The Calling of the Minister | Taylor Settle

by | Nov 29, 2022 | Practical Theology


“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tm. 3:16-17). The sufficiency of scripture ought to overarch any discussion of theology and practice of the church of Jesus Christ. This is especially the case when it comes to something as important as Pastoral Theology. It must be maintained that Holy Scripture is sufficient for the organizing of the church, specifically the calling and duty of a minister of the gospel. An appeal in any way to ambiguity or vagueness as an excuse for forsaking the teaching of scripture regarding the call and duty of a minister of the gospel, is a direct attack against the scripture itself, it’s Author, and the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, as it is He who provides the church with its ministers (Eph 4:11-13). It is at this starting point where a conversation about Pastoral Theology must begin.

It has been said that the “Pastoral Epistles” (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus), as they are commonly understood, should operate as something of a book of church order.[1] This idea comes from 1 Timothy 3:14-15, which acts as a thesis statement for Paul’s first letter to Timothy, it reads: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, …” (1 Tm. 3:14, 15a). The expressed purpose why Paul is writing Timothy so that he, and others, may know how to behave, or conduct themselves, in the context of the local church. Because of its close relation to the first epistle, Paul’s second letter to Timothy can be understood as a continuation of this “book of church order.” Furthermore, in Titus we see this same general thrust. After greeting Titus in the opening verses, Paul, in verse 5, says that the very reason he left Titus in Crete was to “set in order what remains.” All of Paul’s Holy Spirit inspired instructions and directions found in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus can be understood as flowing from this general rubric. These three epistles can be understood as counterparts and a singular body of Paul’s theological and practical understanding of life in the local church. As noted above, if we believe that all scripture is given by inspiration, breathed out by God (2 Tm. 3:16,) then we should also understand the scriptures to be sufficient (1 Tm. 3:17) in informing our doctrine of pastoral theology. Based on these operating principles, a fourfold survey of the pastoral epistles will be expounded – 1. Calling of the Minister, 2. Public Ministrations of the Minister, 3. Practical Ministrations of the Minister, and 4. Scriptural basis for the financial support of the Minister. This practical and theological survey will reveal the implicit teaching and principles regarding these important matters, as well as the actual prescriptions, commands, and regulations of scripture as it pertains to the call and work of the minister.  

The Calling of the Minister

The call to the ministry can be thought of, biblically and historically, under two heads: the internal call and the external call. However, scripture gives clear commands as to the gifts necessary and the character necessary for a man aspiring to the office of overseer. Regardless of his inward desire or any outward affirmation, a man can be assumed unfit for the pastorate if he does not meet the gifting or character qualifications. With these considerations in mind, we will look at the character and gifting qualifications necessary for a man aspiring to the office of elder/overseer.

Character qualifications – It is of value to note that the qualifications of an elder are overwhelmingly character-based. The only two qualifications of an elder that are not character based are that he be “able to teach” (1 Tm. 3:2, also Titus 1:9) and “rule well” (1 Tm. 3:5; 1 Tm. 5:17; Heb. 13:17). The character qualifications of a man aspiring to the pastorate can be found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. For the current purposes, 1 Timothy 3:2-7 will serve well. It reads:

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.

Notice Paul’s emphasis as he opens this section: an overseer must – and he goes on to list the qualifications. The qualifications found in this passage are necessary for a man to possess if he is to be set apart unto the gospel ministry. This is not to say however, that the one aspiring to this office must attain perfection in each of these categories, but he must be unquestionably marked by these traits if he aspires to that sacred office.

In resisting the temptation to say more on this particular subject, suffice it to say that the gender of an individual can disqualify them. Meaning, it is men only who are called to the ministry. This is made clear in more than one place didactically, and in others theologically. As noted above, the overseer must be the husband of one wife. To some, this is a point of contention, a proper response being that, it is not men generally speaking who are called to the ministry, but men who also meet the character and gifting qualifications. In other words, while it is true that women, by default, are not qualified for the ministry, it is also true that many men are not qualified for the ministry – based on the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. While the character of a man aspiring to the pastorate is front in center in his qualification, there are also necessary giftings that need to be present as well.

Gifting qualifications – the necessary components of the gifting of a man aspiring to the pastorate are twofold: teaching and ruling.

