I wrote last week on the desire to be a pastor, primarily from 1 Timothy 3:1, but also from other passages that shed light on the matter. As a follow-up, I thought it would be helpful to ask the question, “What is the call to be a pastor?” and clarify what it is and what it is not as it relates to that desire.
As I pointed out last week, the desire to be a pastor is related to a desire to preach the gospel, compellingly so, and even strong enough to overcome the difficulties of ministry. This desire may be manifest to a greater or lesser degree from one pastor to the next, and difficulties in ministry may be when one realizes the strength of this desire. This desire, however, while part of a man’s being called to the pastorate, is not in and of itself a call to be a pastor.
We should note that the very use of the term call implies that someone other than the would-be pastor is doing the calling. The question is, who is doing the calling?
Sometimes a pastoral candidate describes how he knew God called him to be a pastor through some sort of circumstantial evidence or even a near-revelatory event. He may have received such a call through an invitation after a sermon, after a traumatic life experience, or in the silence of doing his devotions in his home. While not discounting that God can sometimes use these providential means to help a man perceive a desire to be a pastor, the desire to be a pastor, even when coupled with these remarkable events, is still not enough to make up the call to be a pastor.
We actually more appropriately use the language of calling in another way, namely, when a church extends a call to a man to be a pastor. God is still part of the process, to be sure, leading and giving wisdom (we hope) to the church in determining whether or not the candidate meets the qualifications of being their pastor (cf. 1 Tim 3:2–7; Titus 1:5–9). In this type of calling, whatever the candidate’s desire may be, his desire alone is not determinative in becoming a pastor. The church evaluates whether or not he could and should be their pastor and then actually extends him the call to do so. Should he accept the call, then he can be their pastor. But the perception of this call is only when the call is given by the church.
Perhaps we could describe it like this—the call to be a pastor includes factors both internal and external to the candidate. Internally, he has faith, understands the nature and mission of the church, knows what a pastor is, and desires to pastor a church. Externally—something outside of the candidate’s control—God has given him the requisite gifts of teaching and oversight, a church recognizes these gifts, and extends him the call to do so in the formal capacity of being its pastor.
Thinking of the call in yet another way, it should be the natural result of an organic relationship between the church and one of its members (or, perhaps, a church and someone applying to be its pastor). As a man grows in Christ and serves in his local church, he will be moved by the love of the Spirit and guided by what he knows of the Word to serve God’s people in ways unique to his gifting. However it practically comes about (e.g., through a church training program or some less formal manner), it becomes clear over time to him and the church that he desires to be a pastor and is gifted and qualified for such a role. Naturally, one would hope, he then becomes a pastor.
So, what is the call to be a pastor? I believe it is simply a request by a church for a man to be its pastor. But is also a request conditioned upon that man’s desire to be that pastor and the church’s recognition of that man’s being qualified to fill that role.