“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,”
– 2 Timothy 4:6a
How does a person know if they are called to be a pastor? How does a person determine if they are called by God into some other area of ministry? How does a person know what God is calling them to do? Below are some questions to consider for those who may be in the feeling stage of considering their call. Why is it important to consider carefully and prayerfully one’s call, especially a call to be a pastor? I am convinced that to enter pastoral ministry without God’s call is one of the greatest deceptions of the devil. This is so because the one who is deceived and drawn into pastoral ministry apart from God’s call, will suffer great personal loss if not shipwreck their lives and the lives of their loved ones. But worse, the one who ventures into ministry for the wrong reasons will be powerless to prevent the desecration of God’s holy name. The non-called pastor, the non-called person in any position, is one of Satan’s most effective weapons. (See 1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3-4; 2 Peter 2; Jude; and Revelation 2-3).
There is another enemy in discerning the call to be a pastor as well, it is called self. There is something attractive to some people about standing in front of a group and speaking. This is often at the root of a person’s interest in pastoral ministry. Because of this the person considering whether or not they are called to be a pastor needs to really reflect and prayerfully consider their motives. Is pride involved? Is this “calling” self-serving or self-crucifying? Really pray about your motives. Is this “call” from inside you or heavenly in origin? Satan will seek to sneak into a person’s life through their self and oftentimes snares them on the hooks of pride. He should know, he’s hooked himself (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19).
Therefore, how does one cut through the fog of impression and feeling to discern in the Spirit whether or not they are called by God into ministry and specifically into pastoral ministry? Below are a few areas that are particularly important for discerning the one called to pastoral ministry. While I’m sure these questions are not exhaustive or all-inclusive of every individual situation, they are the product of prayer, Bible study, and experience and should be considered seriously and prayerfully. (This tool is focused on discerning the pastoral call, but many of the questions can be applied to various other aspects of ministry to which someone might feel God is calling them to.)
- Discerning God’s Will –
What evidence is there that you are called to be a pastor? Do you have a plan to discern God’s will? Do you have a history of feeling called to do something only to leave the work unfinished? If so, what makes this “feeling” or sense of a call different? Have you truly put yourself on God’s altar and opened yourself to His will no matter what that might mean in regards to your own personal desires? (See Romans 12:1-2 as well as Joshua 1:8; Psalm 37:5; 119:168; 143:8; Proverbs 3:6; Hebrews 4:16).
- Evidence of Pastoral Call –
- Origin of Call – How was this “call” initiated, by you or someone else? Genuine calls are usually brought to light by others who see it in you before you “feel” it in you. If you had not felt the call and initiated it, would anyone else have seen it in you or brought it to your or someone else’s attention? If someone other than yourself has initiated recognition of your call, what is the basis of their observation? Are they simply confirming something that you have sent a message about in some way and therefore trying to affirm you and please you more than they are observing a work of God in you and through you? Jesus initiated the call in the lives of the disciples; they did not come to Him to initiate it. The call by Jesus is more of a follow Me than it is a let me follow You. (Matthew 4:18-22; 10:1-4)
- Small Groups – Do you take an active role in small group activity? (e.g. Sunday School class; Home Bible Study) It is here where the fruit of a pastoral call is usually seen first. What fruit or evidence of a pastoral call is present in the small groups ministry? Do small group Bible studies “take off” or grow and bear lasting fruit as a result of God working through you? Or, do you find teaching in and leading a small group difficult, uncomfortable, and unfruitful?