The qualification of teaching, most succinctly, is derived from the previously cited 1 Timothy 3. Imbedded among the long list of character qualifications is this little, yet ever important phrase: able to teach. This same phrase also appears in 2 Timothy 2:24. Teaching serves as the regular, and formal tool that the Good Shepherd uses, by way of His under shepherds (pastors), to nurture and feed the flock of God. In countless places throughout the pastoral epistles, Paul charges Timothy and Titus to teach. Among them are: 1 Tm. 4:11; 1 Tm. 4:13; 1 Tm. 6:2; 2 Tm. 2:2; 2 Tm. 4:2; Tit 2:1; Tit 1:7. Teaching however, as vital as it is, is not the singular gifting necessary for one aspiring to the office of overseer. Inseparably related to teaching is another required gifting for the office of the pastorate – ruling.

The idea of ruling carries with it the care of the souls of Christs sheep. The word “pastor” is the common translation of the Greek noun poimen (Eph. 4:11). Literally it means, “a shepherd or one who keeps animals (Gen. 4:2; 13:7; 46:32, 34; Exod. 2:17; Isa. 13:20; Jer. 6:3; Luke 2:8, 15, 18, 20) but used figuratively of those called by God to feed (Jer. 3:15; John 21:16), care for (Acts 20:28), and lead (1 Pet. 5:2) His people, who are His “flock” …” [2] In Hebrews 13:17 the exhortation is given to obey those who rule over you. It is these rulers that the author of Hebrews describes as having authority in “keeping watch over their souls.” As it relates specifically to the pastoral epistles, the idea of ruling comes first and foremost from the passage of 1 Timothy 3 above. Within that list is the qualification of managing one’s own household. Paul puts forward the reasoning for this necessary qualification by asking the rhetorical question, “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tm. 3:5). Additionally, 1 Timothy 5:17 says that the elders who rule well and labor in word and doctrine are worthy of double honor. At the very least, what can be drawn from this passage is that elders are not only called to teach but also to rule.

Having examined the necessary qualifications of a man aspiring to the office of overseer, the focus can now shift to the call to the ministry. As noted above, the call to the ministry, biblically and historically, can be understood as the internal call and the external call. Only possessing one of these aspects of the call to ministry is not enough to justify ones calling and aspirations unto the pastorate. Both of these aspects are necessary for a man called unto that sacred office. Unfortunately, in our day, these crucial and biblically regulated aspects of the call to the ministry have been obscured, and in many cases abandoned completely. The result of this obscuring and abandoning of scripture’s teaching of the call to the ministry is catastrophe – catastrophe for the souls of the men who usurp the authority of Christ in installing themselves to the pastorate, and catastrophe and confusion for the precious and mislead sheep of Christ who earnestly desire to worship and serve Him in spirit and in truth.

Internal call – The internal call to the ministry is most simply defined as that inward desire and aspiration to the office of overseer. This inward desire is not to be confused with some fleeting ambition, and is most reliably discerned if continued over a prolonged period of time. 1 Timothy 3:1 reads: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” The Greek word here translated “aspire” (ὀρέγω) has the sense also of craving and desire. The Greek word translated “desire” (ἐπιθυμέω), interestingly, has the sense of longing, coveting, and even lusting. Now, the desire of a man to the office of overseer should never become sinful, yet there is a real sense that this desire is an irresistible yearning, an insatiable craving, an overwhelming sense of longing, a holy compulsion. The prophet Jeremiah epitomizes this desire: “there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jer. 20:9) – even the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:16: “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

This yearning, craving, and longing, however, must be born out of pure motive. It is possible that a man’s desire not be a fleeting compulsion while at the same time be sinfully motivated. A desire for prestige, and the accolades of man is disqualifying. Neither do a desire merely to preach, or the desire for an “easy” work schedule constitute a biblical call to the ministry. The examples of improper motives are endless. As a man considers his own call, Romans 12:3 ought to be a passage of constant meditation: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

It is important to note that while the giftings and character qualifications are requisite for men who hold the office of overseer, they are not requisite for a man considering his call to the ministry. That is to say, it is possible for a man who aspires to that office and work to presently lack some of the gifting or character qualifications, yet his internal desire is legitimate, being given to him by the Holy Spirit. This is where the second aspect of a lawful and biblical call to the ministry comes in.

External call – Biblically speaking, the assumed context of the call to ministry is the local church – this point cannot be overlooked. The external, or outward call to the ministry is an act and duty of the church.[3] The internal call and personal conviction of the aspiring office-bearer must be confirmed by the external call of the church. A man aspiring to the pastorate can safely assume that he is not called to the ministry until he has provenly committed himself to a local church body, and in doing so, submitted himself to the oversight and care of biblically qualified and installed elders, because it is to the local church body that the external call belongs. The external call itself is threefold: 1. The character and giftings of a man being evaluated, examined, and tested, 2. election, and 3. ordination.

