If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has graciously called you to Himself through the finished work of His Son. Theologically, this is our primary calling. This call is primary because it not only changes who we are, but effects what we do. Because we as a people have been called to Him, what we do is also His – every corner of your life belongs to Him. Therefore, we are all secondarily called to live out our lives in ministry for His glory. That means that whether you are a student, homemaker, physician, landscaper, missionary or pastor, everyone is called to ministry in the place that God has put you. This is what we term our secondary call.
Within the category of secondary call, God selects men to serve the Church as pastors. Paul communicated to young Timothy that those who desire to be a pastor, “desire a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1, ESV). The question we are asking today is, “How does one know if they are called to be a Pastor”? In the tradition of the reformers John Newton summed it up this way. First there must be “a warm and earnest desire to be employed in this service". Second, this is accompanied by “some competent sufficiency as to the gifts, knowledge, and utterance”. And Third, a call is confirmed by “a correspondent opening in Providence, by a gradual train of circumstances pointing out the time, the place, of actually entering into the work”. Let’s take a few minutes and look more closely at these three areas.
Internal Call: “A warm and earnest desire”. This is an internal work of the Holy Spirit where we have a growing compulsion to preach, teach the Scriptures and shepherd the people of God. Charles Spurgeon described it this as “an intense all-absorbing desire for the work”, or like the prophet Jeremiah wrote “fire in my bones” (20:17). Often it may come at a time that does not make sense to the average person around us, as it may take us away from prestigious or lucrative jobs. I like how the reformer Martin Luther describes it as “God’s voice heard by faith”. An internal call to the pastorate will always lead you to high commitment and involvement in a local church, even if there is not one in your community that is a theological match. If you believe that you have an internal call to be a pastor, yet are not involved and serving in a local church, you may not be called.
External Call: “Some competent sufficiency as to gifts, knowledge and utterance”. The local church is the place where your internal call is confirmed. As you serve and live within the body of Christ, those around you will see your heart and gifts and encourage you in them. Because many of us have poor self-awareness it is crucial that our internal call be confirmed by those who see you serving and know you the best. This is not a subjective compliment from an endearing friend, but recognition from mature believers that the gifts and qualifications listed in 1Timothy and Titus are evident in your everyday life. Simply having good people and public speaking skills are not evidence of a call unless they are rooted in the qualifications for leadership given in Scripture. The call to ministry as a pastor is far more than the ability to communicate well. It is a calling to live out what we preach as a public display of the Gospel.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have Godly people who will be truly honest with you in this regard. Sadly, many are given flattery when they need to hear the “truth spoken in love.” You must have those who can speak into your spiritual maturity and gifting in respect to how that works out in a church community. In my own denomination, the first step in pursuing training in ministry is to place oneself under the care of group of pastors in a given region called a presbytery. You cannot come under care unless you are recommended by the elders of the church where you are a member (Note well the requirement of church membership). Their recommendation is based on seeing your internal call worked out through your gifting, character and service. My encouragement is that you do not consider seminary until you have both an internal call and external call. Seminary can refine gifts and provide knowledge, but it cannot build on what is not already present.
A Place to Practice the Call: A correspondent opening in Providence, by gradual train of circumstances pointing out the means, the time, the place, of actually entering upon the work”. The last step in confirming a call to the pastorate is when God actually provides a place for you to serve, a church. In other words, God in His providence will provide a place for you to exercise your gifts. At times one may sense an internal call, be encouraged by others to pursue it, only to find that God does not provide a specific call where you can serve. It is not uncommon for men to go through seminary having felt the call, assuming that seminary would automatically result in finding a place to preach, only to discover that God does not open a church for them to serve. If God is not providing you a church to serve as a pastor, He may be calling to serve in another area of service, at least for a season.
As I close, let me take it full circle. If you are one who has gone through seminary convinced that God was calling you to serve as a pastor, yet He has not provided you an opportunity, please see this as God graciously redirecting you. Remember every Christian is called to ministry and there is no hierarchy! Though it is common within the Christian community to place the pastor on a pedestal, the only reason he serves in that position is because God has called him to do so. Every Christian’s goal should be to have an effective ministry that points others to Jesus, regardless of how God provides our income. If you went to seminary and are disappointed because you have not been given the opportunity to preach, don’t be discouraged because your training can and will be used by God as you faithfully serve in the work that God has given.