- Interpersonal Evidence – What evidence is there of being able to relate to people in a pastoral way? Do you tend to be frustrated with people or patient with people? Are you able to communicate with people by both listening and speaking to them? Is communication one way, your way? Are you gracious with people? Do you love people? (Galatians 6:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
- Teaching – Has the Lord opened a door of opportunity for you to teach? If not, why not? Lack of opportunity to teach may indicate this spiritual gift is not present. If the opportunity has presented itself, what fruit of a spiritual gift of teaching was apparent? Do you revel and thrive in the work of preparation? Was the preparation and or delivery of the message burdensome? Pastors need to be able to teach (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 and 2 Timothy). It’s virtually impossible to be a Biblical pastor without this spiritual gift. What evidence is there in your life of an ability to teach? Do you see a supernatural or Spirit delivered and empowered gifting in this area? Is there evidence that you can effectively communicate God’s word in an edifying manner? If a person cannot excel in Biblical studies, if God’s anointing is not present in this area, are they called to pastoral ministry? Not likely.
- Godly Counsel – What do others (Christians and Christian leaders) think about you being called to pastoral ministry? Do they see it in your life? Can they clearly see evidence of such a call? If so, why? If not, why not? Are you open to their godly opinion or is your mind made up? The counsel of others is important to decision making (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 20:18; 24:6)
- Service – Do you have a servant’s heart? Are you willing to serve in obscurity? Have you ever done so? Are you willing to do whatever God wants whenever He wants it done, even if that means you are not called to pastoral ministry? Is God your Master? Is Jesus your Lord in this? Or are you calling the shots? (Mark 10:45; Luke 9:23-26; John 13; Philippians 2:5-11).
- Anointing – Last and most importantly, is there evidence of God’s anointing on you as a pastor? Is it clear or questionable? Can you go through the questions in this Are You Called to Be A Pastor? study and confidently answer “yes” to these questions? If not, why not? What is the Lord saying to you? Are you rationalizing your responses to bend them in the way you would have them to go? Be honest. Focus on what God is saying to you not what you are saying to you.
- Existing Ministry –
What area of ministry has God gifted you in? Would God have a person begin ministries only to leave them prematurely? Would God open doors to ministry and not have a person walk through them? If God has given you a gift to do a certain ministry, then that is probably where He is calling you to minister. As an unprofitable servant it would be inappropriate to rebel against and wiggle out of the way God wants to use you (Luke 17:10). God knows better than you. Our Father knows best. If you want God’s best, trust Him. Rejoice in His calling. Serve Him not self.
It would be best to test the waters in ministry locally to see where God’s gifting is in your life rather than embark in life altering plans based on insufficient evidence or feeling. If God blesses and his call is sure, then proceed in that call, but if He does not bless, you will save yourself a lot of heartache, frustration and expense by moving on and discovering where God really does want to use you. (See 1 Corinthians 7:17,24). Be a faithful steward of what God has given you. “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
- Gifting –
Some have mistakenly used Paul’s inspired words in 1 Corinthians 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 as justifying the use of anybody, regardless of God’s gifting, to enter ministry. The foolish things God uses are foolish from the world’s perspective, not God’s perspective. The ones God chooses to minister are gifted by the Spirit to do the work He calls them to do (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Ephesians 4:11-12). Where God guides God gifts! Remember this principle. It is critically important in determining your calling.
If God is calling a person to be a pastor-teacher, they will show evidence of spiritual gifting for such a calling. If God is calling a person to be a pastor or to some other area of ministry then His power working in and through that called person will be evident in such an area. The gifting evidence accompanies the call. A “call” without evidence is suspect. Would God give a person gifts (e.g. Pastor-teaching, evangelism, musically for worship, etc.) that are blessed and spiritually powerful in ministry and then not call that person to that ministry? A calling is accompanied by gifts related to the ministry the Lord is calling a person to fulfill. Why would God gift and bless in an area of ministry, seemingly lead a person into an area of ministry, only to have the person “sense” a calling to another area of ministry? Does God give contrary evidence? If you look at the beginnings of the Calvary Chapel movement and the pastors God raised up, (E.g. Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Mike McIntosh, Jon Courson, et.al) they were not initially learned or schooled in seminaries or Bible schools, but they had been discipled under the teaching of Pastor Chuck Smith and when they took over situations such as small group Bible Studies, the fruit that followed made it very clear of the calling of God in their lives. They were instruments in the Lord’s hands. God used them, gifted them to produce fruit in their areas of calling.