  1. Testing of a man – This first step of a man’s external call is the observation of his life. Does his way of living reflect his profession of faith? How does he interact with his family? How does he interact with others in the church? Is he gifted in teaching and preaching, and does his teaching and preaching represent accuracy to the bible and sound doctrine (Tit. 1:9, 2:1)? Speaking of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:10, Paul says let them first be tested and then let them serve if they prove themselves blameless. The question must be asked, if this is the standard set forth for the office of deacon (an office which does not include teaching, oversight, or authority), how much more for the office of elder? Not only that, but because this charge to Timothy regarding the testing of deacons appears in the immediate context of the qualifications for deacons and elders, it should be safely understood to apply to both offices. Additionally, later in the epistle Paul will charge Timothy to not be hasty in the laying on of hands (1 Tm. 5:22), which is directly correlated to the ordination of men unto the office of elder. A man must welcome feedback and criticism in all of the aforementioned areas and show a willingness to, and an actual improvement in the respective areas of evaluation. If called by God unto this office, the Holy Spirit’s work of shaping and fashioning the future servant of Christ will be evident to the church body and elders.
  2. Election: Among other places in scripture, Acts 6:3, 15:22, 25; 1 Corinthians 16:3; and 2 Corinthians 8:19 serve to show that men were chosen, or elected, unto specific duties pertaining to official ministerial employment, by the collective vote of the church, as overseen by a plurality of elders, or an Apostle[4]. This doctrine is reflected in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of 1689: “The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage [collective vote] of the church itself; …”[5] This biblical election of office bearers is quite different than that of  an American presidential election where individuals put themselves forward as candidates and campaign for a vote, and finally are chosen from among the names that have been put forward. Rather, the biblical and confessionally reformed doctrine of election of office bearers in the church is that church members choose, organically, already tested and qualified men unto the office, under the guidance of existing elders. This external call consisting of testing, examining, evaluating, and electing men is completed by a final step – ordination.
  3. Ordination – The remainder of the same chapter and paragraph from the Second London Confession quoted above describes the characteristics of ordination: “and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church…” The biblical doctrine of the external call is completed by this “setting apart” or ordination. This is clearly taught in such places as Acts 6:5-6; Acts 13:1-3; Acts 14:23, 1 Timothy 4:14, and Titus 1:5. With the cessation of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, ordination is not to be understood to convey supernatural power, rather as John Owen would note, is to be “solemnly separated, dedicated unto, and confirmed in their office by fasting and prayer.”[6]

The call to the ministry and the qualifications necessary cannot, must not, be overlooked. Resting his case on the matter, Owen would say: “All the three things mentioned [giftings and qualifications, election, and ordination] are essential thereunto; and when any of them are utterly neglected,—where they are neither formally nor virtually,—there is no lawful, regular call unto the ministry according to the mind of Christ.”[7]

About the Author

Taylor is the Pastor of Shenandoah Farms Baptist Church in Warren County Virginia. He lives in Front Royal, Virginia with his lovely wife and their four children. 

[1] William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying and The Calling of the Ministry, Puritan Paperbacks (Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 18.

[2] Trent C. Buttler et al., eds., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[3] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 16 (Edinburgh, United Kingdom: T&T Clark, n.d.), 48.

[4] Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 16. Page 62

[5] Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1677/1689, 26:9.

[6] Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 16. Page 68

[7] Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 16. Page 68. Charles Bridges, in Part II Chapter 6 of his classic work The Christian Ministry, with an Inquiry into the Causes of Its Inefficiency would write “But both these capabilities [external call and internal call], though essentially distinct in their character, and flowing from different sources—are indispensably requisite for the exercise of the Divine commission.” And also, “Without a Divine call, therefore, the greatest talents, the most holy spirit, and the most sincere intentions, cannot justify the entrance into the sacred office.” In volume 1 chapter 3 of Albert Martin’s Pastoral Theology, he makes many observations of fundamental errors regarding the call to the ministry, which flow from a neglection of either the external/internal call, or both.

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Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

“Is it true that all people are equally sinful? If someone has sinful anger in his heart, but never acts on it, is that person really the same as someone who has sinful anger in his heart and then murders his whole family?”

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