Are You Called to the Ministry?

Entering any calling in life should be a serious matter for prayerful consideration, searching of God’s Word, and keen observation of providential leadings. This is particularly true of the calling to the ministry, as a minister is called to be God’s ambassador to man. This appendix seeks to outline foundational concepts of the ministerial calling and of ministerial training. We commence with a scriptural study on God’s standards for the ministry based on 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

A Scriptural Study on God’s Standards for the Ministry

Note: All words studied below are taken from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 unless otherwise noted. To benefit more fully from this section, please open to and read these portions of Scripture as you follow these brief word studies.

Positive Qualifying Traits

  1. Desire ([1 Tim. 3:1]; orego = “desire,” epithumeo = “desireth”)
    • The first word for desire signifies a mental effort of stretching out for something and longing after it, the stress being placed upon the thing desired. The latter is from the same root as the word that Jesus used in describing the desire He had to partake of the last supper with His disciples and that Paul used when describing his earnest yearning to depart to be with Christ. It signifies desiring earnestly, with the stress being on the inward impulse of the soul rather than on the object desired. Thus, Paul is stating that the call to ministry involves an inward desire for a work which is desired.
  2. Blameless ([1 Tim. 3:2]; anepileptos); ([1 Tim. 3:10, Titus 1:6-7]; anenkletos)
    • Both words translated blameless necessitate true conversion, for any believer or office-bearer can only be regarded blameless in Christ Jesus. The latter word is the same as that used in 1 Corinthians 1:8 where the believer will be presented blameless by Christ in the day of the Lord. It means to be unreprovable in the righteousness of Christ. The former word means: not open to censure, without reproach.
  3. Husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2) is an attributive genitive and is similar to an adjective which includes not only a command against polygamy, but also against being flirtatious. In other words, the married brother called to the office of ministry should exhibit a morally blameless conduct in the marriage state and be dedicated wholly to his wife.
  4. Vigilant (nephalios)
    • In 1 Timothy 3:11 and Titus 2:2 this word is rendered “sober.” Its root, nepho, signifies being free from intoxicants and is used in association with watchfulness. It infers self-control and self-denial.
  5. Sober ([1 Tim. 3:2]; sophron) denotes being of a sound mind; hence self-controlled, sober-minded, temperate, discreet, prudent and sensible.
  6. Of good behavior [1 Tim. 3:2] (kosmios) signifies being orderly, decent, modest — also inwardly; honorable, virtuous, respectable.
  7. Given to hospitality [1 Tim. 3:2] (philoxenos) means hospitable — literally, a lover of caring for strangers.
  8. Apt to teach [1 Tim. 3:2] (didaktikos) means skillful in teaching. The goal of this is shown, for example, in 2 Timothy 2:2 where the Spirit emphasizes the importance of Timothy teaching the principles of Christianity to others who, in turn, will teach still others.
  9. Patient [1 Tim. 3:3] (epieikes) derives from the root meaning clemency, gentleness, equitable, fair, moderate, forbearing, not insisting on the letter of the law. There is a definite legal sense in this word as one looking “humanely and considerately” at the facts of a case, redressing any excessive requisites of justice.
  10. One that ruleth (proistemi) well his own house, having his children in subjection (hupotage) with all gravity (semnotes) [1 Tim. 3:4] / having faithful (pistos) children not accused of riot (asotia) or unruly (anupotaktos) [Titus 1:6]
    • proistemi: rule, have in subjection
    • hupotage: obedient, submissive to parental rule
    • semnotes: decency, orderliness, performing one’s duties well, dignity, being honorable, venerable
    • pistos: trusting, believing (can also signify in the spiritual sense)
    • asotia: wastefulness, recklessly extravagant, given up to licentiousness or excessive drinking
    • anupotaktos: not obedient or subject to rule (i.e., uncontrollable)
  11. A good report (maturia) of them that are without (exothen) – 1 Tim. 3:7
    • maturia: not only witness but by evidence, so a corroborated report (i.e., their life gives proof to the good reputation they have in the world; their life is not just surface or show)
    • exothen: from without (i.e., from outside of the church)
  12. Faithful [2 Tim. 2:2] (pistos) — worthy to be believed; reliable; a believer of the gospel
  13. A lover of good men [Titus 1:8] (philagathos) — a promoter of virtue; loving that which is good
  14. Just [Titus 1:8] (dikaios) — righteous, a state of being right; right conduct; justified by God
  15. Holy [Titus 1:8] (hosios) — consecration to God and purity from defilement, stemming from a right relationship with God
  16. Temperate [Titus 1:8] (enkrates) — self-control; chaste; not loose in morals
  17. Holding fast the faithful (pistos) Word (logos) as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort (paralaleo) and to convince (elegcho) the gainsayers (antilego) [Titus 1:9]
    • pistos: sure, true
    • logos: here meaning God’s Word
    • paralaleo: literally to call near; to entreat, to invoke, implore, console
    • elegcho: to admonish, convict, convince, rebuke, reprove
    • antilego: those that deny, contradict, or oppose the truth

