The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – What About School?

Hiking TrailThanks for listening in as I talk about the steps a young man takes to become a pastor. If you’re just now joining us, you can get the whole picture by starting here.

A major step on the pathway to pastoral ministry is education. You might be overwhelmed thinking about more years of school after you graduate from high school.

Think about it this way. Any meaningful career requires training. If you’re going to be an electrician, you spend years learning the trade. To become an engineer you have to go to four years of college. Becoming a doctor requires college, medical school, and residency. This takes 10 years or more!

Pastors are in a sense doctors of souls. If years of education are necessary for a secular profession, how much more should you be willing to invest time, effort, and even finances to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to be a pastor?

A good Bible education will help you understand the Bible as a whole and in all its parts. Some classes survey the entire Old Testament or New Testament in one semester. Others dig deep into single books of the Bible, such as Genesis, the Psalms, Matthew, Acts, Romans, Ephesians, and Revelation. Each book has a specific message and contains key truths. As you grow in your understanding, you will be able to help others learn and live by the Bible too.

Learning the original languages of the Bible will help you understand it so you can explain it to others. Pastors should at least have a working knowledge of Greek so they can translate from the New Testament. Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, is more challenging, but it helps to have even a basic understanding of how it works.

Classes that focus on pastoral skills will help you learn to preach, to disciple and counsel, and to lead the church effectively. Even general classes such as English, science, math, and history equip you to relate to others and to communicate clearly and accurately.

Let me give you three biblically-based reasons to further your education after high school if you’re going into ministry. The Bible doesn’t specifically say you have to go to college and seminary, but here are some points to consider.

First, you mature a lot between ages 18-25. Your character, understanding of life, and ability to influence people develop during these years. The qualities listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 require time to mature. Challenges and temptations that come with a few years of adult life prove a young man’s character. The time you spend in school learning the Bible and growing in pastoral skills also allows you to mature into a godly man ready to minister to others.

Second, one of the required qualities of a pastor is “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). When you graduate from high school, are you ready to explain to all the members of a church the various truths of the Bible and how they apply to life? Does your depth of Bible knowledge enable you to deliver sermons every week to a congregation made up of children, teens, young adults, and men and women older than you? The years you invest in a Bible-focused education will equip you to preach and teach the Word to the broad spectrum of people in a congregation.

Third, your motivation should be to please God, not yourself. If you’re going into ministry, you can’t shirk hard work because you don’t feel like doing it. Paul instructed Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The term “do your best” can also be translated, “Be diligent.” In other words, work hard! Why? “To present yourself to God as one approved” – to honor God. This is the ultimate goal of every Christian, and it is the number one reason to go into ministry. We don’t earn God’s favor. He accepts us because we are in Christ. But we do please or displease Him with how we live. According to this verse, we can please Him by being diligent in our work.

The verse goes on to say what kind of work Paul was talking about – “rightly dividing the word of truth.” He challenged Timothy to put in the hard work necessary to handle the Word of God correctly. God’s Word is worthy of all the labor we invest in understanding it. We honor God by our accurate presentation of its truths to others.

This would be a good time to have another conversation with your pastor. Treat him to a cup of coffee. Ask him what he thinks about the best way to pursue education that will prepare you for pastoral ministry. Likely he will have a few suggestions for you.

Education is hard work! But the people you will one day minister to will thank you. And your Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of your best efforts.

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Understanding the Call to Ministry

Hiking TrailYou might have heard someone talk about the “call to ministry.” If so, you naturally wonder what it is and how you know if you’re “called.” The best way you can know is to understand what it isn’t as well as what it is.

You don’t hear a voice. You won’t see a vision. A sense of obligation because there is a need for pastors isn’t a call. Neither is a high-pressure call to action from a well-meaning preacher. Just because your dad and his dad were pastors doesn’t mean you should be one.

The call to ministry is a realization that God is directing you into vocational ministry. This realization is accompanied by your own desire. And it is confirmed by church leaders who observe your character and gifts for ministry. To say it another way, if you think God is directing you toward ministry, you have a strong desire to be in ministry, and leaders in your church confirm you have the character and gifts for ministry, then most likely God is “calling” you into ministry.

I want to encourage young men who are thinking about becoming pastors. These articles will help guide you along the pathway to pastoral ministry. A very important step on this path is understanding the call to ministry.

Do you want to know something surprising? The Bible doesn’t actually use the term “call” regarding pastoral ministry. But we see four elements in Scripture of God leading a man into pastoral ministry. These elements are realization, desire, qualification, and confirmation.

How do you know if you are being called?

You will have a growing realization that God is directing you into ministry.
In Acts 20:28, Paul instructed the pastors of the Ephesian church, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Do you see the word “overseers”? It’s one of the words in the Bible that refers to pastors. In fact, the term “to care for” in this verse is a translation of the word, “to shepherd,” which means to pastor. The term “overseers” identifies their leadership role in the church.

Notice Paul said “the Holy Spirit made you overseers.” God was actively working in these men’s lives directing them into pastoral ministry! They knew the Holy Spirit had led them into the ministry.

Earlier we talked about praying for God to lead you and being yielded to His will. If you submissively pray for God’s direction, He will show you what to do regarding ministry. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). This means anyone who is God’s child will be led by the Holy Spirit to do His will. If God wants you to be a pastor, He will lead you to do it. You will realize God wants you in ministry.

