I still remember the angst I felt the first time I read the question, “When were you called to be a pastor and church planter?”
It wasn’t that I lacked a clear passion and drive for pastoral ministry. And my unease wasn’t because others had not walked with me through a process of clarifying that this was a wise stewardship of my life and gifting.
I was just hung up on the word ‘calling.’
My insecurity was magnified when I heard others describe their calling in ways that conjured images of Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road. My journey was nothing like that. I tried to be anything other than a pastor. I questioned whether I had the charisma to lead like the stereotype of the ideal planter I had in my mind. I doubted whether I wanted to grow up to be like many of the pastors I’d met in the past.
Maybe it’s my reluctance to embrace the idea of calling that has, counter-intuitively, solidified the significance of the notion of calling in my mind. By that I mean, now that I’m about a decade into pastoral ministry and church planting, I’m coming to understand that the very thing that’s kept me in the game thus far is my unimpressive, normal, run-of-the-mill, average inner compulsion and outward confirmation to love and lead God’s church.
Writing to Timothy and Titus, Paul commands these young leaders to appoint elders to provide care for the newly developing churches. Paul notes that the driving impetus behind his leaving Titus in Crete was so he could “appoint elders in every town” as Paul had directed him (Titus 1:5). This means that wherever there are churches, there is the need for faithful pastors to lead. To Timothy, Paul writes that consideration should be given to those who aspire to the noble office of a pastor (1 Tim 3:1). Therefore, the constant need for new pastors should be filled from among those who feel an inner drive and compulsion to fill that void. In a culture of pseudo-humility that often masks passivity, it’s worth noting that it’s biblically appropriate for young leaders to pursue pastoral ministry because they want to. You don’t have to come kicking and screaming. You can — in fact, you should — long to make disciples, teach God’s word, and propel His people to active engagement in His mission.
An inner compulsion is necessary for pastoral calling, but it is not sufficient. It’s one thing to “feel called,” it’s a much different thing to have that internal sense confirmed by pastors of a local church and the community of saints gathered there. A sense of calling may get you into pastoral ministry, though it will be insufficient to sustain you in ministry if your character or competence aren’t suited for such a task. Sadly, you and I often are poor judges of our own capacity. Mature saints — representing those who give oversight and about whom we will ultimately give account — are positioned by God to speak into our lives to confirm or redirect our inner compulsion.
Married together, the combination of an inner compulsion and outward confirmation define one’s calling to pastoral ministry. Whether this call comes in a glamourous and clear way or in a more mundane, circuitous fashion, what’s important is that both are present.
There will be days when you’ll want to tap out and give up, and you’ll look back on this call as your only reason to persevere.
There will be days when you’ll be tempted to run after human applause, and you’ll need this call to remember your primary responsibility.
There will be days when you’ll doubt yourself and hear the echo of this call in the words of a trusted mentor.
There will be days when this call will be a supreme act of God’s grace.
Published February 5, 2018