‘weight, heaviness, or honour’, the precise meaning depending upon the context.  Paul alludes to this primary meaning when he writes of “an eternal weight of glory” in 2 Corinthians 4:17.  The relevant meanings here would include power, reputation, superiority, dignity, authority, nobility, splendor, praiseworthiness, esteem or veneration.

An example of this tendency is in connection with revivals.  When you think of, say, the Welsh revival of 1904-5, whose name comes to your mind?  Evan Roberts, perhaps, although many other men were used at that time.  When you think of the Hebrides revival of the 1940s, whose name comes to mind?  Duncan Campbell.  Of course he would have been the first to acknowledge that the blessing that came was all of God.  Yet we do tend to regard him as a celebrity.  But he was just an instrument that God used.  I bought a book of his revival sermons that he preached in the Hebrides, and I was surprised to find that they were quite ordinary.  Many men today could preach as well or better.  This underlines the fact that the blessing came from God not man.  If we unwittingly give the glory to man, if we attribute the blessing to a certain man, we are robbing God of his glory.

In 2 Chronicles 20 we read of a great peril that faced king Jehoshaphat.  His country was invaded by the Moabites and the Ammonites and he was very much afraid.  he prayed to God.  God inspired Jahaziel, the prophet, to proclaim an encouraging word.  The people sought God and the Lord brought about a miraculous victory.  But after that you do not find the people praising Jehoshaphat.  You do not find them saying, “What a great king we have.  What a great victory he gave us.”  Nor do you find them saying, “Have you heard Jehaziel?  He has a wonderful ministry  You ought to hear him some time.”  No, they gave the glory to God and praised Him.

From time to time God demonstrates his sovereign power by using people who in the world’s eyes are nobodies.  He delights to use the weak and frail to accomplish his purposes.  In the seventeenth century God took up a tinker, a travelling mender of pots and pans with no significant education.  He was greatly used by God.  he wrote over thirty books including one of the world’s best sellers, The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The godly and learned theologian, John Owen is reported to have said that he would gladly give up all his learning if he could preach like that tinker, John Bunyan.  In the nineteenth century the Lord took up a country boy, named Charlie Spurgeon, and made him into a renowned preacher whose sermons are still read today.

Some time ago I came across a little rhyme.  I would like to know its origin.  It concerns the amazing victory of Gideon and his three hundred over the vast host of the Midianlites.  When the Holy Spirit came upon Gideon (Judges 6:34) apparently the Hebrew can be rendered “the Spirit clothed himself with Gideon”, hence this rhyme:  “But Gideon was nothing, was nothing in the fray, but just a suit of working clothes the Spirit wore that day.”

Exactly!  We must give the glory to God.  Some years ago I heard a Welsh preacher speak of the 1904-5 revival   He referred to a man used in that awakening.  This man had preached in a certain town and the Lord had blessed. He got on the late train to go home.  Along the platform came the paper boy with the late edition of the local paper.  This man opened the window and purchased a copy.  It reported the blessing on his mission.  He sat back in the seat and glowed, saying to himself, “Now it is not only Evan Roberts; I have been used also.”  Years later, he tearfully confessed, “At that moment, something left me.”  And he was never used in that way again.

The inadvertent sin is attributing blessing to man, or taking the glory ourselves.  Let us give the glory to God alone.  For he alone is worthy.  He alone can give spiritual blessing.

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Situations Vacant

November 14, 2012

There is a desperate need for men to fulfill a certain vital role.  There are many vacancies in Christian work, of course, but the ones I have in mind are rarely recognized as a special need.  The role I have in mind is that of mender of broken churches.  It is not an easy job, and usually requires a measure of experience.  All around the country are churches that are declining, dying or dead.  We read in the media about business men who have the skill and know-how to turn around failing businesses.  We need ministers who have the experience and know-how to turn around dying churches.  Here I am not speaking of revival.  In revival things are taken out of the hands of men.  God takes the field and thousands are converted in a short time.  Hundreds of churches are planted very rapidly.  But while we pray and wait on God for revival, we must continue to work.  And there is no greater need than mending broken churches.  This is not an attractive task for most men.  Most ministers would, understandably, rather go to a thriving church or one with obvious potential.  Or they would rather plant a new church, and there is a great need for that ministry, too.  It is an attractive, though difficult task to start a new church in the present spiritual climate.  But it is attractive because one can start with a clean sheet, as it were, with no old die-hard traditions to overcome.  At least that is the case if the church is formed with new converts.  A church formed with malcontents from other churches is likely to get off to a crippled start.  But to take on a church that is at a low ebb and turn it round, that is the great need today.  Why? Because there are thousands of such churches, and few men to take them on.  It is often easier to start from scratch.  So some churches do need to be shut down, others closed temporarily and then re-started.  But many, with the right leadership can be brought to life again.

