“How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). With airtight logic, the Apostle Paul sets forth the indispensable human link in fulfilling the Great Commission—the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In so doing, he instructs us in the way of the kingdom, that in every generation God is calling out preachers to serve His church.
Paul’s timeless question is especially relevant for the twenty-first-century church. Evangelical churches are in the midst of a massive generational transition, with vacant pastorates and empty pulpits dotting the landscape.
Vacant pulpits ought not induce the wringing of hands. Christ is building His church. He does not hope for ministerial volunteers; He sovereignly sets apart pastors to serve His church and preach His gospel.
Nonetheless, the church is to call out the called, and every qualified man of God should consider if God is calling him to pastoral ministry.
How might one know if God is calling him to the ministry? There are four essential marks.
A Burning Desire
The leading indicator of a call to ministry is a burning desire for the work. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul begins the list of ministry qualifications by asserting, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” In fact, Paul testified that he ministered as one “under compulsion,” fearful of God’s judgment if he did not preach.
In his Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon argued, “The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work. In order to be a true call to the ministry, there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling to others what God has done to our own souls.”
Those who have been most used of God carried this weight of the soul. Men such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Spurgeon owned this inner compulsion that, like an artesian well, continuously poured power and urgency into their ministries.
The preacher may not feel every Sunday what Richard Baxter felt when he famously resolved “to preach as a dying man, to dying men; as one not sure to ever preach again.” But the one called of God knows a constant, ongoing desire for the work of ministry.
A Holy Life
First Timothy 3:1–7 offers a clear and nonnegotiable list of character qualifications for the ministry. This list is prescriptive, not descriptive; it is regulative, not suggestive. In summary, the minister of God must be above reproach.
Before a church evaluates a pastoral candidate’s gifting or talent, it must first evaluate his character. To be sure, for a man aspiring to ministry, it may help to be winsome, to be eloquent, or to possess a magnetic personality. Yet, before one looks for these secondary—and tertiary—strengths, one must first meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3.
What is more, the 1 Timothy 3 qualifications do not simply represent a one-time threshold to cross. Rather, they are a lifestyle to be maintained, a character to be cultivated, and an ongoing accountability to God’s Word and God’s people. One’s call to ministry is inextricably linked to one’s biblical character. The two cannot—and must not—be decoupled.
A Surrendered Will
The Apostle Paul was set apart from his mother’s womb and testified that he “became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me” (Col. 1:25). Paul chose to preach because God chose him to preach. Every call to preach originates in heaven. Our response is total surrender.
In fact, “surrendering to ministry” used to be common parlance in evangelical churches. We would do well to recover that phrase because that is how one enters the ministry—through surrender. God’s call to ministry comes with the expectation that you will go whenever and wherever He calls you. His ministers are His agents, deployed for service according to His providential plan.
An Ability to Teach
Finally, the one called to the ministry must be able to teach the Word of God. In 1 Timothy 3, this is the distinguishing qualification between the office of the deacon and elder. There are a thousand ways a minister can serve the church, but there is one, indispensable, and nonnegotiable responsibility—to preach and teach the Word of God.
Does the preparation and delivery of sermons fulfill you? Do the people of God benefit from your ministry of the Word? Does your church sense your gifting and affirm your ability to preach or teach about God?
Any man can choose the ministry, and too many unqualified men have. Only a select few are called by God. Discerning between being called of men and called of God is urgently important.
If God is calling you to be His servant, then realize, in the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “the work of preaching is the highest and greatest and most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.” If God has called you to be His preacher, never stoop to be a king of men.