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Part Two

There is a crucial need for clarity on the nature of vocation and the criteria by which one determines if he is subject to it. Following are five criteria, each of which must work in concert with the other four.

(1)            Constraint – The word “constraint” is not intended to suggest an unwillingness on the part of the individual, as if he pursues ministry due to external coercion. Rather, it points to the theological truth that those who are called sense an inner conviction from God that makes the thought of pursuing another line of work untenable. The apostle Paul said: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). Jeremiah the prophet wrote, "But if I say, 'I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name, 'then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it" (Jeremiah 20:9).

Some have argued that every Christian should devote himself to the ministry in the absence of some special reason to the contrary, when in fact the opposite is the case: no one should presume to enter vocational ministry apart from a clear call of God. James Henley Thornwell put it this way. No one, said Thornwell,

“whether young or old, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, should presume to dispense the mysteries of Christ without the strongest of all possible reasons for doing so – the imperative, invincible call of God. No one is to show cause why he ought not to be a Minister: he is to show cause why he should be a Minister. His call to the sacred profession is not the absence of a call to any other pursuit; it is direct, immediate, powerful, to this very department of labour. He is not here because he can be nowhere else, but he is nowhere else because he must be here” (“The Call of the Minister,” The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1974 (1875)], 25).

A disservice is done both to the individual and the church if people are encouraged to pursue ministry apart from this internal prompting. A survey of 5,000 ministers in the early 1990s revealed that approximately 40% considered leaving the pastorate in the previous three months. This is simply another way of saying what the apostle wrote in 1 Timothy 3:1 – “If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” Both the word “aspires” and “desires” point to the importance of volitional resolve, determination, an element of longing for the appointed office. Other factors in discerning a call to ministry:

(1) It is essential that the individual differentiate between a call to leadership or ministry and the more general desire to discipleship. All Christians experience the latter, but the former is unique and restricted.

(2) Is the sense of calling persistent or occasional. One should be careful not to act on nothing more than a first impression. “Let an initial impression grow quietly in a community of prayer until it becomes a sustained conviction” (Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1983], 18). (3) Discerning the reality of a call involves asking several pointed questions: Do I have the intellectual ability to fulfill the task? Do I speak with clarity. Am I reclusive by nature or more relational? How much am I willing to sacrifice for the poor, the sick, the elderly, the abused? How deeply do I empathize with others?

This secret, internal call by which one has a conviction before God that he is called, is a necessary but not sufficient component in the pursuit of ministry. Other factors must play a part.

(2)            Character – If God has called someone to ministry He will provide the grace to meet the qualifications for it. The biblical criteria for those in church leadership pertain not only to intellectual and theological skills but also to character, with an emphasis on moral and spiritual maturity. Any effort aimed at identifying those called to church leadership and providing encouragement to them must entail appropriate steps at character development, chief among which are the following:

A person of excellent reputation

Above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6)

Blameless (Titus 1:6-7; 1 Tim. 3:10)

Good reputation with those outside the church (1 Tim. 3:7)

Respectable (1 Tim. 3:7)

Possessing dignity (1 Tim. 3:8,11)

Trustworthy in all things (1 Tim. 3:12)

A person with an exemplary family life

Husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6)

Children not licentious or rebellious (Titus 1:6)

Children who believe (Titus 1:6) Children who respectfully obey (1 Tim. 3:4)

Manages his own household well (1 Tim. 3:4-5,12)

A person with Christ-like relational skills

Hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8)

Not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7)

Not violent (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7)

Not contentious (1 Tim. 3:3)

Gentle (1 Tim. 3:3)

Not self-willed (Titus 1:7)

Not double-tongued, i.e., sincere in speech (1 Tim. 3:8) Not slanderers (1 Tim. 3:11)

A person who lives a discipline life

Prudent (1 Tim. 3:2)

Temperate (1 Tim. 3:2,11)

Self-controlled (Titus 1:8)

Not given to excess with alcohol (1 Tim. 3:3,8; Titus 1:7)

A person devoted to the Word of God

Able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2)

Holds to the faith with a clear conscience (1 Tim. 3:9)

Holds firmly to the Word as it was taught (Titus 1:9)

Able to exhort others in sound doctrine (Titus 1:9) Able to refute those in opposition (Titus 1:9)

Great confidence in the faith (1 Tim. 3:13)

A person characterized by biblical values

Free from the love of money (1 Tim. 3:3)

Not pursuing dishonest gain (1 Tim. 3:8; Titus 1:7)

Loving what is good (Titus 1:8)

A person of maturity and spiritual devotion

Just (Titus 1:8)

Devout (Titus 1:8)

Not a new convert, i.e., a seasoned disciple (1 Tim. 3:6) One who has been tried/tested, proven faithful (1 Tim. 3:10)

Humble (1 Tim. 3:6)

An essential element in discerning a call to church leadership is the capacity to engage in self-examination to determine if these qualities are present. Four passages of Scripture summarize the essence of pastoral ministry in terms of character and commitment to the people of God:

(1)            “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Heb. 6:10).

(2)            “And I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15a).

(3)            “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 1:28-3:3).

(4)            “Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm” (2 Cor. 1:24).

It begins with the understanding that the way we love God is by loving His people. We demonstrate our affection for His name when we minister to His saints (Heb. 6:10). And how do we minister to the saints? By expending ourselves for them (2 Cor. 12:15) in an effort to bring them to a true knowledge of Christ (Col. 2:2). This is what ultimately will bring them maximum joy (2 Cor. 1:24). And it is for their joy that we aim because God is most glorified in them when they are most satisfied in God.

(3)            Charisma – This Greek word means “a gracious gift,” and points us to the importance of those spiritual skills essential to fulfill the role to which God has called a person. The Spirit distributes these “gifts” according to His will (1 Cor. 12:11). There is an essential balance that also must be maintained. Some who sense a divine call confess their dominant interest to be the theoretical aspects of religion and theology with minimal desire to undertake the practical duties of pastoral life. Others are skilled in daily administrative tasks and pastoral responsibilities but have little inclination to study or address the fundamental theological issues facing the church today. Pastoral ministry requires that one demonstrate both a desire and proficiency in each area.

(4)            Confirmation – One way in which a “call” to ministry is confirmed is the recognition by others that one possesses the gifts necessary to fulfill the tasks that ministry requires. If the “call” is authentic, others will see God’s grace at work and provide confirmation. John Leith contends that “of all the fallible signs of the authenticity of a call none is of greater value than the approbation of the people of God, who through a period of time become increasingly convinced that the minister in preaching, teaching, and pastoral care gives evidence of having been called by God” (Crisis in the Church: The Plight of Theological Education [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997], 101).

Related to this is the fact that the call most naturally comes in the context of the community of faith itself. It is in the midst of church life, as people are exposed to the tradition, practices, principles, and faith of the family of God that the call is most likely to be heard.

(5)            Consecration – This is the final step in the response to a divine call in which the individual is formally and officially set apart and acknowledged as qualified for ministry. Typically this is called “ordination”. It is essential that established and proven leaders in the church provide affirmation in determining both the individual’s potential for service to the church as well as the proper time for one to enter full time ministry.

Having spoken of “ministry” in this way, Stevens rightly reminds us of the liberating perspective of Scripture in which “ministry is defined by Who is served (the interior form) rather than the shape and location of the deeds done (the exterior form). Ministry is service to God and on behalf of God in the church and the world. Ministers are people who put themselves at the disposal of God for the benefit of others and God’s world. It is not limited by the place where the service is rendered, the function, the need met, by the title of the person or even by the overt reference to Christ” (The Other Six Days, 133).