I was a fresh graduate from seminary, with a number of years of ministry already under my belt. I also had an extremely high view of myself.
I approached the senior pastor of the church where I’d been hired recently and asked to be ordained. He was excited and put together a council of pastors to oversee the process. We met twice. The first meeting was more or less a meet-and-greet: I got to know the guys, and they got to know me. The second was a formal interrogation. I felt like Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men—being cross-examined in a military courtroom.
Questions came at me left and right—from the theological to those about philosophy of ministry. I wish I could say all my responses reflected wisdom and reflection. They didn’t. Instead, I handled the barrage of inquiries with the precision of a toddler putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Nonetheless, the room was on my side and approval was inevitable.
Then came the final question: “What if we say no?” I answered: “I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.” I wish I’d stopped there, but I didn’t. “Who are you to tell me what God has or hasn’t called me to do?” I pontificated about how the entire ordination process was meaningless (I know, if it is meaningless, why was I doing it?) I was thoroughly convinced that my calling was personal, subjective, and ultimately between me and God. Additionally, I thought the biblical qualifications for elders were easily met the moment I experienced a subjective calling from God.
I was wrong.
IDENTIFYING FUTURE PASTORS
In his first letter to the young pastor Timothy, the apostle Paul explains how a church ought to identify future elders and pastors: “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1). Paul doesn’t say “if someone is called”; he says if they “aspire.” I fear we have taken Old Testament language about the calling of prophets and superimposed it on the office of elder. Instead, we must reclaim the biblical language of “aspiring.”
We need fewer men who feel “called to ministry” and more men who aspire to the office of elder. But if we dump the language of calling, how do we know if we should pursue ministry? Here are five indicators:
1. You love the local church. To be a maturing Christian is to increasingly love what Jesus loves. Jesus loves his church. If you don’t love the local church, you should not aspire to the office of elder. Period. If you do love the local church, maybe you should aspire for the office of elder.
2. You have good character. The dominant qualifications for eldership provided in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 have to do with character. For example, Paul tests elders on matters like money management (do they needlessly saddle themselves with debt?), home life (do they love their wife and children well?), and the respectability of their lives (do they live above reproach?). Of all the qualifications Paul lists, only one has to do with preaching ability.
3. You can teach. Aspiring pastors should possess an ability to teach the Bible. This doesn’t mean you have the preaching abilities of Charles Spurgeon, it simply means you can explain the Bible in a way that God’s people can understand and apply it. To be clear, this isn’t a static gift but an ability that can grow over time.
4. You are burdened for God’s people. Pastoring is a serious task that involves eternal consequences. Do you feel the weight of shepherding God’s people? Are you ready to give an account to Christ himself for how you have shepherded (Heb. 13:17)? Aware of this weight and seriousness, do you still desire to pastor? That’s probably what most people mean when they speak of “calling.”
5. You’ve been affirmed! I don’t mean that someone in your church has randomly said, “You should be a pastor!” Here’s what I mean: have biblically qualified pastors and your local church affirmed your aspiration? Such an affirmation would require a time of testing a man against the Scriptural qualifications. Few of the character traits listed by Paul could be known or assessed immediately.
If these five markers are present in your life, then have nothing keeping you from pursuing pastoral ministry!
I ASPIRE…WHAT’S NEXT?
Here’s how you can begin your journey:
1. Ask your pastor how you can help! Shepherding is a difficult job, and it demands more manpower than any single pastor can provide. There’s always more work to be done. So, assuming you’re in a healthy church and under a godly pastor, express your aspiration to your pastor and ask him how you could help him or other elders as an opportunity to learn. As a side note, if you’re already a pastor, you should have ideas for evaluating and equipping those who aspire to the pastorate. Invite them into your shepherding routines. Discipleship is largely the process by which we invite others to imitate us as we imitate Christ. This process is no different in the equipping of future pastors.
2. You should consider your theological education options. Those who aspire to pastoral ministry ought to be equipped for the work of the ministry, not just in practical preparation but in biblical and theological training. For some, that will mean pursuing a seminary education. For others, that may mean a pastoral training program that involves a theological component. I would heartily encourage all pastors to have a series of books and theological texts that all aspiring elders should read.
3. Make the biblical qualifications for elders your daily goal. While aspiring for pastoral ministry, we must never forget that rigorous training nor theological education were among Paul’s list of qualifications. Instead, we must humbly and regularly pursue Christ-like character. And this pursuit doesn’t stop once we’re ordained. Instead, it intensifies. We can’t look to the degrees on our wall or the title beside our name as evidence of qualification. Instead, we must constantly and continually watch our life and doctrine with great care.
Editor's Note: This originally published at 9Marks