What qualities are desirable for this task?  Well, first of all, the qualities listed in my previous blog, The Call to the Ministry.  In other words, it is preferable that the minister has some experience.  It is by no means impossible for a new minister just launching out to be used to turn around his first church, but normally experience is required.  So there are additional qualities required, or existing qualities to be re-emphasized.  Here are the ones that come to me.  Other people may have other suggestions.

  1. Stickability, or willingness to persist in the face of difficulties and opposition.  An outstanding example is Charles Simeon, who experienced vicious and persistent opposition and persecution in Cambridge for ten or so years, before he saw victory and great blessing.  Read Derek Prime’s new book on Simeon to learn from that.
  2. Along with persistence is patience.  This is almost the same thing, but not quite.  Such a task is not achieved overnight.  Even where there is no strong opposition, patience is needed to see fruit.  Only last week a retired minister who had seen great blessing in his thirteen year ministry in a certain  church, and is chiefly remembered for the blessing, told me himself, that for the first six years,  there was, to use his own word – nothing.  No blessing for six years, then after that the tide turned and blessing ensued.
  3. Agape love.  This is something we do not have naturally.  Some men are naturally affable and outgoing.  Others are not.  But we all need to grow in grace and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  We must love the sheep even if we cannot naturally like some recalcitrant old ewes!  (I Cor. 13; John 13:34, 35).
  4. Much prayer.  This is a truism and as such is easily overlooked.  All ministers must pray regularly and earnestly or they are hypocrites, but special prayer is more than ever needed in a dead or dying church.  Read the biographies of men greatly used of God and without exception you will find they prayed much.  If possible, gather a few prayerful folk to pray together at times apart from the regular services.  Our Lord took Peter and James and John further than the others in prayer.  Power Through Prayer by E. M. Bounds never fails to challenge and inspire me.
  5. Stand firm for principles, biblical principles not prejudices, but be flexible on non-essentials.  And move gently, carefully and steadily.  Avoid giving unnecessary offence by avoiding scolding, sarcasm or harsh words.  A Christian couple started attending  a certain church and after some weeks the minister made reference briefly to the Jews in a sermon.  Afterwards this couple asked him about his views on the Jews.  He gave a blunt no-compromising answer on the spot.  They never came again.  He would have been better to have said something like, well, this is a big question; may I come and talk to you about this some time?  I made similar mistake.  After I retired a lady at the church we attended for a time asked me if I was a Calvinist.  Yes, I replied.  I could tell that she did not approve, though she did not leave!  On reflection I realized that I should have said something like, well, it all depends on what you mean by Calvinism.  I say this because not only are there several shades of Calvinism, but also because many people have a complete misunderstanding of what Calvinism is.
  6. Distinguish between teaching and preaching.  We read of our Lord that he went around teaching and preaching.  This is not a tautology. It is not meaningless repetition.  Although there is a measure of overlap and some teaching takes place in preaching, many ministers fail to take advantage of the difference.  Preaching is declaration as a herald with no necessary feedback or immediate response from the congregation.  Teaching, however, takes many forms and allows for feedback, or discussion, and encourages it.  Jesus asked questions of his hearers and answered questions they asked him.  One of the great advantages of flexible teaching is that the teacher can clear up misunderstandings, and also find out where the hearers are, what they believe, what they understand or misunderstand.  In any case, valuable insights and useful contributions may be made by members of the congregation.  A great opportunity is missed if not only the Sunday services but also the mid-week meetings consist only of preaching or lectures.  Both teaching and preaching should be made relevant by loving application.  All-Age Bible School or Sunday School has proved invaluable, not only because there is then no cut-off point where teenagers leave because they have reached the top class, but also because it causes adults to engage in serious Bible Study.
  7. Engage in discipling.  We are to make disciples not converts (Matt. 28:19, 20).    The words Christian and believer are rarely used in the New Testament.  The regular word is disciple, and a disciple is a disciplined learner. Spending time discipling new Christians will pay dividends in the long run.  There are excellent books available on this subject, such as Discipleship by Alan Hadidian.
  8. Introduce training of leaders and preachers.  These two are not identical.  Good leaders are not all good preachers.  How inconsistent it is to expect pastors to be trained but not elders or deacons.  Good preachers may not necessarily be good leaders though, of course, many are.  J. Oswald Sanders’s classic, Spiritual Leadership, is well worth reading several times over. We should aim to pass on to others what we have learned. (2 Timothy 2:2).
  9. Never stop learning.  No one ever has known it all, nor ever will.  When a person stops learning they nearly always stop teaching, or at least cease to remain fresh.  To assume that you know it all is not only false, but it is a manifestation of pride, the basic sin.  That means being open to suggestions and correction.  This does not mean that you accept every suggestion or attempted correction, but that you are willing to consider what others say without rejecting them out of hand.
  10. Maintain your own close walk with the Lord.  This is essential, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of the flock.  You need to be a clean channel so that the living water may flow freely.  This includes being careful to shepherd your own family (if you have one) for they are your primary concern as a shepherd.  An itinerant preacher once stated that when he visited a church he looked at the minister’s wife, and if she seemed to have been baptized in lemon juice he knew there was a problem!

