August 22, 2011

When the Call to Teach Isn’t Audible – Call to Ministry

by Clint Archer

What is the call to ministry? This is a question that is pertinent to every aspiring seminoid.

It is becoming popular these days in certain circles to become bolder in claiming that God audibly called you to the ministry. Being from South Africa, I am often curious as to which English accent God employs. From the aggregate location of the claims, I’m guessing it’s North West Coast American. (If you are curious about my views on these claims, read Heaven is for Real, Well Duh.)

Other than from my distracted guidance counselor in high school I’ve never personally heard an audible voice telling me what to do with my life. I merely have the inspired word of God with all things pertaining to life and godliness in it to help me determine if I’m called to teach. So for those of you who don’t have the red telephone some claim to use, I hope you find this helpful.

There are four widely recognized aspects to the biblical call to a teaching ministry in the church.

1. Aspiration

Reach!

Aspiration is the subjective part. “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1). “Aspires” in Greek is “to reach out for.” Desiring the office is a part of the burgeoning call, but not the only one.

At this larvae stage of the call you are a wannabe. We’ve all endured wannabe singers shattering wine glasses with ungodly vocal tangents at karaoke. We cringe when we meet them on American Idol, wagging our heads in wonder how anyone could function in society with so little self-awareness.

I appreciated our seminary choir director telling the tone deaf vocal dissidents to focus on the “video” aspect of their performance at seminary graduation, and leave the audio to people with pitch. Men who feel called to teach, can get frustrated when their spiritual leaders don’t immediately proffer the keys to the kingdom and a pulpit of their own. This happens when one ignores the 3 other aspects to the call.

2. Ability

You’d be surprised how shocking it is for some young men to hear that they need to be skilled to do this job. They think that since the harvest is plentiful and the workers few, they are literally God’s gift to the kingdom, and anyone offering preaching advice is a mere speed bump to their mega-church aspirations and must “get behind me Satan.”

But “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2) is the only requirement of an elder/pastor that is not required for other positions in ministry, like that of deacon. The ability to teach involves having a mastery of the material, and the skill-set required to communicate it. You don’t need to be a Greek ninja, but you do need to know theology enough to teach it accurately to others.

If you are going to defend the faith against attackers, counsel couples making life decisions, comfort doubters or those grieving, or if you are going to exhort others to holiness using the authority of the Bible, then you need to know your way around the Scriptures.

Theological training prevents (or at least delays) you from morphing into a Dr. Phil or cult leader. You need to know which part of the Bible deals with which issues, so that when a devastated divorcee comes for insight, you can flip directly to Matthew 19, and not just start reading in Genesis 1 hoping something on divorce turns up soon.

The skill to communicate truth can manifest in different ways. If you want to be a preacher, then you need to be able to, you know, preach. But those who aspire to the office of overseer/elder can manifest their teaching gifts in other ways too. Truth can be taught through one-on-one counseling. Or in a class setting with dialogue teaching. Even writing articles, books, or counseling by mail could be ways you may be gifted to teach. But if you have nothing to say or no way to say it, you are not called to be a teacher.

Disabusing unskilled aspirants of their illusions of Spurgeonesque grandeur, is one of the kindest things leaders can do for a future flock. Conversely, for those who are truly called to ministry, there is a reassuring confidence that comes from the affirmation of said leaders.

3. Affirmation

Affirmation is the part of the call where people other than your mom agree that you should be in a teaching position. This is more than admitting you have the ability to communicate.

The biblical qualifications for pastors and elders are objective standards that need to be affirmed by others. They are primarily moral credentials. You need to live a life worth following and have a message worth proclaiming. And those who know you need to affirm those things.

None other than Charles Spurgeon, in Lectures to My Students instructed ministerial candidates with these words:

Mere ability to edify, and aptness to teach, is not enough; there must be other talents to complete the pastoral character. Sound judgment and solid experience must instruct you; gentle manners and loving affections must sway you; firmness and courage must be manifest; and tenderness and sympathy must not be lacking. Gifts administrative in ruling well will be requisite as gifts instructive in teaching well. You must be fitted to lead, prepared to endure, and able to persevere. In grace, you should be head and shoulders above the rest of the people, able to be their father and counselor. Read carefully the qualifications of a bishop, given in 1 Tim. 3:2–7, and in Titus 1:6–9. If such gifts and graces be not in you and abound . . . as a pastor you will be of no account.

