This is a brand new series we are doing to help those who are interested in going to, already in or who have graduated Bible College or seminary. The purpose of this series is to help you grow in the grace of God while you are preparing for, while you are attending and after you graduate from seminary.
The word “ministry” has been thrown around so much that it seems that it has come to mean little more than “this thing which I am doing that is good.” I regularly hear of ministries at churches that cause me to scratch my head. Sports ministry. Biscuit Ministry. Greeter Ministry. Nursery Ministry. Photography Ministry. Hear me out— I’m not saying these things are bad. “Ministries” that help people, serve the poor and widows, or things that lead to relationships where evangelism can take place are, as it happens, very good things.
I can be a bit nitpicky about these things that I hope you can understand: I worry that the label of “ministry” on such things can lead us to the misled belief that the sports or the giving of biscuits or the greeting is, itself, the ministry. Not so. It seems to me that the New Testament envisions one ministry as primary: the ministry of the Word. Romans 15:19 calls this the “ministry of the gospel.” In 2 Corinthians 3:9, Paul calls this the “ministry of righteousness”, and in 2 Cor. 5:18 the “ministry of reconciliation.”
It used to be that when men where called to the pastorate, they referred to it as the call to “gospel ministry.” I like that. I think it can only represent a loss that we no longer use that phrase. The call to ministry is the call to steward the gospel. These servants of Christ, these stewards of the mysteries of God, have one goal and one message: the gospel of Jesus.
What does it mean to be called to this ministry? Most of the time, those called to gospel ministry are recognized, have affirmed by their pastors or elders, and tell others they are “called” long before they ever into a pastorate. In a sense, there is a call before the “call”. The call to gospel ministry is not realized until a church calls a man to shepherd them through preaching, prayer, and pastoral care. When I was first called to ministry, my mentor and pastor taught me two things about my call to ministry, the call before the call that have been invaluable to my development as a man and prospective minister. I believe that wed together, these two things will shape one who is called into a more effective and better equipped minister. They have refreshed my soul in seminary and given me clear purpose until a church calls.
1. The call to ministry is the call to prepare.
It is a sobering truth that the pastor is held to a higher standard by God as one who will give an account for his congregants souls. The pastor is charged to “preach the word.” The pastor is charged to protect against false doctrine. The pastor is called to watch his “life and doctrine closely.” The minister has high qualifications set forth in all of the pastoral epistles, specifically 1 Timothy 3. Until the call to ministry is realized, seminarians and other so-called persons would do well to prepare themselves to be patient, hospitable, and loving. They should learn good doctrine and exposition. They should learn the word of God, and prepare their hearts for the work set before them. If you are called to ministry, get in the Word. If you’re a seminarian, you should view this preparation as a work of love for congregants you do not yet know. At the time, all of your ministry desires are not met. If they are ever to be met, whether it is counseling, preaching, or whatever else, you must be prepared long before.
2. The call to ministry is the call to do ministry now.
One of the best ways to see if someone is fit to be a pastor is if they fulfill the duties of the office without the authority of the office. It’s easy to want the authority and the leadership of the office of pastorate. We must remember, though, that we are not to lord such authority over God’s people (1 Peter 5:1-6). Do you love to welcome others into your home? Does your heart thrill to teach God’s word? Is prayer at the center of your life? Are you humble? Are you willing to serve with children, youth, or the elderly instead of just from the pulpit or the boardroom? If you are called to ministry, start now.
Gut check: are you selfish in how you choose your place of ministry or your church? When you are in seminary, consider going to a struggling church and serving them. It may be hard, but there you can learn humility, service, how to love difficult people, and patience. If you want to plant or do church revitalization, maybe reconsider going to that church with 100 other seminarians. It is fine for a season, but perhaps God would use you more at the struggling church down the street. Further, don’t be too big to refuse non-pulpit ministry. If you’re called to ministry, spend some time learning to teach a 14 year old the gospel and prayer in a humble setting. These two pieces of advice aren’t revolutionary. They aren’t glamorous. But there is glory in the small things. Honor God with humble service and humble preparation and it may be that he is growing in you the gifts and character to do much more in the future. He who is faithful with little will be trusted with more. Your call to ministry is a very little thing. It’s a feeling, a peace, a hunger, a passion, or a desire. Be faithful in the small things, and it can become a ministry. You will become a pastor.