- Pastoral Perspective –
Do you have a realistic view of pastoral ministry? Ministry is not only teaching, or being in view of a group of people, it is above all serving. It is praying. Do you have a vital and vibrant prayer life? Do you love God’s word? How’s your devotional life? Do you easily miss your devotional time with God or is it the priority in your life?
Pastoral ministry involves being dependable. It is being responsible. Pastoral ministry is the greatest of responsibilities entrusted to people by the Lord. It involves wearing many different hats and being able to work efficiently. Paul commented, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Is ministry a priority for you or is it easily crowded out of your schedule?
Pastoral ministry is being orderly. “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. . .. Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:33 and 40). Are you generally aggravated or at peace in the Spirit? Is your life “together” or scattered? Those immediately around you, who love you, may be able to bare your scatteredness. But in ministry you will have enemies and impatient people who will use your discombobulatednesses to their advantage and to discredit God. What does this mean? Are you spiritually mature enough for ministry and in particular pastor ministry? Pastoral ministry involves administrating
Pastoral ministry is shepherding and discipling. Are you discipling someone right now? Have you been discipled? Do you know what it means to be discipled? Pastoral ministry means running to the hospital to be at the beside of the sick and doing so at any time of night or day. It is being available. It is being accessible. It is being imposed upon. It is sacrifice. Have you truly considered this? Have you considered what this will mean to your family, your friends, your life? The minister and pastoral minister knows all too well, “you are not your own.” They know, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Are you “your own” or are you His purchased possession?
Pastoral ministry means being in uncomfortable situations galore when you are called upon by God to rebuke, exhort, correct and encourage. It’s disciplining those who do not see that ministry is service and not a bully pulpit for their own agenda. It is taking a stand against carnal folly and superficiality when those who indulge in such things often rally the unwitting crowd against you. It is speaking the truth in love, no matter what. It is willing to be unpopular. It is welling to stand for God’s truth even though it leads to persecution.
Pastoral ministry is serving the Lord and sacrificing time with your family. Your wife and children will miss you every time you step out to minister and you will constantly be reminded of the cost of such a venture. You will be convicted and torn, but you will continue on because God’s call is on your life. You will entrust your wife and family to Him. You will trust that His schedule and priorities are best. You will entrust to Him that which is most dear and precious to you. Can you do that? Truly? Not as an escape but as a sacrifice. Will you do it? Can you do it? It’s a part of the calling.
You will fall short in many ways. The closer you come to Jesus the more clearly you will see your sin. The Spirit will convict you rightly. You will do your best and trust the Lord for the rest. The closer you come to Jesus the more power you will have over sin, your sins. The flesh, the world and the devil will attack your conscience with guilt. But you will carry on in the Spirit and trust the Lord and His grace to compensate for your failings.
Pastoral ministry is always subordinating your will to the will of God. It is never self-serving and always self-crucifying. It is a life of continual sacrifice. It is living in a fishbowl and being the brunt of accusations, insinuations and outright falsehoods made by people who are really not informed of the entire truth of the pastoral situation. You will have to keep confidences to help the counselled and do so even at personal expense.
Pastoral ministry will put you in the spotlight. That is not an easy place to be. People will often be inconsiderate of your limits and what a normal super-hero-pastor has the strength to bear. They will call on you at all hours and see you as insensitive if you don’t have time for them. They won’t be mindful that sometimes you just want to spend time with your family. They will be offended if you forget them in some way or don’t include them. They will not understand that even pastors have bad days. You will humbly have to apologize at times. And you will have to set Spirit-guided limits and boundaries to help you endure this minefield of exhausting requests. This is the reality. Do you know your limits? Can you trust the Lord to minister or do you think you have to do it all? Can you say, “No,” with grace and not feel guilty about it? Can you spend your time in ministry trusting the Lord to set your priorities and choose the times to minister? Can you do this without resentment? Can you minister to God’s sheep and trust Him, in the end, to be the Good Shepherd?