Yes, the harvest is ripe and the workers few, but James says “Let not many of you become teachers” (3:1) Embrace that balance.

4. Appointment

A recognized opportunity, i.e. the appointment to a position of teaching, is the final punctuation point on your call. This is how God’s sovereignty is consciously given the final word. You may want to teach, you may be able to teach, and your gracious church leaders may tell you they think you should teach, but until God gives you a group of people willing to listen to you, you are not yet called. A leader with no followers is just a person taking a walk. Appointment  can be by other elders ordaining you, or a congregational vote, or some other objective system of recognition.

I was not sure God wanted me to be pastor even after I graduated seminary. I was sure I wanted to be a pastor. I was trained to be one. And I was told by the ministry I was involved in that I had an ability to teach. But until a (pretty patient or desperate) local church appointed me to be their preaching pastor, I was a not yet a pastor.

Commissioning is an important step. Some churches do official ordination, others simply appoint you. But a self-appointed preacher is a rogue voice in the kingdom of God.  There are other avenues to use your gift, not everyone is called to be a preacher.

Remember that the church belongs to Jesus and he has a plan that you can part of in the way that he appoints in his timing. Don’t try to  circumvent his wisdom by appointing yourself like a sheriff with a plastic badge.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • John

    Thanks for this great article, brother. I needed to hear this.

  • Thanks Clint. I remember you giving me the run-down on this topic last year. Prayer is also a big part in the process, which essentially is a fruit of the first point; namely the desire to be a teacher. Thanks, man.

  • Jason

    I’m a little confused on your first point. I would say “aspiration” is not subjective. You know if you desire to be an elder or not.

    • Hi Jason, I’m not sure how you use the word “subjective” but you explained it as “you know you desire…” That is the definition of subjective: when you know you desire. Objective is when there are verifiable, external standards that indicate you can be a teacher, like the biblical qualifications. If you are a polygamist for example, then you may know you desire to be an elder, but objectively you are not qualified. I hope this clears it up a bit.

  • Tim

    A leader with no followers is just a person taking a walk.

    That’s one of the best lines I’ve read in a blog in a long time! Nice job on this article, Clint.

    Cheers,
    Tim

  • Michael

    Another practical and biblical post! I also got a kick out of your comment on God’s dialect choice of English.

  • Karl Heitman

    “Affirmation is the part of the call where people other than your mom agree that you should be in a teaching position. ” This made me laugh out loud. Thanks for this.

    Many men struggle with weather or not they are “called.” I did too for a time. Do you think it has been mystified a little bit in our camp? Where in the Bible do we get the pastoral “calling” from? How do we keep from over spiritualizing the “call” to ministry?

    • I think people consider the supernatural appointments of some prophets or that of the Apostle Paul’s, to be examples of the call to the NT ministry.

  • Benjamin Coussens

    If I wasnt at work right now I would have been standing up at my desk and clapping after reading this article. I have sat in many pews throughout this nation and this world and have been blown away by the lack of true calling some pastors have. So often you see someone who says they are called cause “My daddy was a pastor”. And although they might have a better understanding of what pastoral ministry entails, it certainly does not give them an advantage towards becoming a pastor. Another reason that I have heard is “I felt I would be good at it”. Well I feel I would be a good president of the United States right about now, but that doesn’t mean I would be. I think the points you touched on are so critical! I am so thankful that you are serving the body in Hillcrest and have clearly been called by God to lead his flock in a place where there are many pulpits that are filled with many inadequate preachers. God bless brother!

    Benjamin

  • Anonymous

    A lot of great preachers did NOT desire to be preachers or were going the opposite direction. Moses (I can’t speak, send Aaron), Isaiah (I am a man of unclean lips), most the Apostles had no desire for the office at first, Paul killed preachers. Timothy shied from it. I’m sure there’s more examples thru church history, but from what I understand, even Johnny Mac wanted a football career until the Lord pitched him out of a car a hundred yards down an asphalt road to get his attention. I am agreeing that you can’t put too much emphasis on desire. Sometimes the guys who are humble and don’t want it and don’t feel qualified, but others are saying, “No. we see this giftedness, you should pursue this” are the ones who end up becoming used of God the most.

