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I’ve often thought of doing a joint interview by email, where two people receive the same questions and provide independent answers, then the results are published together.

Well, procrastinate long enough and someone will beat you to the punch! Here’s a great interview with Derek Thomas and Carl Trueman.

An excerpt:

  What counsel would you give to a young man considering and assessing a possible call to the ministry of the Word of God?

DT: Put yourself firmly and securely under the oversight of a competent session (elders) and don’t believe Aunt Joan who thinks you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Don’t think that the church is going to put out its arms to welcome you, seeing you as the hero it has been looking for. Ministry is service, Jesus-shaped service, which means humbling oneself, considering others more important, and a call to suffering if needs be. Please don’t say, “I need x amount of dollars or I’m not even going to consider you as worthy of me.” Read John Owen on Mortification, Calvin on Cross-bearing and Self-Denial (Institutes, Book 3) and several biographies of missionaries (like David Brainerd, John Paton, Jim Elliot).

CT: First, you need an internal call, a desire to teach and preach the word but you also need more than an internal call.

Have you external evidence that you are being led in this direction? Have you had opportunities to teach and preach? Have they been well-received?

Look at the qualifications for eldership in Paul’s Pastorals. Do you meet the criteria? More important, do other people think you meet the criteria?

Second, do not rush. When you are in your twenties, a year can seem a long time but it is not really so. Paul clearly assumes most people in church leadership positions will be older—family men, men established in their communities, men who have a track record of godliness and spiritual reliability. So go and receive the appropriate ministerial training but do not necessarily assume you should then go straight into a pastorate. I am taking on my first pastorate this year, aged 45 with 28 years of being a Christian, a decade of secular work experience, a decade of teaching at seminary, a marriage of nearly 22 years, two more or less adult children and service on two kirk sessions behind me. I hardly feel qualified now. I could not have done it aged twenty-five!

You can read the whole interview, about a variety of subjects, here.

For those wanting a more in-depth exploration, the best resource I know of is now Dave Harvey’s Am I Called? The Summons to Pastoral Ministry . J. I. Packer writes, “This is the fullest, most realistic, down-to-earth, and genuinely spiritual exploration of God’s call to pastoral ministry that I know. I recommend it most highly.”

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10 thoughts on “Are You Called to Be a Pastor?”

  1. Richard Hutto says:

    Very encouraging for those of currently in the long year wait (read 5 years)

  2. jon says:

    “Paul clearly assumes most people in church leadership positions will be older—family men.” I don’t think that this isn’t necessarily true. If you read through Paul’s letter to Timothy, he is constantly encouraging him to preach the word and lead the people even when he’s looked down on because he is young. And in a culture where people died fairly young, you have to assume that Timothy was probably in his 20’s. I do agree that in most cases, God’s not gonna call some 25 year old to be a senior pastor but I wouldn’t tell someone that they are disqualified for that reason alone. If you are in your 20’s and God is calling you to Pastor a church – do it. If you are in your 20’s and God is calling you to prepare yourself for something that will come later – then be patient and prepare yourself.

  3. Justin,

    Thanks for linking to ‘David Brainerd: A Flame for God‘ by Vance Christie.

  4. Mike says:

    I can’t remember where I read it, but someone called to being a pastor usually find that they literally can’t do anything else. They can go through the motions, but it just doesn’t wear well. It’s then they find themselves open to being a pastor.

    The whole seminary/preparation/mentoring routine means nothing. Pastoring has a pretty big fallout rate. I would suggest that you probably can’t make it as a pastor unless you’ve been broken to the core and realize you can’t do anything before you are ready to be a pastor.

    1. Daryl Little says:

      “The whole seminary/preparation/mentoring routine means nothing.”

      It may mean nothing to you (and I admit that seminary, while probably the idea, is certainly not the only way to be trained in Scripture), but I don’t want to trust my soul to anyone who isn’t trained, prepared and mentored.

      Nor do I want to take responsibility for the souls of men without being prepared, trained and mentored.

      It means a lot.

  5. Matthew says:

    What about a not-so-young man? How many men in their late thirties or forties are out there and sense God’s call but feel it is too late for them?

    I feel a lot of men in this category with families and careers struggle with discerning God’s call and can even live in regret that they did not answer it.

  6. There seems to be a lot of talk here about having a call when one is young versus when one is middle-aged or older. The Bible is fairly silent on it. It’s true that Timothy was younger, so there is a place for younger pastors. However, I have to observe that many of the twelve were second-career ministers. They may have still been in their 20s when Jesus called them. Perhaps they were older. Not all of the pastors or other ministers that Paul raised up were young because of their life situations. I’m thinking of Aquilla and Priscilla.

