I remember when I began to think about that question. I was 26 years old, and I had been married for just a few short years. I was active in my home church, serving as an assistant Sunday School teacher for 9th-10th grade boys. I also led a Bible Study in my workplace. After having the opportunity to speak and share my testimony a few times, I could not shake the sense that God was calling me to serve in pastoral ministry in some way.
There was a growing desire in my heart that could not be silenced, even though I tried. Like Moses, I agonized over God’s call on my life. During one occasion of intense prayer, I listed several reasons why I was not called.
The Lord was not convinced.
After several similar episodes of prayer, I eventually gave up the fight. After mustering up the courage to tell my wife about it, she responded, “Yeah, I’ve known for a while. I’ve just been waiting on you to figure it out.” (Best response ever!)
Next, I scheduled a meeting with my pastor to talk about it. He wasn’t surprised either. In fact, as others learned about it over the next few weeks, no one was surprised! My pastor began to meet with me for encouragement and preparation for a future as a minister of the gospel. Several months later, my wife and I moved to Louisville so I could attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the rest — as they say — is history.
While the details may change, every minister of the gospel has a similar story. And the good news is that God is still calling out those who will serve as pastors in the days ahead.
If you’re wrestling with a calling to be a pastor, consider these six questions:
1. What do you believe?
Warnings against false teachers abound in the New Testament, meaning that it’s possible to enter the gospel ministry and not even be saved! Therefore, before moving very far in the process of evaluating your ministry calling, it’s essential that your doctrinal beliefs are grounded in the Word of God.
For those of us in Southern Baptist life, the summary of our core beliefs is found in the Baptist Faith & Message (2000). If you do not hold to the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, you are not called to Christian ministry.
2. What do you expect?
Many enter pastoral ministry with some faulty expectations. Maybe they expect that the demands of ministry won’t be difficult. Maybe they expect to be liked and respected by everyone in their church and community.
Maybe they expect to make a lot of money. Whatever it may be, those who enter ministry with faulty expectations usually wind up sorely disappointed, and they don’t stay in the ministry for long.
Therefore, you need to examine your expectations for ministry.
• Are you prepared for both the highs and the lows of ministry?
• Will you be prepared when the sheep won’t follow your leadership?
• Are you ready to receive and respond to unfair criticism in a way that honors the Lord?
These are just some of the experiences you will have as a pastor. If you are unwilling or unable to persevere during difficult times, you should consider serving the Lord in a non-pastoral role.
3. Why do you want to be a pastor?
1 Timothy 3:1 says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Twice in this verse, Paul speaks of aspiration/desire for the ministry. Another word for this is motivation. In my particular situation, God was placing the desire in my heart, but for a long time I was afraid to pursue it.
As you consider your motivations for ministry, recognize that some enter the ministry with the proper motivation: for the glory of God and the good of His people.
However, others enter the ministry with good intentions while lacking the proper motivations. Some want to enter the ministry because they are gifted public speakers, or they have compassion for hurting people. Others simply want to make a difference in the world. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things, but they cannot serve as your primary motivation for ministry.
4. Are you qualified to be a pastor?
Even if you have the proper beliefs, expectations and motivations, you should never enter the ministry if you fail to meet the biblical qualifications that Paul describes in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. While no one perfectly meets these qualifications, these things should be generally true of any minister of the gospel.
As you read the qualifications, please note that they describe a pastor’s character more than his competence. They deal more with who you are as a follower of Christ rather than what you are able to do for Christ. Therefore, as you consider your calling, let me encourage you to prayerfully immerse yourself in these biblical passages.
As you meditate upon each qualification, pray and ask the Lord to show you if you meet the required standard. As much as you may have a desire to be a pastor, you must be biblically qualified in order to serve as a pastor.
5. Do you have the spiritual gifts suitable for a pastor?
After evaluating your character, then you can move on to your gifts and abilities. Let me encourage you to spend much time reading through the biblical passages that address spiritual gifts: 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:7-16, and 1 Peter 4:7-11.
In addition, you should consider taking a spiritual gifts assessment. (Note: many of these are available online, but I would strongly recommend following the guidance of your pastor in this matter.) Based upon your study of the relevant scriptures along with your optional spiritual gifts assessment, compare how many of your spiritual gifts are among those typically true of pastors (such as shepherding, teaching, leadership, prophecy and wisdom). If there’s no overlap, God may be calling you to serve Him in another way, but it is probably not as a pastor.
6. Do others affirm your calling?
Most of the previous questions are often referred to as your internal This last question deals with your external calling. Do others in the church agree that you are biblically qualified and have the proper gifts for ministry? Have they evaluated and confirmed that you have the proper beliefs?
Just as my wife, my pastor and others in the church were not surprised when I shared that God was calling me to pastoral ministry, others should affirm your calling as well. If not, you should not move forward until you receive that affirmation.
Jesus told His disciples in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” I am confident that many Christians are praying this prayer today, and I am confident that God is answering this prayer. He is calling all of us to serve Him in some way, but He is calling some of us to serve him in the role of a pastor. Is God calling you to be a pastor?
Jason Lowe is associational mission strategist for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists. He also serves bivocationally as executive pastor at First Baptist Church of Pikeville. He recently authored a book, “The Church During the Search.”