Negative Disqualifying Traits

  1. Not given to wine [1 Tim. 3:3] (paroinos) — addiction to wine or drunkenness
  2. No striker [1 Tim. 3:3] (plektes) — not quarrelsome or pugnacious (not given to fighting, not argumentative)
  3. Not greedy of filthy lucre [1 Tim. 3:3] (aischrokerdes) — not greedy of gain
  4. Not a brawler [1 Tim. 3:3] (amachos) — not fighting; i.e., not contentious
  5. Not covetous [1 Tim. 3:3] (aphilagruros) — not a lover of money; free from the love of money
  6. Not a novice [1 Tim. 3:6] (neophutos) — literally, newly planted; a new convert, inexperienced
  7. Not self-willed [Titus 1:7] (authades) — not self-pleasing; not dominated by self-interest and inconsiderate of others; strongly asserting his own will (opposite of #9 above)
  8. Not soon angry [Titus 1:7] (orgilos) — not prone to anger; not easily provoked to anger; not hot-tempered

Conclusion

These twenty-five qualifications (seventeen of a positive nature; eight of a negative nature) form a formidable and humbling list. Two cautionary notes are in order here:

  1. First, though this list represents a summary list which every minister must strive to live up to by the grace of God, Paul does not intend to state that all ministers must have all these qualities perfectly or be equally strong in each of them. For example, if a minister has one of several children still under his care at home that is not as controlled as the child should be, this does not mean that he is automatically disqualified for the ministry. Rather, Paul directs Timothy that these are the qualities — both positive and negative — he is to look for when he seeks to establish the ministry in different localities.
  2. Secondly, Paul also does not state that all these qualities are of equal weight. For example, to be a brawler might be considered more of a detriment to the ministry than to not possess a substantial degree of hospitality. Paul’s point is not that we ought to expect to find perfect men; every minister will have a number of faults and weaknesses, which will be hindrances in his ministry to a smaller or greater degree. Nevertheless, here is a clear scriptural guide of qualities that the called minister must have in some measure and must be pursuing. For example, if a minister may at times display a temper, God does not mean that he should automatically be rejected for the office of ministry on this ground alone. Two questions would first have to be asked about his temper: First, is it of such a serious degree and persistent nature that it would be a serious impediment to the ministry? If so, the church had better wait to receive such a man for office until he has gained more maturity in controlling his temper. If not, he may be accepted for theological study, but be cautioned to pray for more maturity in this area. Secondly, does he realize his problem and is he praying and striving against it? These would be good signs and would tend to minimize the impediment itself.

How Our Forefathers Viewed the Ministerial Call

We have provided below seven (two in detail) clear outlines that various forefathers provided of the ministerial call. Taken together, these accounts underscore the scriptural qualifications listed above and serve as helpful guides.

Wilhelmus à Brakel:

A. The Christian’s Reasonable Service by Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711; a Second Reformation divine and leading representative of practical Reformed orthodoxy in the Netherlands)”’

Internal Call – Regarding the necessary internal call to the ministry, he writes, “An extraordinary, divine declaration is not an element of this internal commission. God does not do this, or does so only on very rare occasions, and thus one need not wait for this” (vol. 2, p. 121).

