It is not uncommon for me to meet a young man who would like to discuss more about pastoral ministry. Oftentimes the young man is contemplating or even convinced that the Lord is calling him to be a pastor. Now this always excites my heart because as per the Lord’s command we are to pray for more laborers in his harvest (Luke 10:2). The next thing that follows from such a conversation is the question: but how do I know for sure that the Lord is calling me to pastoral ministry? Here is my answer.
First, the man that the Lord is calling to pastoral ministry or any Christian ministry must also be the man that the Lord has called to himself first. In other words, the first thing is to be sure that you are a converted man. Be certain that you know Jesus Christ in a saving way. Sadly, church history is not void of men who went into pastorate while unsaved. But that is not supposed to be the case. Don’t be a Judas or a Demas who went into pastorate with hearts of stone. As you know it did not end well for them (Matt. 27: 3-10; Phil. 1:24 cf. 2 Tim. 4:10). It is important to seriously consider this caution from the old Puritan Richard Baxter, “Believe it, brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master’s work. Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade others to be, and believe that which you persuade them daily to believe, and have heartily entertained that Christ and Spirit which you offer unto others.” Here Baxter captures the heart of the matter well. I think one of the greatest tragedies in the world is a pastor who calls on others to know Christ the Savior and yet he himself doesn’t know him.
Second, prayerfully go through the qualifications of an elder or pastor in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 and see if you meet them. In these two passages Paul begins by affirming that a desire to be a pastor is a noble desire. But the desire alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by a life and conduct that honor and glorify God. He then goes on to list requirements to be met by those desiring to serve in pastoral ministry. Sadly, we are living in the world that often values more what we are able to do than who we are. But in the eyes of God who we are before him is more important than what we can do for him. In ministry holiness is essential. An ungodly minister is an eye sore to the Church of Christ. So, examine your life and conduct in the light of these two passages. Now this doesn’t mean that you should be sinless to serve the Lord then no single Christian on this side of heaven would qualify. However, there should be a notable growth and continued desire and work to grow in these areas. Sanctification is progressive. A man who is not growing or is not interested to grow in these areas is not fit to be an under-shepherd of God’s flock.
Third, you must have a burning passion and God’s gift to preach and teach the gospel. Are you convinced that the only hope of this lost world is the gospel of Jesus Christ and you are not ashamed to preach it (Romans 1:16)? Do you feel like Apostle Paul that “Woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16)?” If the answer to these questions is a resounding yes then it could be that the Lord is calling you to the pastorate. Coupled with the burning desire to preach the gospel should be a gift to enable you to preach or teach it. Of course, the gift will be sharpened with time and experience but at least you should have a gift to be able to stand in front of people and speak (preach or teach). You might never be gifted like John Calvin, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, Joel Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson, or Conrad Mbewe just to mention a few gifted preachers (and many of us are not) but you should still have a gift to communicate the gospel clearly and persuasively. I strongly believe that those that the Lord calls he also equips for the calling (Jeremiah 1:6-10).
Fourth, get involved in your local church. In discerning whether one is called to ministry we consider both what is called internal and external call. The internal call is the sense that one has that the Lord is calling him to ministry. However, internal call alone is not enough. One also needs an external call which is a confirmation from other Christians that they too are convinced that the Lord is calling you be a pastor. For this to happen you need to be active in your local church. Volunteer to be a greeter, teach children’s Sunday school, offer yourself to help with youth ministry if your church has one, volunteer to lead Bible studies when the opportunity arises. If your pastor or elders offer you a preaching opportunity readily accept it with humility and gladness. As you serve your local church fellow believers will also be able to approve your desire and gifts for pastoral ministry. It is a great blessing when what you sense inside is also echoed by fellow believers who know you well.
Fifth, resources permitting get seminary or Bible college training from a sound and solid institution. Bible and theological training is necessary for ministry. Granted they are some people in the past and present who have served the Lord faithfully as pastors without going to seminary or Bible college. However, they are the exception rather than the rule. Jesus taught and trained his apostles for three years before he commissioned them to preach, plant, and pastor God’s people. Paul mentored Timothy and Titus before granting them pastoral responsibilities. In some circumstances it might not be possible to go to seminary or Bible college. In that context it is important that you bring yourself under the mentorship of a mature and godly pastor for a period of time. Learn and drink from the well of his life, work, and experience until you both feel that you are ready to begin pastoring on your own.
Sixth, the final confirmation of God’s call upon your life should come from the church. After successfully completing your seminary or Bible college training or mentorship under a sound and faithful minister and elders, a congregation of God’s people must call you to pastor them. It might be a church that is without a pastor, a group of believers who would like to plant a church, or a church that has a pastor or pastors but need one more pastor. This is also part of the external call. If you are planting a church, you don’t just make yourself a church planter. You must be sent by another church or ecclesiastical body. One thing that often breaks my heart is how some young people are ending up in ministry here in Malawi. A young man gets converted and in no time, he thinks that the Lord is calling him to pastoral ministry. He starts planting a church with no accountability and little or no training at all. This is no doubt a recipe for disaster. Often that young man ends up shipwrecking his faith and bringing the name of the Lord into disrepute. Every pastor needs a confirmation of the church that the Lord rather than himself has called him to shepherd and feed Christ’s flock. This confirmation of the church will also encourage you when you pass through difficult seasons of ministry. When you are tempted to throw in the towel, looking back at the confirmation of the church encourages you to press on knowing that your calling to ministry was not an illusion but that God approved it through the external call of his people.
In summary, the one who is called to pastoral ministry must first and foremost be called to the Savior, Jesus Christ and should feel the fire in his bones to preach and teach the gospel of Christ. This is the internal call. This desire should be confirmed first by his local church and eventually by a church that calls him to minister to them. That is the external call. Both calls are needed to discern if the Lord has called one to be a pastor.
PS: It is due to my desire to help young men discern if the Lord is calling them to pastoral ministry that our church, Christ Presbyterian Church established a pastoral internship program. If you believe the Lord is calling you to be a pastor let me encourage you to consider our program. To learn more check here