Progress toward the Pastorate
Perhaps you’re looking for boxes to check, some way to easily measure your progress toward the pastorate. Now you’re left feeling a bit frustrated. So what now? Let me offer four suggestions.
1. Commit Yourself to a Healthy Local Church
Churches raise up pastors, and churches send out pastors. If you want to pastor, you need to be deeply involved in a healthy local church.
I don’t mean to suggest that seminaries are unimportant. They’re finishing schools—they should complement what the local church is doing, not supplant it. You don’t need a seminary degree to pastor. Some of the greatest pastors and preachers like Charles Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones didn’t graduate from seminary. Seminaries are, after all, relatively modern inventions. Again, I’m not suggesting seminaries aren’t useful. They certainly are! Though the Bible doesn’t require them, I do recommend them. Just don’t place too much stock in them. And certainly don’t mistake them as the sine qua non of pastoral preparation.
This short and accessible booklet helps aspiring pastors and leaders to focus on cultivating a godly desire for ministry, encouraging them to commit to a local church, inform the leaders of their desire for ministry, engage in acts of service, and patiently wait on the Lord.
If you don’t have a healthy church in your area, look again. Perhaps you’re dismissing some faithful ministries unwittingly. But if not, it would be much wiser to move in order to build your life around a healthy local church than to try to elope into the ministry via seminary.
2. Inform Your Leaders of Your Aspiration
A hallmark of faithful churches is that they’re led by men who raise up other men, just like the church in Jerusalem raised up Barnabas and then sent him to encourage and lead young Christians in Antioch. In turn, the church at Antioch raised up Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen (Acts 13:1). Paul did the same thing with Silas, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, Erastus, Trophimus, and scores of others not recorded in Scripture.
Inform your pastors of your interest in ministry so that they can pray for you, mentor you, and provide you with an honest assessment of your progress. But don’t assume you’ll be fast-tracked. Don’t assume every teaching opportunity will now fall your way or that your lunches will be filled with elders pouring into you.
When a man tells me he’s interested in ministry, I pray for him, and sometimes that’s it. I can tell he’s frustrated. But that’s intentional. Sometimes I want to see if he’s willing to create ministry, or if he’s simply waiting for it to come to him.
3. Get Busy Serving!
Gifts are often discovered in service. So do what’s needed to discover and assess how best you’re able to serve the church. If you want to teach, start with children’s ministry. If you can communicate the Bible in faithful and compelling ways to children, you can communicate it to anyone!
Preparing for ministry is a process that takes time.
If the church needs a greeter, don’t effectively respond with, “I’m sorry you didn’t get the memo, but I’m called to teach.” Don’t be that guy! Being willing to serve wherever needed is the hallmark of a faithful minister.
Too many sit around waiting for ministry to be gift wrapped and given to them with fanfare. Start pouring into the life of the church, and trust God will open the right doors at the right time.
4. Be Patient
Jesus spent three years with his disciples. Even after Paul’s extensive training in Judaism, he spent another three years preparing for Christian ministry (Gal. 1:17–18). Pastors aren’t mass produced on an assembly line.
Preparing for ministry is a process that takes time. Like the best bread, you may have all the right ingredients, but you need time to rise. Trying to speed up the process will only ruin the final product. So be patient. Pray. In the wise words of Edmund Clowney, “It is quite possible to overestimate the gifts you have; it is quite impossible to over-supplicate the gifts you need.”1
Serve. Wait. And trust that God will complete in you the good work he’s begun, wherever it may lead.
- Edmund P. Clowney, Called to the Ministry (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1964), 30.
This article is adapted from Am I Called to Ministry? by Brad Wheeler.
Seminary can by no means teach a minister everything he needs to know, but it puts strong tools in his box to set him up for a lifetime of learning and growing in the Lord.
Every elder is a pastor. The New Testament uses three terms that are all distinct, but they all describe the same office.
A church should be able to direct a newborn believer to an elder and say: “Do you want to know what a real Christian should be like? Then look at him.”
Formal theological training is important, but even more important than seminary would be simply to plant your life in a local church.