He lists the following as elements of an internal call:

  1. Knowledge of the office — what it consists of and requires of us in abilities and example
  2. Aptitude for this work
    • *Fundamental knowledge of divine truth
    • *Experience of divine truths in the heart
  3. An extraordinary love for
    • Christ
    • The church
    • Souls
  4. Willing to deny all that is of the world
    • Honor
    • Material goods
    • Even life itself
  5. A great desire for the work (1 Tim. 3:1)
    • Continual stirrings to give oneself to the Lord
    • Concern about whether or not one is called
    • Anxiety when ulterior motives are perceived
    • Struggles with heaviness of the work and sense of inability
    • Nevertheless the stirrings (see a) will overcome all else, helping to clear the sincerity of the desire before the Lord ”External Call”

External Call – The following considerations are given by à Brakel regarding the external call by means of the church:

  1. This calling is also not extraordinary in nature
  2. The church always retains this authority to call, even calling men from her midst and initiating them into this service.
  3. Examination of prospective ministers by the church
    • Performed by elders gathered at classical or synodical meetings
    • Examination of life, doctrine, and ability was made (2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Tim. 5:22; 1 Tim. 3:10)
    • Successful completion of examination led to commission

Examination of Call – Brakel’s questions for examination (or self-examination) of pro­spective ministers:

  1. Have I been sent of God, or did I run myself?
  2. Do I know what pertains to this office?
  3. Was I convinced that I had some aptitude for this as far as external knowledge is concerned, and am I likewise spiritually acquainted with the experience of:
    • Regeneration
    • Faith
    • Hope
    • Love
    • Holiness
    • God’s dealings with the soul
    • Spiritual warfare
    • The various conditions of the soul in order to bring forth old and new things out of the treasure of my heart to address everyone according to his condition, and particularly to give everyone publicly and privately his portion by way of personal experience, and to speak from heart to heart
  4. Do I have a special love to preach Christ, to be instrumental to the conversion of souls, and to promote the welfare of the church?
  5. Was I continually stirred up in my soul to accept this work?
  6. Has it been my concern whether or not the Lord has sent me, and have I prayed much in order to know this?
  7. Have I at times been desirous not to be engaged in this work, considering the magnitude of this task and my inability?
  8. Were those desires to draw back repeatedly conquered by love for this work, or was I frequently put at ease and confirmed in my intention?
  9. Have I been troubled by ulterior motives which time and again disappeared by perceiving my sincere motive in the presence of the Lord?
  10. Did I perceive a frame of heart by which I was willing to deny myself by parting with material goods, honor and my life for the Lord Jesus and His church? Or did I only pursue honor and prestige, the acquisition of material goods by which to improve my temporal circumstances, and which outside of this office, would have been poor and insignificant?
  11. Had I advanced in my studies to such a degree that I [simply judged that I] of necessity had to proceed?
  12. Did I ever really examine myself concerning these matters, or did I merely run without such self-examination?

Qualifications for the Ministry – Brakel lists the following as qualifications for the ministry:

  1. Learning (2 Tim. 3:15; Mat. 13:52; 1 John 1:1, 3)
    • Hebrew and Greek most essential; Latin, helpful
    • Knowledge of philosophy or natural wisdom is helpful (liberal arts education)
    • Thorough knowledge of theology an absolute requirement (1 Tim. 4:15)
    • Wisdom in using both kinds of knowledge and an aptitude in presenting it in a manner beneficial to others
    • Thorough study of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13)
    • Considerable personal experience of religion through the work of the Holy Ghost
  2. Apt to teach (1 Tim. 3:2)
  3. Grave, but not pretentious, surly, stern, nor immature
  4. Excel in love for Christ, His cause, and His sheep; for the con­gregation’s spiritual welfare, resulting in much prayer for them ­(1 Thess. 3:10)
  5. Self-denial — a willingness to sacrifice all for the Lord (Acts 20:24; 21:13)
  6. Diligence (see 1 Tim. 3:1-2) due to the weight and multiplicity of his duties
  7. Be an example (Phil. 3:17; 1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Tim. 4:12)

Charles Bridges:

B. The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges (1794-1869; sound English commentator, author, and pastor — a prominent member of the evangelical party in the Anglican church)

In Bridges’ day, the church asked ministerial applicants, “Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office?”