In all our work we must proclaim Christ crucified in the power of the Holy Spirit.  After all, we are exhorted to go on being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and the Spirit testifies of Christ.  This is best done by the careful, lively, relevant exposition of the Word of God, for it is the Word of grace that builds up a church (2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 20:32).

Where are such men to come from?  The Lord Jesus Christ gave the answer when he said, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest (Matthew 9:36-38).

Call to the Ministry

November 13, 2012

 

 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.’ This attitude, I believe, is due to confusing the obligation to be a witness, which is incumbent upon all Christians, and the call to be a minister, which is not for all.

 

 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’. 

 

Hezekiah Harvey (1821-1893) was a famous American Baptist minister and theological professor.  In his book, The Pastor: his qualifications and duties, he strongly asserts the importance of a call in these words:

A special call from God is essential to the exercise of the Christian ministry.  Reason itself would suggest that he, as a sovereign, would select his own officers and send his own ambassadors; and the divine call of the ancient prophets, the analogous office in the old dispensation, creates a presumption of such a call in the Christian ministry.  None were permitted to intrude into the prophetic office (Deut. 18:20; Jer. 23:30; Isa. 6; Jer. 1:4-10). [1]

 

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.’  Furthermore in the New Testament ministers are referred to as sent by God.  This is obviously true of the twelve apostles and the seventy sent out by Jesus (Luke 9:1; 10:1), but there is further evidence.  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).  The Ephesian elders were set over the flock by the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:28).  Archippus received his ministry from the Lord (Col. 4:17). 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’.

 

The terms used to describe ministers suggest a divine call, as they are described as “ambassadors for Christ” who speak on his behalf, and “stewards of God”, entrusted with the gospel.  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; it may come gently and gradually.  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, and  Paul were all called in a different way.  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 is 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.

 

Describing the difference between a call to the ministry and the ordinary choice of a profession, Hezekiah Harvey writes, “In the case of a minister the work is one to which the conscience obliges: he feels that he ought to engage in it, and that he cannot do otherwise without guilt.  But in the case of one choosing another profession it is a matter of aptitudes, tastes, interest; he feels that it is right and wise thus to choose, but there is no sense of imperative obligation, so that it would be morally wrong to do otherwise.” (op. cit. p. 14.  Emphasis in original).  This sense of moral obligation is expressed vividly by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:16: “For necessity is laid upon me.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.”

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. [2]

 

In considering how the call of God is manifested, two opposite errors must be avoided.  One is to consider the call to be a mere preference for the work of the ministry, The other is to expect some supernatural manifestation such as an audible voice from heaven.  The call of Christ to Christian ministry usually becomes evident in three ways, and this may be over a period of time.

 

First, it is manifested internally as a growing desire for the work (1 Tim. 3:1).  This is not a desire to be in the limelight nor just a love for public speaking such as an actor might possess.  Rather it springs from a love for Christ and a desire to proclaim the gospel as a means for seeing people saved (Acts 20:24).  Along with the sense of duty to preach the gospel there is a sense of personal weakness and unworthiness.  This sense of personal unworthiness can be overcome only by a sincere reliance upon God’s enabling (Gal. 2:20).

