The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Called To a Church!

One day you may receive a message that looks something like this:

Your pastor gave me your name as a possible candidate for a pastoral position in our church. If you are interested, please send your resume, doctrinal statement, and testimony of your salvation and call to ministry. We look forward to hearing from you.

Nothing could be more exciting if you’ve been on the pathway to pastoral ministry.

This is the last post in the Pathway to Pastoral Ministry series that starts here.

The experience of being called to a church may vary for different individuals. But here are a few common practices that will help you know what to expect.

Someone will express interest in you as a possible candidate for a pastoral position. He will likely be the pastor of a church who needs help with shepherding responsibilities. It may be your home church’s pastor, or the pastor of a church you serve in while in college or seminary. It might be a pastor you don’t know who was given your name.

You may even be contacted by a deacon or pulpit committee member of a church who needs a lead pastor. Smaller churches especially will sometimes call new seminary graduates as their pastor, so don’t be surprised by this if you’ve been serving faithfully and have exhibited growth in pastoral skills while in school.

Some schools have a ministry placement service. When you’re about to graduate, you can upload your name and profile information so churches looking for potential candidates can find you. This can be a good way to connect with a church. In my experience however your contact with churches is more likely to happen through the network of people who know you.

Pastors you know will play a very important role in your being called to a church. You may be asked by one of your mentors to serve as a pastor with him. Or a pastor friend may give your name to a church looking for a pastor. The pastors who know you best will provide a reference for you. They will give testimony of your character and faithfulness to a church that is considering you. They will pray for God to lead you and open doors of opportunity for you. And they will be a source of counsel as you consider opportunities.

Your first position as a pastor will probably be in an assisting role. It may involve general responsibilities of helping the lead pastor oversee and care for the church. Or it may be a specialized area of responsibility, such as youth or discipleship, or a combination of several areas of ministry.

If both you and the church are interested, you’ll start sharing information with each other. They’ll want to see your resume, a statement of your doctrinal beliefs, and your testimony of being saved and how God led you into ministry. You should ask for the church’s doctrinal statement, by-laws, and a written description of the role you are being considered for.

The next step is an interview. This may take place by phone, video-call, or in person. There will be lots of questions! The church leadership will want to get to know you. Be ready with some questions of your own, too.

If all is positive the church will invite you for a visit. This may be more get-acquainted time, or it may be an official candidating event. You’ll meet with church leaders and key people in the area of ministry where you would be serving. You’ll most likely preach or teach. And you’ll answer more questions.

By this time both you and the church have a pretty good idea of how you want to proceed. One of the leaders (the pastor, pulpit committee chairman, or deacon) may say, “We would like to have you come be our Assistant Pastor. If our church votes to call you, would you come?” You may know, or you might need to think and pray about it to make a final decision. If your answer is yes, the church will schedule a business meeting and the members will vote.

Your phone is buzzing. “We just finished our business meeting. Our church members voted to call you! Will you come?”

Congratulations. You’ve just been called to a church. You’re a pastor!

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – What Is Ordination?

What does “ordination” make you think of? Maybe you imagine a solemn ceremony where men wearing black robes touch you on the head with a scepter and pronounce you “Reverend.” Or you see yourself seated alone at a massive table while scholars of divinity gleefully examine you with tricky theological questions. Possibly you have no idea what ordination is as it relates to pastoral ministry.

This post is part of the series on Pathway to Pastoral Ministry which starts here.

Ordination is a significant milestone on the pathway to pastoral ministry. I want to help you understand ordination so you can anticipate and prepare for it. You won’t find the word “ordination” in the Bible related to men becoming pastors. But there is a biblical practice that is the basis for ordination. Bible-based churches today practice ordination in a way that follows this pattern.

When a man is ordained for ministry, pastors who know him affirm that he is qualified, gifted, and ready to serve as a pastor. The ordination event usually includes a formal examination by an ordination council. This council consists of pastors and other ministry leaders who are themselves ordained.

These men hear the candidate’s testimony of being saved and called to ministry. The candidate presents a written statement of biblical doctrines and they ask him questions about it. They may also question him regarding his views on current issues.

If the council determines he is ready to begin serving as a pastor, they will make this recommendation to his church. The church then makes it official in a special ordination service. This usually involves a ceremonial laying on of hands by church leaders.

The books of 1 Timothy and Titus contain examples we follow in our practice of ordination. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 describes the kind of man who is qualified for pastoral ministry. Paul’s instructions to Timothy imply that Timothy was supposed to decide whether a man was qualified for ministry or not. The process of ordination is intended to determine and confirm that a man is qualified for ministry based on his character, understanding of the Bible, and gifts.

In Titus 1:5 Paul instructed Titus to “appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” Then he gave Titus a list of qualifications (verses 6-9) mirroring those in 1 Timothy 3. So again we see spiritual leaders in the church are to evaluate and confirm that a man is ready for ministry.

1 Timothy 4:14 speaks of an event in Timothy’s life. 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.” The “council of elders” was a group of pastors who formally affirmed Timothy’s giftedness and readiness for ministry. They signified this affirmation by the act of laying their hands on Timothy.