Examination of Call – Bridges provides the following guideline for self-examination for those who believe they are being called to the ministry. If the calling is from above, the Holy Spirit will influence the heart in the following ways:

  1. Enlighten the heart under a deep impression of the worth of souls
  2. Constrain the soul by the love of Christ to “spend and be spent for Him”
  3. Direct the conscience to a sober, searching, self-inquiry (self-examination)
  4. Prompt a regular study of the Word
  5. Instill fervent prayer in reference to this great matter
  6. Cause a careful observation of the providential indications of the Master’s will in this calling

Marks of a Ministerial Calling – According to Bridges, scriptural marks of a calling to the ministry include the following:

  1. A desire for the work
    • As exhibited in Jesus’ ministry (Prov. 8:31; Psalm 40:8/Heb. 10:5-9; John 4:32-34)
    • As exhibited in the disciples (1 Tim. 3:1)
    • Being something beyond the general Christian desire to promote the glory of God (Jer. 20:9; Isa. 6:8)
    • Rising above all difficulties, taking pleasure in sacrifices for the work’s sake, and quickening to a readiness of mind, all tempered by a consciousness of our unfitness and unworthiness for the work
    • A “considerate” desire, involving a matured calculation of the cost made over some time
    • A “disinterested” desire — i.e., a pure intention, uninfluenced by love of literature, desire for ease from our secular calling, desire for esteem or respectability, desire for worldly comfort
    • Aiming for nothing but souls, rather winning one soul to Christ than a world to ourselves
    • Devoting all our talents to the service of God — “to live, to labour, and to possess nothing, but for Jesus Christ and His Church”
    • Personal and consistent piety is not a mark, of itself, that indicates this calling, but should be a general mark of every Christian
  2. A competent measure of ministerial gifts
    • As exhibited in Jesus’ ministry (Ps. 45:7/Isa. 11:2-4, 42:1, 61:1; John 3:34)
    • Not only “faithful men” are called but also those “faithful men which shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2; cf. 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24; 2 Cor. 3:6)
    • Not necessarily extraordinarily gifted men, yet not lacking necessary gifts
    • Conscientiously improving our natural gifts through prayer and study
  3. Providential guidance — Bridges suggests a few examples of how the Lord might providentially direct to this calling:
    • Providentially disposing of a person’s circumstances, thoughts, inclinations, and studies to this end
    • The disappointment of his plans for a future course in life or the closing of providential avenues to other callings
    • Unlooked for openings in the church
    • Some particular crisis in the individual sphere or family circumstances
    • The judgment of Christian friends, and especially of experienced ministers
    • He concludes this consideration of providential dealings by stating, “One or more of these may prove the ‘word behind him saying — This is the way, walk ye in it.’”

Qualifications for the Ministry – In a separate chapter, Bridges lists these ministerial qualifications:

  1. Holiness (Titus 1:8)
    • self-denial
    • love to the Savior and souls of men
    • blameless consistency of conduct
    • experienced (not a novice [newcomer] to experimental matters)
  2. Acquaintance with scriptural and doctrinal knowledge “beyond a bare sufficiency for personal salvation” (Mal. 2:7; Mat. 13:52)
  3. The ability to communicate and apply this knowledge to others (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Cor. 4:1) — to be able to speak “in a manner suitable to the dignity of the pulpit, and yet plain to the weakest capacity”
  4. Clear thinking, ability to arrange matter, aptitude of expression, familiar and appropriate illustration

John Newton:

C. Letters of John Newton (1725-1807) — renowned Anglican clergyman and hymn writer.

Newton asserted the call to the ministry to include the following three requisites:

  1. A warm and earnest desire to be employed in the ministry.
  2. “Besides this affection, desire, and readiness to preach, there must in due season appear some competent sufficiency as to gifts, knowledge, and utterance.”
  3. An “opening in Providence, by a gradual train of circumstances pointing out the means, the time, the place, of actually entering upon the work.”

Charles Spurgeon:

D. Lectures to My Students by Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), renowned English Baptist preacher.

Spurgeon affirmed his agreement with Newton’s three points, but set out his own view in the following points:

  1. “An intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.” This desire must be: (a) thoughtful; (b) unselfish; (c) continuing.
  2. “There must be aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of a public instructor.”
  3. “After a little exercise of his gifts . . . he must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts.”
  4. His “preaching should be acceptable to the people of God.”

John Venn:

E. The Thought of the Evangelical Leaders by Rev. J. Venn (1759- 1813) — Anglican clergyman

  1. The call of the Spirit, which consists in His giving a man grace, and a desire, accompanied by great humility and diffidence.
  2. Some external fitting.
  3. A legal designation of the church.

