At the Church I pastor, I oversee a pastoral residency which takes in 5-8 new pastoral residence each year and trains them in hopes to equip and send out faithful, gospel-centered pastors. Part of the prerequisite to getting into our pastoral residency is an in-person interview in which I ask a series of questions ranging from personal, theological, philosophy of ministry, and more. Though the questions tend to vary from year-to-year, something I always want to hear from a potential pastoral resident is them articulating their call to ministry. We are now in our sixth year running this program, which means I’ve heard this question answered dozens of times over.
Often, I’m thankful for the answers I hear as the candidates articulate a humble, nuanced, and Biblical understanding of their call to ministry. However, there are two answers that I’ve come to bemoan:
1. I’m Called to Ministry and Nothing Is Going to Stop Me
There is something in this response that I actually appreciate. Namely, there is a zeal for ministry and a confidence that the Lord has placed the important task of pastoring before you. I hope that those training for ministry do indeed have a confidence in their calling. However, this version of articulating your call to ministry highlights that you might not understand the local church’s role in your calling.
I tell our guys frequently that you may feel an inward call to ministry, and that is important, but ultimately the local Church will have the final decision on the validity of your calling. The temperament and zeal that leads candidates to declare that nothing or no one is going to stop them from ministry often carries with it the pride that will not listen to those who actually should have the authority of stopping you from entering pastoral ministry—the local church.
2. God Had to Drag Me into Ministry Kicking and Screaming
Like the first example, there is something in this response that is commendable. Often, those who respond in this way are trying to demonstrate humility in that they were not aiming at church leadership. Instead, they were going about their life pursuing some other noble vocation and church leadership found them. Folks often rehearse this kind of call to ministry in hopes of building a sort of relatability with their hearers by demonstrating that they do not consider themselves some super-spiritual leader but just a normal person who happened their way into pastoral ministry.
The problem, however, is that this version of articulating your call to ministry runs the danger of missing the very first qualification of a Biblical pastor. When Paul instructs Timothy in 1 Timothy 3 in what to look for in a qualified elder, he begins saying, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” From here, Paul begins to list a number of qualifications such as this person must be able to teach, the husband of one wife, not quarrelsome, above reproach, and so on. What is easily overlooked is in that first clause, Paul declares that anyone who aspires to the office of overseer that this aspiration is noble.
The problem with a call to ministry which presumes that this work is the last thing you wanted to do is that it violates the Biblical model for eldership. Pastors should want to pastor. They should aspire to the office. Pastors should want to be around the sheep and feel a deep desire to shepherd them toward Jesus. It is not arrogant or presumptuous for you to desire pastoral ministry, it is a Biblical mandate for the office.
How Should We Articulate a Call to Ministry?
A healthy call to ministry should avoid these two errors. When I am sitting in the pastor’s office working through interviews with our prospective residents, I rejoice when I hear them say something like,
“I feel a deep burden for the people of God and believe that I’m called to pastor. I know this is a heavy task, but it is a task I have a strong desire for, nonetheless. However, I understand that my inward call must be confirmed by the local church and therefore I’m willing to submit myself to both the pastors and the members of this church to watch my life and teaching closely to see if they can affirm that I’m called to this glorious work.”
This version of articulating a call to ministry is one that avoids the arrogance of assuming ministry is something you’re owed due to your strong zeal for leadership while also avoiding making lite of a Biblical aspiration for the office. May the Lord continue to bless his Church by raising up more faithful future pastors who feel that gospel pull towards the people of God in pastoral ministry who are also willing to submit themselves to the authority that God has given his people.