The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Growing in Character

This is the 10th post in a series that starts here, intended to encourage young men who are thinking about pastoral ministry.

Pastors are men of character.
Some jobs don’t require you to be honest, morally pure, and humble. Most professions have no expectation for your marriage or family life. The instructions in Scripture hold pastors to a high standard.

Don’t let the character requirement scare you off. If you are a Christian growing in the Lord, you are able to meet these qualifications with God’s help. But you must be serious about it.

You have to recognize and admit your weaknesses. You must be willing to develop new thought patterns, attitudes, and habits that reflect godly character. And you must protect yourself in areas where you are vulnerable to temptation and a lack of self-control.

You are establishing patterns right now that will stay with you for life. You are becoming who you will be in 10 years. What kind of person are you?

Are you lazy or diligent? Proud or humble? Greedy or generous? Self-centered or considerate of others? Do you indulge in impure imaginations or do you fight to keep your thoughts pure? Do you follow others into foolishness and sin, or do you stand firm on doing what is right? Do you love yourself or do you love God? Do you serve your own interests or do you serve God and others?

If you’re a Christian, God is already at work in you, showing you you need to grow. Developing godly character is not just for pastors. Every Christian is growing. Whether you’re going to be a pastor or not, you will glorify God by growing in your character.

What is character? It’s who you are as a person. It isn’t about your outward appearance, though your character will affect how you look. Character is the real you. It’s what you are inside. Character makes you do what you do when no one is telling you what to do.

Examples in the Bible
The Bible is full of examples of character, good and bad. Often you’ll see a person in Scripture who has both good qualities and weaknesses. That’s human nature!

One example is David. As a young man he was a shepherd. His job included guarding the sheep from hungry predators. 1 Samuel 17:34-35 says he fought a lion and a bear who wanted to have lamb for dinner. David’s character included dependability and courage.

David’s courage went to another level when he faced Goliath with a handful of rocks and a leather sling. But the source of his courage was a deeper motivation. Goliath had “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:36). David cared more about God’s glory than his own life. With God’s help, he defeated the giant. Read the whole story in 1 Samuel 17.

David became king. He fought and won many wars, all for the cause of God. However, as with every man alive including you and me, he had a weakness. Being a man of character includes knowing your weaknesses and protecting yourself from falling. David had a weakness for a beautiful woman.

Although he was a married man, he looked, lusted, and indulged his desire for a woman who was not his wife. 2 Samuel 11-12 tells this sad tale. Thankfully he recognized his sin and received God’s forgiveness. But much damage had been done. Many people were affected by his actions and David’s leadership was never the same.

We can learn powerful lessons from both the good and the not-so-good elements of David’s character. He was known as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). He displayed devotion to God, bravery against enemies, and was motivated by a great cause.

But he also failed to protect himself where he was vulnerable. He gave in to temptation. He committed a great sin. David’s life shows us good character but also the importance of guarding our character.

As you read through the Bible, look for examples like this. Notice how the heroes of the faith related to God, how they showed faithfulness to God, but also how they failed. Learn from them the kind of man to be and the kind of man not to be.

A Pastor’s Character
By now if you’re reading these posts you’ve looked at the list of qualities in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Did you look up definitions? Discuss them with your pastor? If not, take some time to do that. Remember, even if you don’t know you’ll be a pastor, these are qualities any young man should develop.

Do any of the characteristics in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 stand out as areas where you need to grow?

Be honest: are there any where you are weak or vulnerable? Where are you likely to be tempted? Is there one area of your life Satan could use to hinder you from being a young man with godly character?

Where you’ve failed, ask and receive God’s forgiveness. His grace is greater than your sin. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more” (Romans 5:20).

This is a good time for a conversation with your parents, a good friend, and your pastor. Ask these people to point out areas of character where you need to grow. Be honest about areas of vulnerability and ask them to pray for you. See if they can recommend any helpful resources for overcoming sin struggles.

God is At Work In You
Ultimately, godly character is produced by the Holy Spirit in you. Another place in the Bible that instructs us about godly character is Galatians 5:16-24.

Verses 19-21 give a list of character traits produced by our sinful nature.

  • The first three have to do with sexual thoughts and acts outside of God’s plan for marriage – immorality, impurity, and sensuality.
  • The next two involve worshiping and seeking power from gods other than the one true God – idolatry and sorcery.
  • Several of these traits involve conflict and animosity with others – enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying.
  • The last two involve alcohol and partying – drunkenness and carousing.

Let’s move now to the list of godly character traits, those produced by the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. We won’t categorize these. Just look at them as they appear in Scripture.

  • Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

The Holy Spirit produces these traits of godly character in your life. This happens when you are yielded to Him and you expose your mind and heart to the truth of His Word. So it’s important to read the Bible regularly (ideally every day!) and choose to submit your life to be the kind of person God wants you to be.

You don’t have to manufacture godly character. God is at work inside of you, cultivating character traits that will show up in your life. You’re not on your own! He will enable you to be the kind of man who can serve in pastoral ministry.

Character Determines Influence
Godly character is essential to spiritual leadership. Paul told Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). That instruction is for you too! Develop character so people will take you seriously.

Paul also urged Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (vs. 16). Pay attention to your own life first – your walk with God and your character. Then you can teach others.

A pastor is not a super saint. But he is serious about developing and protecting his own character so he can influence others. Ultimately, godly character is Christ-likeness. Every Christian should develop attitudes and actions that resemble Jesus. Growing in character is not just one step, but happens all along the pathway to pastoral ministry.

As you move toward ministry you’ll also need to develop pastoral skills.

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – What About School?

Thanks 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.

Even more important than education is growing in character.

The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry: Understanding the Call to Ministry

You 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.

Now, what about school?