How are Pastors and Church Leaders Called? A Blog: From an Interview at Westminster Theological Seminary Part 2

How are pastors and church leaders called?

Well, it is clear that we ought to teach one of the great principles of the Reformation – Vocation or “calling” is a universal experience to every Christian. We have been “called” from darkness to light. We are “called” to serve the Lord. We are “called” to evangelize. We are “called” to worship. We are “called” to live for the Lord in every area of life. We are “called” to “work heartily as unto the Lord.” We are “called” to make all of life a worship statement as well as being “called” to gather with the Lord’s people for worship. The people of God are a “called out” – “called together” – “called to life for Christ” – beyond that, all have been gifted by the Lord and “called” by the Lord to minister in the body of Christ. There are some whose “calling” is to leadership. There are some whose “calling” positions them to be “worthy of double honor.” In other words, the Lord’s tithe is used to support them to work hard, not only at leadership but even more pointedly, at preaching and teaching. “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor; especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” I Tim 5:17 When I speak to pastors about their “calling,” I think Spurgeon was on to something when he said, “if there is anything else you can do joyfully in the Lord for the rest of your life apart from the pastoral/preaching ministry then go and do it.” In other words, do not go into the pastoral ministry if you do not truly sense “woe be unto me if I do not preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” And also, that you know God has called you by the Holy Spirit through His church to the public ministry of pastor and preacher.

So how do you know if you have been called by the Lord?

Now, I am going to say something somewhat controversial. Do not go into the ministry “to be fulfilled.” I am fully aware that those who have been “called” to the ministry have moments and seasons of fulfillment. I also know they have moments and seasons of despair and absolute devastation and utter discouragement. If you go into the ministry to be fulfilled you will not “finish the course.” Then why go into the ministry? Because God has “called” you internally by the Holy Spirit and externally through His Church which means you go into the ministry having been “called” by the Lord to “fulfill the ministry” to which God has “called” you. Again, do not go into the ministry to be fulfilled. This is why Paul said at the conclusion of his ministry in II Timothy 4 – “I have been poured out as a drink offering.” Note that he does not say a “burnt offering.” Burnt offerings have ashes left but a drink offering has nothing left since it is fully poured out. Paul continues saying, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” Then Paul gave his concluding charge to Timothy. “Timothy fulfill your ministry.” He did not say for Timothy to be fulfilled in the ministry but he unequivocally challenged him in the faith to fulfill his ministry.

In a word, the church does not exist to provide me a job as a pastor. I have been “called” of the Lord to do a job for Jesus in His church and from His church into the world. I am not in the ministry to be fulfilled. Yes, there are fulfillments in it, but I’m in the ministry to fulfill my calling. It is only by being focused on Christ, the Gospel and His grace that you can stay the course, finish the race and fight the good fight. You are not in it for fulfillment in this life. You are in it for the wreathe and the life to come that He awards in that day when He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Again, there are moments of fulfillment being that I love what I do. But, there are many moments when I ask myself, “Why are you taking this abuse?” and “Why are you in this?” It is because Christ “called me” to fulfill the ministry, not to be fulfilled.

How does a Pastor’s theological competence relate to his leadership in a church?

When we talk about Pastors there are all kinds of hyphens we have to put beside them, and rightly so because you have a Pastor-Teacher, Pastor-Preacher, Pastor-Evangelist, Pastor-Leader, Pastor-Shepherd. You are multiplying teachers, evangelists, preachers, and shepherds, but to some degree you embody all of those things. One important role would be that of a Pastor-Scholar. I tell people that almost all of the books on my shelf are written by guys named “John.” There is John Bunyan, John Calvin, John Brown, John Flavell, and Jonathon Edwards. It is amazing the John’s and Jonathon’s used by the Lord. They were not only authors but they were primarily Pastors.  As pastors, their study produced sermons worthy of publication which is why we have got to reclaim the Pastor’s study and jettison the Pastor’s office. Pastors have to lead, but our primary calling is prayer and the Word and to properly handle the Word, perform the sacraments, and lead in prayer requires us to be theologians. To be theologians requires us to “study to show yourself approved as workman who do not need to be ashamed handling accurately the word of truth.” II Tim 2:15

Leaders must be formed and framed by three elements:  theological formation, character formation, and skill formation. Most leadership courses focus on skills. I know churches where the Pastors are extraordinary theologians, and extraordinary communicators, but they split and destroy churches because they have a character problem. They are not living their theology. But, I also know that my people need a Pastor who theologically knows the Word of God to be able to convey the majesty of God that they may see the Glory of God, who now dwells within them by grace. Pastors must be equipped to deal with the ever intensifying assault of the dying “evil empire” against the church.  So, we should be inquiring, “How do you do that theologically?” instead of asking, “What’s the next program that everybody is talking about?” The bane of the church is its continual pursuit of “the next big thing” and therefore it loses its moorings by abandoning the Biblical message, the Biblical methods and the Biblical means in order to do the next “cool” thing.

I think part of the challenge is our churches are shallow because our pulpits are shallow. You have got to find a way to communicate popularly, but communicate profoundly theologically. Communicate so everyone can understand, not just PhD Christians. Yet communicate solid theology, so that people know how to live life based upon God’s Word, not just checking it out and making sure they are not going against it.

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