Pastors who know you will be the natural ones to ordain you. Ideally they will be involved in your life during the years leading up to your ordination. They may help you by pointing out areas where you can grow. They will give you opportunities to learn ministry so you will be ready for ordination. Stay in close touch with the pastors in your life.

If you are considering ministry, you shouldn’t worry about ordination, but anticipate it like a graduation. A healthy respect for the significance of this event is appropriate. But when the time comes, you will be ready. Ordination will be an occasion for you and those who have invested in you to recognize and celebrate God’s faithfulness and grace in calling you to ministry.

Next – Called To a Church!

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Developing Leadership Skills

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry series starts here.

In addition to speaking skills and people skills, pastors need leadership skills. If you’re thinking about going into ministry, now is a good time to begin growing as a leader.

Leadership is the ability to influence people in a direction they need to go.

Being a leader doesn’t mean you are an aggressive personality, taking charge of everything and ordering people around. Leaders see the direction a group of people needs to go. In the church setting, that includes spiritual growth on an individual level, and it includes making disciples as a church. A leader communicates those ultimate goals to the people. He also encourages and equips them to pursue those goals.

A pastor, as a leader in the church, will often see steps a church can take or strategic efforts it can implement in order to pursue the goal of reaching its community with the gospel and making disciples. He will intentionally provide teaching and urge the people to do their part. Or he may see ways in which the church needs to mature as a body, so he preaches from passages of Scripture related to those areas and plans ways the church can apply these truths together.

How can you develop now as a leader?

Pray for God to develop your leadership. Jesus developed the disciples. They were normal men who became influencers. He taught them, gave them opportunities to serve, corrected them when needed, and eventually entrusted them with starting the first churches after He ascended back to heaven.

In a similar way, God will enable and develop you into the leader you need to be in order to fulfill His purpose for you. Express your dependence on Him through prayer. Ask Him to give you wisdom, help you learn from experience, and mature you into a man who can influence others.

Learn from others who lead. You can do this by reading good resources on leadership. A great book to start with is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. I recommend it very highly. Sanders tells you what it means to be a spiritual leader, gives many helpful principles, and includes a lot of examples. It is truly a life-changing book. You might want to read and discuss it along with someone else – your dad, your pastor or youth pastor, or a friend.

Also, observe how your pastor and others in positions of influence exercise leadership. Watch how they lead a group of people to pursue goals. See how they communicate. Notice how they plan, then enlist and equip others to pursue the plan. Pay attention to how their example affects others.

You can even learn from leaders’ weaknesses and mistakes. I don’t mean to encourage you to have a critical spirit. But sometimes leaders handle things in a way that isn’t the best. Quietly make a mental note of what they did and the impact it had, and think of how you might handle it differently if you were in their place.

Learn from Jesus. Jesus is the greatest leader of all. Read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) paying special attention to how Jesus influenced others and what He taught His disciples about leadership.

Carefully read Mark 10:35-45. Jesus’ disciples asked Him for prominent positions in His kingdom. He responded by telling them greatness in God’s eyes is very different from how the world views it. His words have become the gold standard for leadership in Christian ministry:

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45, ESV).

You can learn Christ-like leadership by letting these words shape your life. Pray the quality of selfless service will be formed in your heart and will determine how you relate to others.

Seek opportunities to get experience. In your church setting, this may include helping plan and execute events, assisting with Vacation Bible School, or being on a youth council. There may also be opportunities at your school – class offices, special events, athletics, or clubs. If you have a part-time or summer job, look for ways to go beyond just putting in your time. Take extra responsibilities, help with planning, or develop a new idea to improve the business.

Leadership can be learned.
Some people’s natural personalities or abilities make them leaders. You may not feel like that’s you. But anyone can acquire knowledge, gain experience, and develop leadership skills. And when God wants you to influence others, He is at work from within, growing you so He can use you in Christ’s church-building work.

If you are supposed to be a pastor, God will enable you and you will learn to lead. Think of it like a shepherd with sheep. He knows they need food, water and protection. The shepherd thinks ahead, knows where to take them for nourishment and safety, gets out in front, and starts going in that direction. His sheep follow him.

As a pastor, you will need to get out in front. You don’t have to act like a military commander or a corporate CEO. Just start pursuing spiritual growth and bring others with you.

I love this quote:

“Leadership is often viewed as the product of natural endowments and traits of personality – intellectual capacity, force of will, enthusiasm. That such talents and scholastic attainments do greatly enhance leadership is beyond question, but those are not the factors of paramount importance in the spiritual leader. The real qualities of leadership are to be found in those who are willing to suffer for the sake of objectives great enough to demand their wholehearted obedience” (from Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders, p. 25, emphasis mine).

If you obey God’s call on your life and His commission to make disciples, and if you are willing to spend your life serving Him, you will influence others in the same direction. You will become the leader you need to be.

Do you know what ordination is? Sound scary? We’ll talk about that next.