Anecdotally over the last 10 to 15 years, and more specifically during my four plus years in my role at NOBTS, less and less men appear to be expressing a call specifically to pastor the local church. This trend is concerning for me (but that may be a topic for another day and for another blog). More even than being concerning, it is perplexing. What is the problem? Surely God is still equipping and calling men to shepherd His churches. Perhaps the problem is fear or confusion. Perhaps we have made it too mystical to or placed extra-biblical parameters on discerning a call to pastor.
Why do so many people struggle to know if they are called, where they are called, how they are called? Below, I give you five questions to consider to know if you are called and therefore should pursue pastoring the local church.
First, Do I Possess a Skillset to Teach the Word? Arguably the only “skill” present in the New Testament lists for pastors is the ability to rightly handle the Scriptures. A form of this qualification is listed in both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. If you are considering taking up the pastoral charge, you do well to evaluate whether or not you possess this ability. Here I am not so much talking about a process of sermon development or communication skills that may come in formal training or obtaining a degree, although there is value in this. Rather the question is do you have a natural gifting to be able to discern biblical truth and teach it clearly to others. Much of pastoring is rightly handling, teaching, and applying to your sheep the Word of God. As a matter of fact, the primary way a pastor shepherds his people is by teaching them the Word. Therefore, if you do not posses this skill, you are not called to be a pastor.
Second, Does My Life Display a Living Reflection of the Gospel? If the only “skill” required in the New Testament pastoral lists is related to the teaching ministry, how should we classify the other qualifications? Character and conduct. It seems the lists put a greater emphasis on who a pastor is rather than the abilities a pastor possesses. Character displayed through conduct matters. Perhaps each specific expectation is an application of the concept of “unblameable.” A pastor must be above reproach in every area of his life – in finances, home, marriage, the church, and even with outsiders. A pastor’s life must match the Word that he teaches. At a minimum, it must not contradict it. We are not talking about sinlessness or perfection here. We are seeking to be above reproach in all of our dealings. Therefore, if you have expressed a call to shepherd the flock, you must ask if your life honors the Gospel. If not, you are not called to be a pastor.
Third, Do I Have a Passion and Concern for the Church? I want to proceed with some caution and clarity on this point. Every believer should have a love for the Body of Christ. But one who has been set apart to the pastoral charge should have an infinity which goes beyond a common love. Time and time again the shepherd should possess a natural draw to teach, lead, and protect the flock. Now in some ways, he feels as if he cannot get away from it. It is “a fire shut up in his bones” if you will. Perhaps only you can know if this passion is genuine. Nonetheless, if you are considering the pastoral charge, you should measure your concern for the body of Christ.
Fourth, Have My Pastor and Church affirmed these “Pastoral” Characteristics in My Life? Who has recognized the presence of these biblical gifts and characteristics in your life? Primarily here we are talking about a gift for teaching, conduct and integrity that exudes the Gospel, and a passion for the church. God loans His authority to affirm the calling of kingdom servants to the local church and her leaders. We see this in numerous places in Scripture including Acts 13 and 1 Timothy 4. Therefore, you do well to ask if the church and your pastor have seen and acknowledged in your life the characteristics that are required to be a biblical shepherd. One way we should look for biblical confirmation is through the affirmation of the Body of Christ to which we belong.
Finally, Can I Go Do Something Else and Be Satisfied? We should be cautious with this question because it is the most “subjective” of all. Therefore, it should not be primary and must be subordinate to the other four. However, when I first expressed a call to ministry, my father-in-law gave some sage advice. He told me that if I could go do anything else and be satisfied then I should go do it because I probably was not called to be a pastor. I do think yielded to the other questions this inquiry can be helpful to determine the genuineness of our commitment. Perhaps it proves the negative. But there is something to be said about choosing not to pastor if you find no joy in it. Do you find greater pleasure personally in the thought of pursuing a vocation other than ministry? If so, you may not be called to be a pastor.
Why do so many people struggle to know if they are called, where they are called, how they are called? Perhaps it’s because they have never truly evaluated their life in light of what is explicit and objective in God’s Word regarding the office of pastor. Do I Possess a Skillset to Teach the Word? Does My Life Display a Living Reflection of the Gospel? Do I Have Passion and Concern for the Church? Have My Pastor and Church affirmed these Other Characteristics in My Life?
Have you taken an honest assessment of yourself in these areas? Are you willing to do so now?