    Also I think you’re distinguishing between a call to ministry and a desire to teach, which is good. I’m a layperson with a full time job, desire to teach, love teaching, but in no way feel called to ministry. For some time I thought these were one and the same but then a wise lay elder helped counsel me through this.

    Now I get the best of both worlds! I get to teach occasionally in my church, which is the fun part of ministry, but I still get a decent paycheck! I can afford to go cool places on vacation! I have a season pass and ski all the time! Plus the added bonus: I don’t have to deal with all the garbage on Monday!! It’s kinda like grandparents, how they get to spoil our kids fill them up on sugar have a blast by the pool while their skin fries and then drop them off, go home, read a book, relax, and leave us parents to mop up the whole mess !!

    So if you desire to teach, great! Teach away! Doesn’t mean your called to be a pastor though! Pastors are man’s men with special abilities, affirmation, and appointment, per Clint’s post.

    (PS – real Pastors could also care less about paycheck size, vacations, and ski season passes….further affirmation of their divine calling).

    • The preachers you mentioned all received a supernatural, audible call to ministry (Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah’s vision, Paul’s blinding light and direct voice, etc). My post is addressing those who don’t hear the voice of God audibly, namely preachers, pastors, and teachers in the NT church today.

      • Anonymous

        I see. So if I understand your point, on the one hand, you are cautioning against an audible “voice of God” call to ministry, such as a charismatic might claim, but on the other hand, aren’t you also emphasizing that there needs to be some “audible” outside-of-yourself affirmation and appointment?

        Or to put it another way, would you agree with this: there needs to be an audible call to ministry, it’s just not God’s voice (or your Mom’s voice), but there needs to be voices of elders and Christian brothers and sisters around you affirming this….several smiling twenty somethings giving the thumbs up.

        I think we agree there has to be a “calling,” and that there is a danger of too much emphasis on audible voice of God, but there is also danger of dudes going off of desire only who have no third party affirmation or appointment, but are self appointed.

        • Exactly. A self-appointed sheriff wears a plastic badge he got from a toy store. A self-appointed preacher claims to have a direct call from God. One of the aspects of a call is that others affirm your biblical qualification.

  • Riaanboer

    Being from South Africa myself, and being actively in involved in ministry here in Cape Town, on the Cape flats, this “call” is issue is very sacramental. Thank you for causing me to abound more and more in my conviction that it is through the Bible that we know whether we are called or not!

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  • Ramelli

    Great article. Much appreciated. This is something I have long struggled with and this helps *a little* but I just have too many questions about this. For example, affirmation. Where is it found in the Scripture that says we must be affirmed? I think that alot of people who would be happy to affirm me probably would have questionable motives at best, same with those who wouldn’t affirm me. Maybe they have different theological convictions, maybe I am away at school studying to be a Pastor too often for them to get to know me? (As is the case with me, and I’ve only been with my Church a year before that) – so what do I do in that situation?

    Skill, OK so I have preached a total of three times and in my opinion, I am not all that great. Communicating is difficult in person, but all too easy on paper. Is that because I have no experience in standing up in crowds or is it just because God has not blessed me with this gift? Nobody’s good the first time..

    Appointment, the way you described it sounds very subjective. Here is what I am thinking.. so an elder calls me up and says there is an opportunity to Pastor at a Church, and my mind is thinking “So I am called to Pastor because of this phone call” — Uhh, I can’t buy it. Alot of Church’s just have no discernment in deciding for a Pastor. A Church may like someone’s personality or style of preaching and therefore they hire them, completely disregarding the Elder’s qualifications and character altogether.

    Just some thoughts. I would really love these questions to be discussed because it has been a battle in my mind for quite some time, and a young guy like me going in my 3rd of 4th year in undergrad for Pastoral Min., I’d like some kind of guidance since I can’t exactly get much from my Church. Thanks! 🙂

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