I have known a friend who for many years has been frustrated, even at times angry, with God for not having put him into a pastorate. He feels he missed his calling. At one time, he and his wife served on a mission field, hoping that through that experience God would place them in a local church where he would serve as the pastor. To this date, it has not happened.
It has caused me to give some serious thought as to what a “call” to ministry—specifically, to the pastorate—consists of. I do believe there is a definite call from God given to His surrendered servants to labor in His vineyard as gifted pastors, elders, or bishops (all words used in the New Testament to refer to the same office that we commonly call “pastor”). Paul said to Timothy that if a man desired to serve in that capacity, he desired a good work. (I Tim. 3:1) In the infancy of the New Testament era, when Saul and Barnabas had been on their first church-planting mission, we read that before returning to report to their sending church in Jerusalem, they first revisited the towns where there had been a group of believers assembled so that they could “ordain them elders in every church.” (Acts 14:23) Interestingly, there was not enough time for these would-be elders to get any specialized training for the task; but of course, it was an extraordinary phase of the inception of the church that Jesus said He would build; and it was an extraordinary Apostle who was doing the appointing of these early elders. But there was a proper appointing or ordaining, and there were specific qualifications that had to have been evident in all of the appointees to this sacred office. (I Tim. 3:1-7)
How, then, is a man called of God to be a pastor, bishop or elder? We might broaden the scope of the question to include a missionary, evangelist, or “full-time” servant of Christ.
Paul was “ordained” a preacher, apostle, teacher of the Gentiles. (I Tim.2:7) He said in I Tim. 1:12 that he had been put into the ministry. His desire for his protégé, Timothy, was that he would be a “good minister of Jesus Christ.” (I Tim.4:6) He exhorted Timothy that he should stir up the “gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6) And Paul also exhorted Timothy that he should “neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” (I Tim.4:14)
Of Paul we learn that he, along with Barnabas, had been separated for “the work whereunto I (the Holy Spirit) have called them.” (Acts 13:2) That work was a church-planting, missionary ministry. Paul would later confide that he had been “appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” (2 Tim. 1:11) He would later exhort Timothy to “preach the Word…make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Tim.4:2) This is consistent with what Paul also had declared to Timothy when he said that God had “saved us, and called us with a holy calling.” (2 Tim.1:9)
Thus, it is evident that to be a pastor, a missionary, an evangelist, or in some other capacity of Christian service, it wise to know that you are doing what God has called and equipped you to do. How does it work in real time, one might ask.
Well, every servant of God is an individual and is dealt with by the Head of the Church individually, within the Biblical parameters set forth above.
I would like to interject, at this point, a personal testimony. I was saved at an early age, grew up in a Christian home, and attended a Bible-preaching church regularly as a child and teenager until I left home for college. I always loved Bible preaching, had a propensity for leadership, enjoyed our church youth-group meetings, and tried to be a good testimony in school (but I could have been much better!). Upon graduating from high school, I had in mind pursuing a career in law, and I attended a college in Iowa on a scholarship that was by today’s standards pretty meager. Away from home for the first time, I began to read seriously the book of Isaiah. Coming to those majestic passages in Isaiah 40-66, I fell in spirit before my creator God, so powerful and patient is He, confessing that my world (in 1961) needed preachers to proclaim the message of “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else” (Isa.45:22) as much as Isaiah’s world did.
I did not know what was happening in common parlance, but in those three months in the fall of 1961 I surrendered to preach the Word of God, if that’s what God wanted me to do. At home for Thanksgiving break, I attended my local church, where Pastor Keith Knauss had invited Evangelist Glen Schunk to conduct a revival meeting that week. Hearing his first message, which I cannot remember a word of, I responded to the invitation, going forward to share with Pastor Knauss and Evangelist Schunk that I felt God had called me to preach and I wanted to make it known that I was surrendering to do that. Evangelist Schunk shook my hand and put into it an application to Bob Jones University, saying that if I were going to preach the gospel, I would need to prepare myself—and that this was where I should go to get prepared. Having no reason to question that advice, I immediately filled out the application, sent it in, was accepted, and found myself in a preacher boys’ class of about 800 men in January of 1962, on the campus of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.
That is how God called this preacher to preach His Word when I was still a teenager. He has called other men in various other ways. But to every man of God called by Him to preach, there is never a doubt that it was God at work, and that the purpose was to ordain whomever He was working on to the gospel ministry. Some have resisted, and they may have even fought His call for some time. But God always wins! I will continue this discussion on the call to preach in an upcoming installment of “You and God.”
“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” (I Cor.9:16)