"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." – 1 Timothy 3:1
God has used few men more in my life than "The Doctor" Martyn Lloyd-Jones. If you're not familiar with MLJ, let me encourage you to familiarize yourself with him as soon as possible. Lloyd-Jones was a pastor who loved the Bible and believed in preaching. I have been shaped by him in a countless number of ways. But, as anyone who is familiar with the Doctor knows, he could be quite opinionated. Some would say he was too opinionated. However, because of his love for the word and his grit, when the rare disagreement surfaces I don't mind much. It does not distract me because I am driven to the Word to find an answer.
Allow me to explain.
Recently, as I was re-reading his book Preaching and Preachers, I came across one of his famous quotes on the call of preaching. He writes, "The work of preaching is the highest and greatest and more glorious calling with which anyone can ever be called." The first time I read that quote, I loved it! In a world that devalues preaching, here was a prophetic voice calling us back to the biblical priority. But as I reread that sentence, I began to disagree with him a bit.
The calling to preaching is a great calling. But for a man to be qualified to preach, it requires him to be a certain kind of man. The preacher has a few prerequisite callings. As best as I call tell, God calls the pastor to great and noble callings that are higher and greater and more glorious that the work of preaching.
As a pastor, I have four callings before my calling to preach. God clearly defines the task of pastoring as noble. It would be right, then, for us to assign greater nobility to the tasks that are prerequisites for that great calling. What are these greater and more noble callings?
1.) God has called me to sonship. God saved me when I was a little boy and I have been walking with him ever since. He has been so gracious to me. I never want to lose my first love. Paul calls Timothy a "man of God" in 1 Tim. 6:11 and that is what every pastor must be. Before I am anything else, I am a man who has been saved and sustained by the God of the gospel. My identity must be rooted deep in the truth that I belong to God. Too many pastors have "pastor faith" and not childlike faith. A pastor is a Christian growing in Christlike humility. This is his first and greatest calling!
2.) God has called me to the noble task of being a husband. It's true that not every pastor is married. Most, however, are. Two becoming one flesh is in fact a profound mystery. As Eph. 5:32 says, "And I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." Marriage is a prerequisite calling because it is a demonstration of the message the qualified pastor preaches. If a pastor cannot love his bride well, he will not love Christ's bride well.
3.) God has called me to the honorable position of being a father. Being a good father requires learning fatherhood from God. We have a great privilege to have God not only as the sovereign God of the universe, but also as our sovereign Father. The pastor doesn't learn about God from looking to his own love for his kids. Rather, the pastor learns what good fatherhood is by looking to God the Father. 1 Timothy 3:4 makes it clear: the pastor who fails at home does not get to preach. The Fatherhood of God and fatherhood of our own children is the training ground for becoming a father to the flock.
4.) God has called me to Christian friendship. Jesus was a pretty good friend. It was Jesus who said in John 15:13, "Greater loves has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." Almost everyone has met the professional "pastor." You know the type. He is always around, but know one seems to know him. He is really good at helping people build structures, but really bad at making friends. It is impossible to "Shephard the flock of God that is among you" (1 Peter 5:2) without being friends with the flock. It is impossible to be held accountable at the heart level by surface level business associates/elders. Failure at Christian friendship is failure of pastoral ministry.
After these callings of greater nobility, comes the calling of pastor. The pastor must fight the urge to confuse the first calling and the fifth calling. The title "Pastor" can easily become the primary calling in which the called man finds his identity. That is a recipe for disaster. What would happen to you if something were to happen to your vocal chords and you never get to preach again? If your identity is in the right place, you would be fine. Oh yes, being a pastor and preaching the Bible is a high, great, and glorious call. But, it is not the highest, greatest, and glorious call of all.