Robert Dabney:

F. Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, vol. 2, by Dr. Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898) — conservative southern Presbyterian theologian

After defining the call to the ministry as “an expression of the divine will that a man should preach the gospel,” Dabney provides the following particulars:

  1. “A call to preach is not complete until the Holy Spirit has uttered it, not only in the Christian judgment of the candidate himself, but in that of his brethren also.”
  2. The Spirit will employ the principles of Scripture to instruct him and his brethren as to the divine will in this matter.
  3. God will make known His will also through “outward circumstances and qualifications viewed in the light of Scripture truth.”
  4. “He must have a hearty and healthy piety, a fair reputation for holiness of life, a respectable force of character, some Christian experience, and aptness to teach.”
  5. “An abiding and strong desire for this special work.”
  6. A sense of the needs of the church.
  7. “Prayer must be fervently and incessantly offered.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

G. Preaching and Preachers by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1900-1981)—pastor of London’s Westminster chapel, prolific author; re­garded by many conservatives as the greatest 20th-century Reformed preacher

Dr. Lloyd-Jones affirms the following regarding the ministerial call:

  1. “A call generally starts in the form of a consciousness within one’s own spirit.”
  2. It is “accentuated through the influence of others.”
  3. It “develops and leads to a concern about others.”
  4. “There should also be a sense of constraint.”
  5. “A sense of diffidence, unworthiness, inadequacy.”
  6. He must be “sent by the church.”

Dr. Lloyd-Jones states that the church must look for the following qualifications:

  1. A man who is “filled with the Spirit.”
  2. He must have “knowledge of the Truth and his relationship to it.”
  3. He must have a good “character”: godliness, wisdom, patience, gentle, etc.
  4. He must have an understanding of people and of human nature.
  5. He must have natural intelligence and ability.
  6. He must have “the gift of speech.”

Conclusion: Essential Elements of the Ministerial Call

Summarizing all of the above (i.e., the scriptural qualifications of section 2 and our forefathers’ assessments of the ministerial call in this section), we may conclude that the ministerial calling is a holy calling which necessarily involves the following:

  • Holy life
    • Prerequisite to the call itself, and flowing out of genuine conversion, there must be attributes of godliness manifest in the called brother’s life, such as are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (see section 2 above). He must also be exercising these principles of godliness in his family relationships.
  • Holy desire
    • Wholehearted desire for the work of the ministry worked by the Holy Spirit through Scripture and providence. Some of God’s servants are called more through the application of specific texts or scriptural passages; others are called more through intervening acts of providence, directing them and burdening them with an intense commitment towards and desire for the ministry. In either case, one’s call must be in conformity to Scripture and be strengthened by the timing and circumstances of providence which bring the brother to a point where he can no longer refrain from giving himself to the work of the ministry.
  • Holy motivation
    • The call must be motivated by a love for the glory of God, the proclamation of the gospel in Christ Jesus, the burden of and love for souls, and the need of the church.
  • Holy compulsion
    • There must be a growing sense of Spirit-worked compulsion for this work: “Woe unto me if I preach not the gospel!” This compulsion will involve a sense of self-denial and an earnest desire to live wholeheartedly to God.
  • Holy fitness
    • There must be some measure of ministerial and speaking gifts, some aptness to teach, some spiritual maturity (in the experience of one’s own misery, deliverance, and gratitude), some knowledge of Scripture, some knowledge of doctrinal and spiritual matters, some gift of prayer, some awareness of human nature and understanding of people.
  • Holy struggles
    • The ministerial call will not be worked out without strife and continual self-examination. Intense struggles concerning the ministerial call are commonplace:
      • struggles with surrendering to the work,
      • with the weightiness of the work,
      • with Satan’s devices aimed to thwart the call,
      • with one’s unworthiness for and inability to do that work,
      • with the need for confirmation of the call itself.
  • Holy confirmation
    • The inward call is confirmed (a) commonly by the approbation of God’s people, and (b) always must be confirmed by a congregation’s actual call to the brother who has completed his seminary training. Question 1 of our minister’s ordination form asks: “Whether thou feelest in thy heart that thou art lawfully called of God’s Church, and therefore of God Himself, to this holy ministry?” The call of the church is also part of the brother’s call to the ministry. Thus, the call is a gradual process which does not culminate until the brother’s ordination; in fact, this call is in process of being fulfilled throughout his entire ministerial life.
  • Holy Spirit
    • It ought to be noted that although this list may be helpful in listening to and evaluating a ministerial call, the call itself cannot be reduced to a mere list of items. In the final analysis, the call is the work of the Holy Spirit in each one of the points listed above. He alone must and will fulfill the ministerial call He plants and nourishes in His own time and way.

 

By: Joel Beeke