    So my observation with regard to this is not based on a particular Bible passage or teaching. It’s merely a matter of considered wisdom.

    Very good pastors can come of young men. However, I have a little concern for men who have never really worked outside the professional ministry. Regarding many who don’t have that experience it seems as though there is a little bit of a disconnect in message and direction in their ministries. It helps when a pastor understands some of the challenges of working in a secular occupation. Some of the pastors I’ve known who have worked their way through school straight into their ministry career have referenced the part-time jobs they had way back in school in searching for examples in their teaching because they don’t have any other experience, except perhaps vicariously through counseling people who have trouble in their work.

    A few generations ago mill town owners would hire pastors to preach to the people in their mill town about a work ethic that would keep them faithful to the work of the mill. Otherwise, I haven’t seen much go into developing a theology of profession and I think one reason is because authoritative theologians and pastors don’t typically have experience in secular jobs. There’s material in the Bible to instruct our attitudes toward our vocation in the secular world, but it’s rare to have it developed into something substantial. So there’s a general sense of biblical work ethic and some secular work ethic cloaked as biblical work ethic, but there is so much more that never gets discussed. So many men and women get pulled away from their Christian walk because their work as a part of their Christian walk is never fully addressed. A second-career pastor would more likely be capable of speaking to this in his people.

    1. jon says:

      A lot of what you say about working outside the ministry is true. But I would still say that God calls all kinds of people from all kinds of places and points in life to lead churches. If I were hiring a pastor, my first question wouldn’t be “Have you ever had a real job?” but I’d be looking for evidence in his life that God has equipped him to lead my church. When he preaches – do people respond? Does he understand the challenges that come with pastoring in this community? Does he seem like the type of person whom people follow? Does this man work in the power of the Holy Spirit?

      I’d say that real world work experience is helpful – but I’d throw that way down the list of things that I’m looking for in a pastor. I believe that there are a lot of pastors out there who are not in ideal situations because they were hired for worldly reasons when the candidate that God wanted to lead was rejected because he wasn’t old enough, or he didn’t have enough work experience, or he was a different race etc… I have been a part of a church where this has happened and it was really sad to see how that situation played itself out.

      1. I don’t doubt all that. It’s true that those things are higher on the list than having some “real world” work experience. I also wouldn’t consider such experience to be necessary for a pastor. The bible don’t include it.

        I also don’t doubt that professional ministry is typically difficult. What I learn about when I listen to most pastors talk about work is THEIR work, but it doesn’t carry over into MY work. Sermons are loaded with family, ministry, and personal morality applications because that’s where pastors are at. What’s missing is how the Bible applies to the way I need to think and handle myself in a business world populated by non-Christians and other Christians who don’t know how to apply their faith in the workplace. Some examples:

        – What should I do if I deal with a General Contractor who most everyone considers to be doing his job when he cusses his suppliers in order to shorten lead times and I’m functioning under the auspices of a non-Christian company? Should I let it go when he uses the Lord’s name in vain or hold my tongue? At what point should I share Christ with him if at all?

        – What if I’m a salesman and I am meeting with a potential client who expects me to laugh at his dirty jokes? If I don’t laugh, I might not get the sale.

        – Should I negotiate for a higher salary?

        – What should I do if I’m working hard on the floor and the other factory workers despise me for making them look bad because they only want to get by with a minimal amount of work?

        These are the sorts of questions that come up on a regular basis. It’s one thing to ask them after the situation is already to bear, and I would be tempted to second-guess the answer of a pastor who has never had to face similar circumstances himself. But it’s another thing and better still to be able to answer the questions proactively from the pulpit with principles in the Bible. Men find meaning in their professions. But it’s better to be able to see our real profession as the ministry that all believers should be doing and our day job merely as God’s means of provision. It’s better to minister through working well and rejoice through the wages that God provides through your employer. It’s better to learn to carry yourself in such a way as to spur your coworkers to a higher standard of conduct. How to do this is a matter of practical application and the workplace is a place where Christians have often lost the battle because we haven’t been discipled to live out our faith there.

        The pastoral staff of my church are exceptional ministers. They are spiritually mature men and gifted in teaching, proclaiming the word, and raising up people to take the gospel around the world. However, I doubt any of them could relate to the quarter of my time that I spend at work. The only one who could is our worship leader, who isn’t an ordained pastor and has spent time in a secular profession.

  7. 3rd Century Prof says:

    A wholehearty AMEN to Jim! Excellent points. Oh how the Church could use more second preofession pastors!

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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