The Objective Call of God

(On Mondays, The Preacher considers the vitally important subject of The Call – how God calls a man into a pastoral and preaching ministry. Each week we look at some scriptural principles and some practical considerations, as well as learn from a wide range of individual testimonies.)

Having looked at the necessity of a call from God into a pastoral ministry and the internal or subjective sense of call that often begins that process in a man’s heart, today we look at the external or objective call of God on a man’s life.

…the crowning validation of a man’s call to the pastoral office is effected when a specific congregation, objectively assessing a man’s graces and gifts, and acting by the authority of Christ, does by its corporate suffrage, acknowledge that man as a gift of Christ to them, leading to his formal ordination and installation to that office in that specific congregation.[i]

In preparing for this study I was struck as I went through the sizable pile of books on Pastoral Theology books that currently live on my desk, that there is barely a mention in any of them offering advice to the man or church who is seeking to know God’s will as to whether he is called to be their pastor or when he feels it may be the right time to move from one church to another.  Perhaps the scenarios are so numerous and varied that they feel they can’t address the subject, but advice needs to be given for this is one of the most important questions that an individual or a church will ever consider.

Let me be so bold as to venture where others fear to go.

First, and I cannot stress this to strongly, from both perspectives – that of the individual and that of the church – limit your considerations to one man and one church.  The man who considers more than one church, and the church that considers more than one man at any one time, will find themselves in great difficulties in making the right decision for the right reasons.

In both cases, the danger is that decisions will be made based, for example, on personal preferences or financial considerations rather than on what is God clearly saying to everyone in this situation.   The decision to call a man or to choose a church becomes something of a ‘beauty contest’ where comparisons are made between different options.

I was once deceived by a congregation that I was in conversation with about being their pastor at the very beginning of my ministry. In fact I was spending a long weekend with the church, speaking at various meetings and getting to know the church as well as possible.  During the Sunday morning service at which I was preaching, it was announced that on the following weekend a second candidate for the pastorate would be doing precisely what I was doing at that moment in time, and after his visit a vote would be taken to come to a decision.  As soon as the service was finished, I spoke to the church leadership team and withdrew from their considerations.

Apart from anything else, if, as is the normal situation, a vote is taken on which of two, or perhaps more, men is to be invited to serve as pastor; and if, as is the norm, a majority of perhaps two-thirds, or 80% is required, if one man can get that the other candidate(s) must be of such poor quality to only get perhaps 20-30%, in which case why were they even being considered at all?

Where more than one man is being considered, the danger is that a decision will be made on the basis of personal preferences about style or appearance or personality rather than on the Spirit’s anointing and confirmation.

When more than one church is being considered, the danger is that a decision will be made on the basis of the financial package offered, the accommodation that goes with the job, the size of the congregation etc, rather than on the witness of the Spirit within.

Getting to know you

I cannot stress too emphatically the importance of taking time, as much as is possible, to get to know the prospective congregation.  This process must not be rushed, for whatever reason.  It is more important for a church to get the ‘right man’ at what appears to be the ‘wrong time’, than to get the ‘wrong man’ at what appears to be ‘right time’.

This needs to be a period of familiarisation and examination on both sides.  Opportunities need to be given to both church and candidate to get to know the other as much as is possible.

In this day and age, even before any serious conversations take place, there are opportunities for church and candidate to become acquainted with one another.   The prospective pastor can find out a great deal about the church by visiting their website and listening to the sort of ministry they are used to.

The seeking church can listen to sermons preached by the candidate, even before inviting them to preach for the first time.  In the past, it was often the case that a church would call a pastor based on perhaps only hearing him preach two or three times; hardly a good basis for making such an important decision and the candidate may be tempted to pull out of their file their ‘best’ sermon, in order to impress.

When there are face to face meetings there will be different levels of conversations

  1. Between the prospective pastor and the spiritual leadership of the church

In my opinion this conversation needs to happen early on in the process because the outcome of this may determine where there is any future in the process.  There needs to be a frank, honest, open and far-reaching discussion – a two-way conversation – about doctrinal matters and personal convictions.