You will probably ask, “How does He lead you?” Keep reading!

You will develop a strong desire to serve in ministry.
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul explained to Timothy how to identify men who should serve as pastors. Verse 1 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” There’s the word “overseer” again, which refers to the leadership role of a pastor.

See the word “aspire?” Some guys aspire to be professional athletes. Others aspire to go into the military, or to construct buildings, or to run a business, or to teach. If you “aspire” to do something, you have a strong interest in it. When you think about your future, you envision yourself in that role. Do you have a growing interest in being a pastor? Do you find yourself thinking about it when you consider your future?

A man who is called to ministry will aspire to it, but he will experience an even more compelling internal force. Paul’s language goes to another degree of intensity in 1 Timothy 3:1 – “he desires a noble task.”

To “desire” means to have a strong passion for it. If you are called to ministry, your initial interest will grow into a compelling passion. Being a pastor will not just be one option of several. You will not be able to see yourself doing anything else. This desire may come on you suddenly, or it may grow progressively over time. But eventually you will find yourself saying, “I want to be a pastor.” You will feel compelled.

Desire by itself, however, is not the call to ministry. There is another essential element.

Your life will evidence character essential to spiritual leadership.
Let’s stay in 1 Timothy 3 for a minute. Read over what Paul said in verses 2-7: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

These characteristics are often referred to as qualifications for ministry. A man who desires to be a pastor must have these qualities. He will not exhibit them perfectly, but a person looking at his life would say he definitely fits this description.

This list might intimidate you or seem overwhelming. Yes, the standards for a pastor’s personal life and character are high. But these are qualities any young man should cultivate. If your heart is open to God’s work in you, He will enable you to grow in these areas.

Read over these qualities repeatedly. Look up each word in a dictionary, or ask your pastor to help you study them. Journal your thoughts about each quality. Pray for God to help you become this kind of man. With God’s help, resist temptations that take you away from these qualities. Choose friends who encourage you to live in these ways. Whether you go into pastoral ministry or not, you will mature over time into a godly man. Your life will glorify God and you will influence others for Him.

How do you know if you are being called to ministry? You will realize God is directing you toward ministry. You will have a strong desire for ministry. You will develop character essential for spiritual leadership. Here’s one more essential element.

Leaders in your church will confirm it.
We’re still in 1 Timothy 3. Paul told Timothy how to evaluate men who were interested in ministry. If men were qualified, Timothy would confirm it. Today, God still uses leaders in the church to observe men’s lives and confirm their readiness for pastoral ministry.

A group of pastors publicly confirmed Timothy’s call to ministry. Paul encouraged Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14).

In 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul spoke of his own personal involvement in confirming Timothy’s call: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”

In both places Paul said he and others laid hands on Timothy. The laying on of hands showed formal recognition that Timothy was qualified for ministry. Paul, along with other church leaders (“the council of elders”) confirmed that Timothy was ready to engage in pastoral work.

Just like church leaders confirmed a man’s readiness for ministry in the first century church, pastors in your life will do that for you. If you are supposed to be a pastor, leaders in the church will recognize character and gifts in your life that qualify you. Stay in close touch with pastors around you. These men will observe your life and help prepare you. When the time is right, they will formally confirm that you are qualified, gifted, and ready for pastoral work.

These four elements of a call to ministry will not all happen at once. They will unfold in your life over a period of time. If you have an interest in being a pastor, it will grow into a strong desire. As you open your heart to God’s leading, you will sense He is directing you toward ministry. You will mature as a Christian man, and the qualities in 1 Timothy 3 will develop in your life. Your pastor and other leaders in the church will encourage you toward ministry. You will be given opportunities to preach and teach. People will be impacted by your care for their souls. You, your spiritual leaders, and the people of God will know – you are called to ministry.

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – What Does a Pastor Do? (3)

Hiking TrailWe’re talking about the primary responsibilities of a pastor in this series. I hope to encourage and guide young men considering pastoral ministry.

We’ve already looked at the ministry of the Word and care for the people. The third area of responsibility is leadership and oversight of the church.

One of the terms used in the New Testament to refer to the pastor is “overseer.” Or you might see the older word “bishop” in some Bible translations. Overseer is a good literal translation of the original New Testament word. The word in Greek (the language in which the New Testament was first written) is episkopos. If you separate it into two parts, you get epi and skopos. Epi means “over.” Skopos means “to see,” like with a scope. The whole word means “to oversee.”

1 Timothy 3:1 says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”    1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” The word “elders” is another term for the office of pastor. To “rule well” is to oversee. Peter instructs pastors to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight” (1 Peter 5:2).

As an overseer, a pastor provides leadership to the church. He does this through his ministry of preaching and teaching. Pastors also give direction for the ministry and guide it as an organization. They make plans that reflect the church’s mission and lead the church in pursuing them. They equip and enlist people in various positions of responsibility.

A pastor is often the person up front, leading the service when the church gathers for worship and instruction. He also oversees by protecting the church from false teaching, corrupting influences, and division.

Some people are natural leaders. However, not all pastors feel comfortable and confident in a leadership role. Many of the qualities and practices of a leader can be learned. And of course God enables us to do what we could not otherwise do.

In the next post I’ll talk about the call to ministry. What is it? How do you know if you’re called? What do you do if you think you’re called? We’ll answer those important questions. See you then!