By Dean Taylor
You might have heard someone talk about the “call to ministry.” If so, you naturally wonder what it is and how you know if you’re “called.” The best way you can know is to understand what it isn’t as well as what it is.
You don’t hear a voice. You won’t see a vision. A sense of obligation because there is a need for pastors isn’t a call. Neither is a high-pressure call to action from a well-meaning preacher. Just because your dad and his dad were pastors doesn’t mean you should be one.
The call to ministry is a realization that God is directing you into vocational ministry. This realization is accompanied by your own desire. And it is confirmed by church leaders who observe your character and gifts for ministry. To say it another way, if you think God is directing you toward ministry, you have a strong desire to be in ministry, and leaders in your church confirm you have the character and gifts for ministry, then most likely God is “calling” you into ministry.
I want to encourage young men who are thinking about becoming pastors. These articles will help guide you along the pathway to pastoral ministry. A very important step on this path is understanding the call to ministry.
Do you want to know something surprising? The Bible doesn’t actually use the term “call” regarding pastoral ministry. But we see four elements in Scripture of God leading a man into pastoral ministry. These elements are realization, desire, qualification, and confirmation.
How do you know if you are being called?
You will have a growing realization that God is directing you into ministry.
In Acts 20:28, Paul instructed the pastors of the Ephesian church, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” [ESV]. Do you see the word “overseers”? It’s one of the words in the Bible that refers to pastors. In fact, the term “to care for” in this verse is a translation of the word “to shepherd,” which means to pastor. The term “overseers” identifies their leadership role in the church.
Notice Paul said, “the Holy Spirit made you overseers.” God was actively working in these men’s lives directing them into pastoral ministry! They knew the Holy Spirit had led them into the ministry.
Earlier we talked about praying for God to lead you and being yielded to His will. If you submissively pray for God’s direction, He will show you what to do regarding ministry. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). This means anyone who is God’s child will be led by the Holy Spirit to do His will. If God wants you to be a pastor, He will lead you to do it. You will realize God wants you in ministry.
You will probably ask, “How does He lead you?” Keep reading!
You will develop a strong desire to serve in ministry.
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul explained to Timothy how to identify men who should serve as pastors. Verse 1 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” There’s the word “overseer” again, which refers to the leadership role of a pastor.
See the word “aspire”? Some guys aspire to be professional athletes. Others aspire to go into the military, or to construct buildings, or to run a business, or to teach. If you “aspire” to do something, you have a strong interest in it. When you think about your future, you envision yourself in that role. Do you have a growing interest in being a pastor? Do you find yourself thinking about it when you consider your future?
A man who is called to ministry will aspire to it, but he will experience an even more compelling internal force. Paul’s language goes to another degree of intensity in 1 Timothy 3:1—“he desires a noble task.”
To “desire” means to have a strong passion for it. If you are called to ministry, your initial interest will grow into a compelling passion. Being a pastor will not just be one option of several. You will not be able to see yourself doing anything else. This desire may come on you suddenly, or it may grow progressively over time. But eventually you will find yourself saying, “I want to be a pastor.” You will feel compelled.
Desire by itself, however, is not the call to ministry. There is another essential element.
Your life will evidence character essential to spiritual leadership.
Let’s stay in 1 Timothy 3 for a minute. Read over what Paul said in verses 2–7: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
These characteristics are often referred to as qualifications for ministry. A man who desires to be a pastor must have these qualities. He will not exhibit them perfectly, but a person looking at his life would say he definitely fits this description.
This list might intimidate you or seem overwhelming. Yes, the standards for a pastor’s personal life and character are high. But these are qualities any young man should cultivate. If your heart is open to God’s work in you, He will enable you to grow in these areas.
Read over these qualities repeatedly. Look up each word in a dictionary, or ask your pastor to help you study them. Journal your thoughts about each quality. Pray for God to help you become this kind of man. With God’s help, resist temptations that take you away from these qualities. Choose friends who encourage you to live in these ways. Whether you go into pastoral ministry or not, you will mature over time into a godly man. Your life will glorify God and you will influence others for Him.
How do you know if you are being called to ministry? You will realize God is directing you toward ministry. You will have a strong desire for ministry. You will develop character essential for spiritual leadership. Here’s one more essential element.
Leaders in your church will confirm it.
We’re still in 1 Timothy 3. Paul told Timothy how to evaluate men who were interested in ministry. If men were qualified, Timothy would confirm it. Today, God still uses leaders in the church to observe men’s lives and confirm their readiness for pastoral ministry.
A group of pastors publicly confirmed Timothy’s call to ministry. Paul encouraged Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14).
In 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul spoke of his own personal involvement in confirming Timothy’s call: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”
In both places Paul said he and others laid hands on Timothy. The laying on of hands showed formal recognition that Timothy was qualified for ministry. Paul, along with other church leaders (“the council of elders”) confirmed that Timothy was ready to engage in pastoral work.
Just like church leaders confirmed a man’s readiness for ministry in the first century church, pastors in your life will do that for you. If you are supposed to be a pastor, leaders in the church will recognize character and gifts in your life that qualify you.
Stay in close touch with pastors around you. These men will observe your life and help prepare you. When the time is right, they will formally confirm that you are qualified, gifted, and ready for pastoral work.
These four elements of a call to ministry will not all happen at once. They will unfold in your life over a period of time.
- If you have an interest in being a pastor, it will grow into a strong desire.
- As you open your heart to God’s leading, you will sense He is directing you toward ministry.
- You will mature as a Christian man, and the qualities in 1 Timothy 3 will develop in your life.
- Your pastor and other leaders in the church will encourage you toward ministry. You will be given opportunities to preach and teach. People will be impacted by your care for their souls.
You, your spiritual leaders, and the people of God will know—you are called to ministry.
Now, what about school?
Dean Taylor pastored churches in Wisconsin and South Carolina before becoming a faculty member at Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in the area of pastoral training. This article was originally posted to his blog and is republished here by permission.