 

Secondly, the call to the ministry must be confirmed at some point by the recognition of the church, expressed as a conviction, after sufficient acquaintance with the candidate, that he is called to preach the gospel.  They will look for a sound conversion, sincerity, a measure of godliness, reasonable intelligence, and some form of training, whether in a college or on the job (2 Tim. 2:15).  Aptness to teach is essential, as is a stable and well ordered family life (1 Tim. 3:2-7; 2 Tim. 2:2, 24, 25).  Basic to such a calling is a measure of common sense and observed general ability, and he must be of good reputation (1 Tim. 3;7; 2 Cor. 6:3; 4:2).

Thirdly, there is what may be termed, the call of providence.  Circumstances often play a part in directing a person into the ministry.  While some factors may absolutely forbid such a step, difficulties are there to be overcome, and may be part of `God’s preparation of a man, by developing his character.  God has promised guidance to those who ask for it (Psa. 37:23; James 1:5; Isa. 30:21).

No man ought to enter the ministry without a definite call from God, though it should be observed that in Scripture every man called by God was called in a different way.  There is no exact template which must be followed.

 

Hezekiah Harvey gives three reasons why a call is essential: First, “without this he obtrudes himself into the office of an ambassador without a commission, and incurs the guilt of presumption.”  Secondly, ”without this also he cannot speak consciously, as an ‘ambassador for Christ’, ‘in Christ’s stead’, (2 Cor. 5:20), and he of necessity lacks the courage and boldness of him who is conscious of bearing a divine message.”.  Thirdly, “nothing but this consciousness of a divine call is adequate to inspire for the toils of the pastor’s office and sustain in its trials.” [3]

 

It seems to me that if it be true that there is no such thing as a special call to the ministry, then certain consequences may follow.  First, if a man begins to feel a moving in that direction, an urge, or a nudging towards the ministry, an inner questioning whether this might be God’s will for him, then he can readily dismiss it, as there is no such thing as a call from God.  So he is mistaken. In any case, he can please himself.  The idea that God is calling is a delusion.  He must decide for himself what he does with his life.  Secondly, if there is no such thing as a call to the ministry then anyone can put themselves forward.  They can please themselves and choose to take the ministry up as a career.  This would inevitable result in unsuitable people putting themselves forward for the ministry.  There is nothing new in this, of course.  John Milton, in his poem Lycidas, writes of those who “creep and intrude, and climb into the fold!”  As a result of which “the hungry sheep look up and are not fed.”  The warnings against such are found frequently in scripture. 

There may be another consequence of the belief that there is no such thing as a call to the ministry, and that is the call will not be preached or taught.  In other words, there will be no direct application of the call of the Old Testament leaders, or the apostles, to the present day.  “These were called by God, but, don’t worry, there is no such call today.”  It is no wonder, therefore, that few men are hearing God’s call.  Any inward moving in that direction will be likely to be dismissed as a mistake, a delusion, a misunderstanding, mere emotionalism.

 

Finally, as indicated previously, we should distinguish between the call given to those chosen by God, and the obligation to be a witness which falls upon every Christian.  As in a court of law, there are professional advocates but there are also non-professional witnesses, so in the Christian life there are those called and trained who preach and teach and often ‘live by the gospel’, but all the rest are to be available to witness when opportunity arises or when called upon to do so.

 

The remaining topics are requirements of those called by God.

 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.  Four 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.

 

3.             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.

 

4.         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.

 

5.             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 (Acts 6:2, 4).   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.  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.

 

6.             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.

 

7.             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.

 

8.             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.

 

9.             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?  Should not the main aim of a Bible College or Seminary be to train men in godliness?

 

10.       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.

 

These are some of the issues the present writer considers essential for a call to the ministry.  There are many other qualities that might be mentioned, such as ‘stickability’ or the willingness to labour on in spite of opposition or initial lack of fruit,  Biographies such as that of Charles Simeon may teach much in this regard.

 


[1]  Hezekiah Harvey, The Pastor: his qualifications and duties (Rochester, N.Y.: Backus Book Publishers, 1982), p. 13.  This book was originally published in 1879 by the American Baptist Publication Society.

 

[2]  .  Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, John MacArthur, et al, (Dallas:Word Publishing, 1995), p. 102.

 

[3] Op. Cit. P. 20.