It is important that nothing be assumed, simply because of the individual’s reputation or church background, or current ministry.  Nothing should be ‘off limits’.

The following are the sort of questions that should be asked of the church leaders by the prospective pastor:[ii]

Theological and Ecclesiological

  • What is the church’s statement of faith and how did the church devise it?
  • What has been the most vexed theological question the church has faced?
  • Has there ever been a church split over theology or practice, and, if so, why?
  • On the wider scene, what theological trends and strands of false teaching would the spiritual leaders be particularly concerned about at the moment?
  • What are the leadership structure of the church and how does it work in practice?
  • If there is a plurality of elders, what is the relationship of the elders to the pastor?
  • What are the primary and secondary issues for this church?
  • What is the church’s position on the role of women – complementarian or egalitarian?
  • What is the church’s position on the function of the charismatic gifts and other contentious issues?
  • What is the process of being baptised and becoming a church member?
  • How is baptism and membership encouraged?
  • How is communion practiced and it the table ‘guarded’?
  • What are the expectations laid upon church members?
  • How does the church practice church discipline?
  • What examples are there of church discipline being practiced in the past?
  • What is the vision of the church leaders for the future; do they have one?
  • What, if anything, would the elders want to see change or develop in the future?
  • Do the church members generally, and happily, follow the lead of the eldership?
  • What is the church’s current commitment to world mission?
  • What are the views about worship, use of modern hymns, instruments etc?
  • What is the church’s preferred Bible translation and how fervently is that position held?
  • Can the elders give evidence of an openness to growing in their role? (by eg. reading resources on eldership, attending conferences, having a weekend away with pastor, etc)
  • How would you sum up the spiritual health of the congregation in qualitative terms (against measurements like prayer, heart for evangelism, love for one another)?
  • Pardoning the expression, are there any ‘sacred cows’ in the church?
  • Who are the ‘power brokers’ and problem people in the church?
  • What is the church’s view of the role of the pastor’s wife?
  • What are the congregational/eldership expectations (these two may be different) regarding pastoral visitation?
  • Is the church open to change?
  • What relationships does the church have with other churches and what are the criteria on which those relationships are based?

Practical

  • What accommodation, if any, is provided by the church?
  • How easy might it be to buy an affordable house in the area?
  • What is the view of the elders related to the pastor developing his gifts and feeding his own soul through reading, conferences, sabbaticals etc?  Are there any expenses for these things?
  • resourcing himself? (conferences; the odd retreat to read & plan, etc)
  • What is the ‘rule’ regarding days off and holidays?
  • What is the ‘rule’ for releasing the pastor to preach elsewhere on occasions?
  • What are the schools like in the area?
  • What would be the minimum and maximum expectations be of the frequency of the pastor’s preaching?
  • What items in the current services are non-negotiable?
  • What other items are deemed acceptable and have been featured in the past?
  • Is the pastor responsible for putting together all orders of service?
  • How often are business meetings conducted? Does the pastor moderate this? Are they productive and generally positive? What is typically discussed?

You may notice that there is one issue that is intentionally omitted from this list of issues to be discussed – finances.

My own personal view and practice is that I have never and never would discuss the matter of salary/stipend/allowance etc until after I am resolved in my mind as to the rightness of accepting a call should it come.  I don’t want to allow for even the possibility of being tempted or deterred on the basis of money.  As the old saying puts it, ‘Where God leads, God feeds’.  (Philippians 4:19)

“In my many years in the pastorate I have never established a dollar amount as the basis for my coming to a church. When church leaders have asked what I thought I should receive, I have asked them to make a comparison between the salaries of other men in churches of similar size, take into consideration the cost of living in that particu­lar community, and then compare the figure they have arrived at with the dollar amount the church believes it can raise. If I felt that I was genuinely called of God to that group of people, I knew that God would be faithful in meeting my needs. He never has let me down. Through the years, never have we lived lavishly, but God nevertheless has consistently supplied more than our needs.

