The Call to the Ministry Understood, Validated, and Strengthened
Who will possibly stay in a relationship with a girl-friend or boy-friend ‘until death us do part’ unless there is a deep devotion to that one person above all others, a commitment that is based on comprehensive knowledge and respect? That is the essence of marriage, leaving all others and cleaving to the other until God shall separate you by death.
Who will stay in the Christian ministry for one’s entire working life unless one loves this work above all others, that one can do nothing else than preach the gospel and pastor the people of God to whom you preach week by week? The Apostle Paul writes about a man who ‘sets his heart’ on this work (1 Tim. 3:1). He is stretching out to make this his life’s supreme calling. He is not talking about selfish ambition for prestige and power but for the high privilege of caring for the people whom the Son of God loved and suffered the death of the cross.
So the first qualification for a lifetime’s commitment to the preaching ministry is an inner strong desire. Our life is offered to God in building up his people and going after the lost until they all – with you – attain the stature of the fulness of Christ.
Clearly this inward longing must be educated and informed. There must be an understanding of the New Testament requirements of the work of the pastor-preacher, and there is nowhere better to discover this in the Scriptures than in examining the life of the Apostle Paul. There are some aspects which are peculiarly those of an apostle, but the vast portion of the life of Paul, his defence of the faith, his setting forth of the full gospel of grace, his righteous character, his tireless zeal, his wisdom in handling tensions within a congregation – none can compare to the apostle’s example as a model minister. Once you have understood that your work is not primarily focused upon ministering the sacraments, or upon assisting homeless, poor, and sick men and women but rather, firstly, serving the Lord of the Word and the Word of the Lord by which you serve the Lord’s people, the body of Christ, then you will want to know where you can best appreciate what that requires. The New Testament will help you, especially the life of Paul. You will often feel, ‘Who is sufficient for this work?’ and it is essential you feel like that or pride of office and the powers you have will destroy you.
Let the inward longing also be validated by the godliest men you can meet, not those men alone who are gentle and restrained, but righteous loving men, whose love is first for the kingdom of God, who will want to know of thecredibility of your conversion, your understanding of the work of the ministry, your confessional faithfulness, moral integrity, emotional maturity and compassionate heart. They will want to probe you to ensure you have no ‘funny ideas’ and they can tell you, No, Yes, or Wait a while.
Then the great army of ministers and pastors and evangelists who have marched through the last 2000 years of the church’s history will also supply you with hundreds of examples of the preacher’s vocation. The church fathers, the reformers, the Puritans, the leaders of the evangelical awakening, Princeton and Edinburgh’s New College in the nineteenth century, along with Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and finally in the 20th century, Lloyd-Jones and Jim Elliot will all overwhelm you with the abundance of ministerial role models. No one need be handicapped because of the paucity of information as to how such men of God lived and worked as pastor-preachers.
Then there are today’s role models. In many ways they are the best, especially those men you meet in providence who are your contemporaries – a little older or younger than you are, but who seem to you to be giants. They have been Christians for many years, they have sat under rich biblical preaching, they have attended conferences, they are involved in student evangelism, they have read widely, they have developed wise opinions concerning the meaning of key passages, texts and doctrines of the Bible. You will bless God for bringing them into your life. Friendship with them at seminary endures from ordination throughout the different pilgrimages God plans for you both. Not a week goes by without you speaking on the phone and e-mailing one another. You share pastoral problems, man management, recentbooks, attendance at conferences, the blessings and buffetings of ministerial life, and when the call to new spheres comes to you then they are the ones, after your wives, whose counsels and prayers you most covet. The ministry is no place for loners or friendless men.
If you are blessed to have a preacher as your example then the danger is obvious, that you will choose in him those aspects of his gifts that you can most easily replicate. It is a very great danger. For example, his lack of household visitation because of his city-centre parish, may be seized on by you as the rationale for your neglect of this indispensable pastoral task. It is essential that you have more than one role model of older men in the ministry today. The more you can get to know the better it will be to produce in you an all-round ministry.
Most of all it is the Lord who makes men fishers of men. He has made up his mind and he will do this. There have been men whose gifts have been limited but whose dependence on the Lord has been heart-felt. Some of them suffered with melancholy, like David Brainerd, and yet they were made fishers of men. With little knowledge of church history, with few friends or a spiritual congregation to support them they have gone as Joseph did, armed with the Bible, into the heart of their own Egypts, kingdoms of darkness, and by casting themselves upon God they overcome powerful fleshly temptations, the loneliness of prison life without the friendly voice of another Christian, and there they subdued a mighty kingdom and obtained the promises of God to build his church and wrought works of righteousness which we look back to today from our luxurious lifestyles, and humbly marvel and berate our self-pity.
Four Meditations from John Owen September 26, 2023
This is a reprint of an article that was first published in the Banner of Truth magazine, July – August 1968. His words remain searching and pertinent today. * * * The Value of the Gospel No men in the world want help like them that want the Gospel. A man may want liberty, and […]
Peacocks and Rutterkins: Calvin the Colloquial Communicator August 31, 2023
John Calvin is thought of, principally, as a theologian. Of course, he was that. But, as Andrew W. Blackwood once told me, in his day he was first of all considered a preacher. Too few of his sermons have been preserved.1 English translations are mainly in 16th century English!2 Nevertheless, the more I read them, […]