Is God calling me to be a Pastor?
It's a question that many men wrestle with all through-out life, more likely as we reach midlife, or even for many approaching so-called retirement age.
The New Testament doesn’t draw neat and distinct lines between “secular work” and “ministering full time”. In whatever God, by his providence, leads for our day to day job, he calls us to do our work “not as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord”. Christ’s apostle charges all workers, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24; also Ephesians 6:6–8).
The fundamental divide is not between full-time ministry and non-ministry jobs, but the distinction: in church office. Perhaps a better question to ask is where we have some specific texts to give us a little more clarity: Am I called to the office of elder?
We should note that elders in the New Testament (also called pastors or overseers) are to be spiritually mature men (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). Not just any Christian, and not just any man, but mature men. “Elder” is the same office as; “pastor” (based on the noun pastor or shepherd in Ephesians 4:11and its verb forms in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2). This is the very same office called “overseer” in four texts (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1–2; Titus 1:7). By focusing on the office itself, rather than simply on vocational (or non-vocational) ministry, several specific texts give us some bearings.
Do I Desire, or, Aspire? (Aspiration)
First off, God wants pastors to want to work for Him. He wants elders who happily give of themselves in this emotionally taxing work, “not reluctantly nor under any sort of compulsion” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Remember, God loves a cheerful overseer, who loves serving The Lord as Under Shepherd, or, Pastor.
When the apostle Paul addresses the qualifications of pastors-elders-overseers, he first mentions aspiration. “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). God wants men who want to do the work for Him, not men who do it simply out of a sense of duty. He grabs pastors by the heart.
Peter may say it most powerfully. Christ wants elders to shepherd (pastor) his flock “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2). How remarkable and delightful is pastoring from an aspiration, not obligation and duty, and “as God would have you.” This is the kind of God we have — the desiring God, who wants pastors who have a loving desire (not duty) to pastor. Our God means for the leaders, the Under Shepherd of his church to do their work “with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage” to the people (Hebrews 13:17).
Practically, then, when we hear men, young and old, express an aspiration to the pastoral office, we should want our first inclination not to challenge it, not to squash it, or see if we can disavow them of it. Rather, we want to give them the benefit of the doubt, that God is at work in their life. We must know that such an aspiration is not a natural desire, but a supernatural one. So, first of all, let’s start by encouraging men who would express such an unnatural heart of love for the church that the Lord Jesus loves.
This deep desire for the work has a role to play in the calling of any man to this church office that it may not in other work. Your day job may be something you’re able to do, but don’t enjoy, and God can work with that for a season. But a fundamental difference between pastoral ministry and every other kind of work is the necessity of desire.
Such a desire is often only the beginning of a pastoral calling, but it is never the entirety. As Aspiration is a great place to start, yet desire in and of itself does not amount to a calling. God then gives us two layers of confirmation: the affirmation of others and the real-life opportunity.
Am I Gifted? (Affirmation)
After sensing a subjective desire for pastoral ministry, we need to ask a more objective question about our gifting. Have I seen evidence, of my ability to teach, however small. Have I seen any fruitfulness in serving others through biblical teaching and counsel? And, even more important than my own self-assessment, have others confirmed my gifts for the office of pastoral ministry?
This is where “the rubber meets the road, or, here the desires of the heart meet the brass tacks of the needs of others. This Office in the church is not for spiritual self-actualization or merely affirming a man’s spiritual maturity, but it’s for meeting the actual needs of others. The elder qualifications are, in a sense, unremarkable. The elder(s) of any church should not be the sum total of all spiritually qualified men in the church. But from among those who are qualified, the elder(s) are those chosen as the ones who are willing to make extra sacrifices (for a season or the long haul) to care for the church and meet her needs. Aspiration truly has a vital part to play, but the call to pastoral office is not shaped mainly by the internal heart, but also by the external needs.
Truthfully, this is the opposite from the “follow your heart” perspective, as I disagree with; “don’t settle for anything less than your dreams” ideology we so often hear in today’s society. Most assuredly, the most important thing in discerning God’s call as an elder/pastor is not bringing the desires of our heart to bear on the world, but by letting the needs of others form the shape of your heart.
As our desire incites earnest prayer, over time, a dialogue happens between what we want to do and what we find ourselves good at doing for the benefit of others. Delight in certain kinds of labor grows as real needs are being met and as others affirm our gifts and efforts. Often it is through others’ observations and encouragement we discover a gifting for ministry we never knew, becoming clear through our own aspirations.
Wisdom will let you know that before you go looking for opportunities to shepherd in the future, make sure you are able to meet real spiritual needs in front of you today, before your very eyes, and seek confirmation from your current local Christian Church community.
Perhaps most often overlooked in Christian calling, is the actual God-given, real-world open door. You may feel called, and others may affirm your general direction, but you are not yet fully “called” to a specific pastoral ministry until God turns the nob and opens the door. God in his providence does the decisive work. It was He who started the process by giving you the aspiration; and He affirmed the direction as his Spirit produced fruit through giving you your gifts; now He confirms that sense of calling by swinging open the right door at the right time. It is finally God, not man — and God, not self — who truly gives you the call to a pastoral office.
- It was God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit who “made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). Ephesians 4:11–12Matthew 9:37–38.
- God is the one who sends preachers. “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15).
- God is the master who “will set over his household” faithful and wise managers (Luke 12:42).
- The Lord Jesus Christ is the one from whom we receive the ministry we are to fulfill (Colossians 4:17).
In my experience, we often leave out this final reality-check step. We say that a seminary student who aspires to preach and has received affirmation from his home church is “called to ministry.” Well, not yet. He aspires to full-time ministry, thank God, and some people have found his gifts helpful. He is well on his way. But what this aspiring, affirmed brother doesn’t yet have — to confirm his sense of calling — is a real-live opportunity where some ministry or church presents a job description and says, “We are ready to call you to pastor here. Would you accept?”
Until God makes a man an overseer (Acts 20:28), gives him to the church (Ephesians 4:11–12), sends him as a laborer (Matthew 9:37–38; Romans 10:14–15), and sets him over his household (Luke 12:42), he is not yet fully called.
And what a marvel and blessing it is when God gives a man a desire for the pastoral office, an Ambasador of the God of Heaven. Gifts him to meet real needs in the church with the word of God and wisdom, with affirmation from the real-life body of Christ, and opens a door for him to oversee, to lead, to pastor and to serve a specific local church. He now knows he is called. AMEN’