Pastoral ministry involves receiving comments and criticisms. Some are offered in a good-natured way. Some are helpful, some are not. Some are constructive. Some are destructive. Others will cause you to wonder if there is something more substantially meant beneath the surface. Can you discern the difference? The uncalled pastor will be lured into paranoia. Pastoral ministry has the potential of driving an uncalled person literally crazy. Pastoral ministry is depending upon God to defend you rather than defending yourself (1 Peter 5:6). It is having people pick at your sinful scabs. It is having people make insinuations, unproductive, unproven, and downright mean accusations against you and your family. People will judge you, assess not only your pluses and minuses, but all your families’ as well. The called pastor will have the grace to not react to such “attacks.” They will realize attacks are fueled by the enemy who manipulates those closest to the pastor to hurt him most. God’s grace is strong in the true pastor. God helps the heaven-sent pastor to graciously respond in constructive ways. This is something learned in the ministerial trenches and battlefield. A wrong reaction tears down. A right response builds up.
Pastoral ministry is constantly relying on God and patiently working with people who are often transient, or sitting back, uncommitted, or simply infants in Christ. It is waiting on God in service. In a church’s beginnings a pastor is often working a full-time job, heading up a family, and being used by God to serve in a work of His that may require them to remain in such a situation for years. There is no guarantee that such a situation will ever end, (a pastor may be bi-vocational for their entire ministry). The pastoral ministry is not a means of “great gain” (1 Timothy 6:3-10). Pastoral ministry is joyful sacrifice. Joy is the leveling, stabilizing assurance that no matter what, God is in control. Have you learned this? Joy is essential for ministry of any kind, especially pastoral ministry.
Pastoral ministry is often serving in obscurity. Pastoral ministry is not a means to make a name for yourself. That is true of all ministry. The Bible says, “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Can you be fulfilled and satisfied serving one, or a handful as much as serving a hundred, hundreds, or thousands? Are you able to serve Him no matter the size of things? Can you, will you accept a call from God to serve one, a few, or many? Are you truly “complete in Him” or are you seeking something more to be completed? (cf. Colossians 2:10).
Pastoral ministry is living in a part of the world that only the pastor and God can fully comprehend. It is not merely a geographical location, it is a realm of the Spirit. What I mean by this is that as a pastor you will have only God to understand you at times. You will go through things that no one else will understand or care as much about as you do. Your perspective will be very different. Sometimes you alone will understand God’s heart in a situation. It will only be you and Him at times. No one will understand you and your ministerial circumstances at times, no one else, not a wife, not a friend, not even another pastor at times. This is not because you are aloof or eccentric or enigmatic, but simply because you are called by God to a different, a holy perspective. Can you live and accept that you will not be understood at times? Can you accept that?
Pastoral ministry is often a humanly lonely calling solely between the pastor and God. Being a pastor can be a very solitary existence. There will be times when you only have God’s still small voice. There will be times when it will be hard, very hard to hear His voice. He will bring you through wildernesses to teach you to discern His voice. Are you ready for that, truly ready for that? Don’t answer quickly, think, meditate, pray on it. Seek Him first.
