The Call to the Ministry
By Pastor Keith Boss
The 19th century English preacher, Charles Bridges, once said regarding the man whom God commissions to serve in pastoral ministry that "the confidence that he is acting in obedience to the call of God - that he is in His work, and in His way - nerves him in the midst of all difficulty, and under a sense of his responsible obligations, with almighty strength." The call of God is certainly essential to the pursuit of and endurance in the role of bishop, but how can one be sure the he has received this calling? The New Testament indicates that the call of God will be recognized through both subjective and objective means.
SUBJECTIVE ASPECTS OF THE CALL
In I Timothy 3:1, Paul speaks of the internal call that a man who would serve as bishop must receive. This call is described there as a "desire." Two different Greek terms are utilized to express this concept. The first term ojregw means "to stretch in order to grasp." The second term ejpiqumew communicates the idea of "to set one's heart upon, to lust after, or to covet." Interestingly, the object of this second term for desire is the actual labor that goes along with the ministry. One who is truly called to shepherd will not long for the recognition or the remuneration involved with the office, but he will be attracted to the work itself. These desires expressed in this verse can only be understood as the inner compulsion of the Holy Spirit on a man. It is an unshakeable sense that God is leading him to pursue this good work.
If this desire is indeed a genuine working of God, the one who has received it should expect to be providentially led by Him. Proverbs 3:5-6 assures such a person that if he is trusting the Lord and seeking His will that he can expect for God to direct his paths. Likewise, Ephesians 5:17-18 weaves a connection between knowing the will of the Lord and being controlled by His Spirit. If a person is surrendered to God's call upon His life, God will inevitably open doors and work out circumstances to confirm His calling of His servant.
OBJECTIVE ASPECTS OF THE CALL
In addition to the subjective elements involved in the call to ministry, several objective components should be present as well. Immediately after introducing the internal call to the ministry in I Timothy 3:1, Paul continues in I Timothy 3:2-7 to lay down the list of qualifications that must be present in the life of any who would serve as pastor. A similar list of standards is laid out in Titus 1:6-9. Both the one who is called and the church in which he serves ought to be able to readily identify these characteristics in him.
A second objective confirmation of the call of God on a man's life is his ordination. In Acts 14:23, Luke records that Paul was involved in the ordaining of elders in the various churches that he visited. Later, Paul reminded his son in the faith in I Timothy 4:14 of that important moment in his life when the presbytery laid hands on him. He alludes also in II Timothy 1:6 to the day when he himself laid hands on Timothy. He goes on to challenge Timothy in I Timothy 5:22 to avoid quickly laying hands on others who would aspire to be elders. Titus was also charged in Titus 1:5 to ordain elders in the churches in Crete. Little is communicated about the exact nature of these ordinations, but that they took place as an outward confirmation of God's call on a man's life is clear.
Thirdly, an individual who aspires to the office of pastor ought to be willing to seek training for his calling. It has been wisely said that the call to preach is a call to prepare. II Timothy 2:2 provides this model of faithful men passing down the faith to subsequent generations. Because the pastoral task requires holding fast to sound doctrine and defending against error, one who would serve in this function ought not to consider entering into it without receiving adequate doctrinal instruction and mentoring.
Quoted in James M. George, "The Call to Pastoral Ministry," in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, ed. John F. MacArthur (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2005), page 83.