By the late Rev. Martin Holdt
The ministry is beyond doubt the highest and holiest calling in the world. It is hard and exacting. It calls for great sacrifice and is demanding to the extreme. Many men are willing to accept the challenge of such a work, and many give up their well-earned security to undertake that challenge, but are they necessarily called?
Is a completed course of theological training a guarantee of ministerial success? Will it work if a man is found faithful in preparing sermons, in praying diligently and in visiting the flock? The answer to this question is simple: Only if the man is truly called of God. God’s servants are called men. The Scripture verifies this: “And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10v15)
A CALL TO THE MINISTRY INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- A desire. “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. (1 Tim. 3v1)
- Qualifications which are visible to the Church and which include the following: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to much wine, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Tim. 3v2-7)
- Acceptance by the people of God. The affection the Ephesians showed to the Apostle Paul when he had spent a time with them, is the kind of love that will develop between a people and a minister of the Gospel who serves them well according to the calling of Christ. (Acts 20v37,38)
When a man in the ministry does not find acceptance in the local church where he serves, (except amongst a handful whose loyalty to his person true spiritual discernment), he may judge them for being unspiritual and may think himself to be the object of persecution. It is easy to speak in self-defence when there is a total failure to perceive the real cause of declining attendances and sinking church finances. For all the good intentions and motives of the person concerned, the root cause of the problem is the absence of a genuine God-given call to the ministry.
It is not that there has been deliberate deceit, nor that dishonesty has played a role. It is a case of a mistaken sense of God’s will, a mistake we are all capable of making, but for God’s grace. Jesus’ first preachers who followed Him were hand-picked, divinely-called men and they were all warmly received by the Churches they eventually pastored, Judas excepted. Paul, therefore, always introduced himself as a “called Apostle”, and God’s people knew it.
Spurgeon had some pertinent things to say about this: “The will of the Lord concerning pastors is made know through the prayerful judgement of His church. It is needful, as a proof of your vocation, that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God. God usually opens doors of utterance for those whom He has called to speak in His Name.” He added, “Standing up to preach, our spirit will be judged of the assembly, and if it be condemned, or if, as a general rule, the church is not edified, the conclusion may not be disputed that we are not sent of God.” Spurgeon also wrote, “I had sooner accept the opinion of a company of the Lord’s people, than my own, upon so personal a subject as my own gifts and graces. At any rate, whether you value the verdict of the church or no, one thing is certain, that none of you can be pastors without the loving consent of the flock; and therefore this will be to you a practical indicator, if not a correct one.”
How different things would be in the Church of Jesus today if only called men held the reins of the full-time ministry. It is therefore imperative that all aspirants to the pastoral calling search their hearts and face the following facts:
- Do not even consider training for the ministry unless and until your calling has been clearly, widely and unquestionably verified by spiritually mature men and women. (Your wife, parents and children excluded, for they love you too well not to be biased!)
- If you have landed yourself as Pastor in a church where there is a noticeable decline in congregational support, suspend your ministry immediately and return to secular employment. You cannot afford to weaken the cause of Christ any longer.
- Do not allow personal feelings to take precedence over the interests of the church. Christ died for the church and gave Himself for it. If the interests of the Church were to Him paramount, it should be so with you. If you are obviously not called to the ministry, your willingness to bow out when you are not meant to be a minister, will be the most Christ-like thing you can do under the circumstances.
- You need not lose face in resigning, nor need you harbour ill-feelings or create them amongst the people. Simply admit to those whom you have, with good conscience, tried to serve, that it is evident that you are not cut out for a work which was never meant for you, and then support them in their endeavours to find a replacement. Graciousness and honesty on your part will triumph and God will be honoured.
- Leave the church with love and understanding and link up with a congregation where you will enjoy the great privilege of supporting a ministry with which you can identify. Do not think of yourself as a failure. Failure is often the back door to success in a different field of activity where you will be less stressed and more fulfilled.
Finally, we all learn from our mistakes—your mistaken sense of call must be seen as a great blessing in disguise (Rom 8v28), for you can then turn that into a God-given ministry by warning unqualified zealots to keep out of the sacred office, and by encouraging those who are evidently the Lord’s anointed, to make their calling sure. One of my best supporters in the ministry is doing just that. He was a pastor and is now a worthy elder with no current aspirations to return to the ministry!