Even so, pastoral ministry is a joy to the called. Pastoral ministry is not for the faint of heart. Pastoral ministry can be very hard, torturous. But it is a “necessity” a mandate, a holy addiction to the one who is called by God. It is the only option for the called pastor. If you can find happiness and satisfaction in anything else, you are not called to be a pastor. Pastoral ministry is not an alternative and last resort for someone who has failed in every other area of their life. Pastoral ministry, and ministry in general, is not for the person who thinks, “Hmm, everything else has failed, why not give pastoring or ministry a try?” Beware my friend! Pastoral ministry is a frustrating hurricane that will blow down the presumptuous who are not called. Those who enter in with presumptuous perceptions or delusions of grandeur, of being golden-tongued orators in front of thousands, such “called” people will soon learn that the weight of ministry is crushing to them. Those who enter ministry and the pastorate in their own strength and for their own purposes will be squashed. At the very least they will discredit God and be canon fodder for His enemies. Pastoral ministry is serving God with no other reward but to know that by relying totally on God, He will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The rewards of pastoral ministry are primarily eternal not temporal. Indeed, temporal rewards are more a temptation than a blessing at times. The pastor learns like Paul, “in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11). They learn in heart and mind and life that, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. . .. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:13 and 19).
We often casually read the description by Paul of his ministry. “Hard pressed on every side”? I can take it. “Perplexed”? I can figure it out. Persecuted? I’m tough enough. “Carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, delivered to death”? Sure, I can die to self. “Afflicted”? I’m healthy. “Labors, stripes, prisons, deaths, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked three times, a night and a day in the deep of sea, constant journeys, perils, robbed, wearied, wilderness, false brethren, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, fastings, cold, nakedness”? Sure, I can handle it. “Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches”? No problem, I care about the church. No one can truly grasp the cost of pastoral ministry at the outset, but as the pastor matures they learn and see the truth of this description more and more. Prayerfully read what Paul said about his ministry and what it means to have a pastor’s heart – 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; 4:2,8-11; 5:14-15; 11:16-23; 12:11-21. Truly a pastor’s call is expressed by the following words of Paul who wrote:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,” – 2 Timothy 4:6a
Are you willing to be “poured out”? Don’t answer reflexively. Read that verse of pastoral comment by Paul. Let it ruminate in you. Meditate on it. Count the cost of it. Seek God’s will for you in it. Measure it. Study it. Sacrifice yourself on the altar of it. Be real. Be true. Be honest before God.
If you are called to be a pastor, nothing else will satisfy or do for you. As a pastor truly called by God, though the road may be hard, God’s call and grace will sustain you. If you are not called, and you venture out haphazardly in your own strength, you are doomed to a life of frustration, failure and folly and will have missed the work God would have blessed. Therefore, consider the question carefully, prayerfully, “Are you called to be a pastor?”
The words shared above are not to discourage the one who is called by God. In fact, the one called by God will find assurance of their call if they prayerfully apply these questions to their lives. The purpose of such a study is to spare people the frustration and failure that might come by entering into a holy calling presumptively apart from God’s actual call. It is also meant to spare the church any more scorn and poor witness that has come via those who are self-servingly involved in pastoral or other forms of ministry. When Peter had denied the Lord, Jesus didn’t throw him on the scrap heap, He restored him. But Jesus restored Peter in a way that confirmed his calling and assured him of God’s will in his life. Jesus did this by asking him a few questions:
- John 21:15-17 – “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
Now I do not quote this passage to get a rise of emotion out of the reader. I quote this to hopefully strike to the heart of the situation. Peter was asked repeatedly by Jesus, “Do you love me?” Love of Jesus is the center of our relationship with Him. All decisions should be based on that motivation, our love for Jesus. The words, “For the love of Christ compels us” is at the heart of a heaven sent, God ordained, Jesus worshipping, Spirit empowered calling (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). My point here is not that those who are actually called by God to be a pastor are more loving of Jesus; not at all. The point here is do you love Jesus enough to do whatever He wants you to do? Is that true of you even if that means you are not to serve him as a pastor? That’s the point. If you love Jesus, you can serve Him joyfully from the heart whether He calls you to do so as a pastor or not. The answer to that question gets to the heart of the truth and the truth at heart, about your “call” to be a pastor or your calling to anything and everything else; about your call to be anything God wants you to be. May God guide you and call you according to His will.