“I have used this personal illustration because I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the number of young men graduating from the seminary who have exaggerated ideas of their own worth to a church as a professional. Often these men state a minimum figure they believe is necessary for them to receive before they will agree to serve the church. Even though they are still an untested product, many demand a salary that exceeds by several thousands of dollars the salary received by many of their seminary professors. I am not Opposed to God’s servants living comfortably What I am concerned about are those who make salary a major consideration and never seem happy no matter how much money comes their way. That, to me is an unworthy motive to seek the pastorate.” [iii]

  • Between the prospective pastor and the membership of the church

There should be the opportunity for the individual to spend some time with some of the members and families of the church, in order to get the ‘view from the pew’, which is often very different from that which he will gain from meeting with the leadership. These could be individual families and individuals or small groups meetings with an ‘open microphone’ type facility.

“During the candidating week, the prospective pastor should visit as many homes of the congregation as possible to get a cross-sam­pling of the people he and his wife will be serving. He should meet with as many groups of people as possible, and he should encourage them to ask questions of him just as he, in turn, will ask questions of them concerning what they expect from a pastor.

“As the candidating week progresses, he should do his best to pene­trate the power structure and learn where the real power of the church lies. Especially should he try to learn who the tribal leader—or leaders—are. When he does so he should then arrange to meet with that person or group of persons. Such meetings may have to be arranged discreetly, because many times the real leaders of the church do not occupy any official office. If the candidate feels com­fortable working with the power bloc of the church he may want to pursue further meetings with the pulpit committee and the board of the church.” [iv]

  • Between the church and the home church of the prospective pastor

Since it is – or at least ought to be – the home church that has, over a period of time, evaluated and examined the character and gifting of the man under consideration, it is important that there is some interaction between the leadership of the two churches so that, as was true in the case of Timothy, it can be said that “he was well spoken of by the brothers at…..” (Acts 16:2).

“It should be standard procedure that a church considering a person to be their pastor go into the community where the man is presently living and talk to the non-Christians with whom he has contact to see what kind of a reputation he has among them. What sort of a neighbour has he been? Has he exemplified the Lord Jesus Christ among those in his neighbourhood? How has he reacted when a neighbour’s child beat up his child? What about those people with whom he has carried on business? Was he always looking for a special ‘deal’ because he was a clergyman? Did he pay his debts promptly? Was he honest and straightforward in his business dealings with members of the community? If he was in a business other than pastoring, what kind of a business reputation did he enjoy? Did he treat people honestly and squarely? Did he back up the product he was representing with service to his customers? If he was employed, what did his boss and, his fellow workers think of him? By now the reader is discovering on, the basis of this list of characteristics that many people already in the pastorate should not be there.” [v]

This last stage is probably not possible in most cases where a pastor is moving from one church to another, but is important when a man is entering pastoral ministry for the first time

Let me suggest one more conversation that could be had, at least in certain circumstances, that between the prospective pastor and the former pastor of the church.  In my own situation, as a young first-time pastor fresh out of College and, as they say, very ‘wet behind the ears’, that was an invaluable and truly providential blessing.

“Books giving advice to new pastors used to warn the pastor that under no circumstances should he discuss his new church with his predecessor lest it color his opinions and thus his actions toward the people whom he serves. Such advice may be in order if the new pastor is easily impressed and incapable of making up his own mind, but usually it is not. In the last two churches I served, before agree­ing to become pastor I made it a point to sit down with my predeces­sor and try to get an objective view of the congregation. Rather than flavoring my view prejudicially, his comments gave me rich insights into the congregation. They enabled me to tread softly in certain areas and avoid making some of the mistakes my predecessors made. It also gave me a better picture of the power structure of the church so that I knew from the start that was really in charge. I was thus able to spare the time it would have taken me to learn the power bloc. I could begin to work immediately with those who determined what would or wouldn’t move in that church.” [vi]

For the church seeking a pastor:

  • There is a need to be explicit with the candidate about the process that is being followed, the rough length of time that it is envisaged to take and how the matter will ultimately be resolved.
  • For instance, will the leadership make a recommendation to the church membership, and will that recommendation be a majority or unanimous decision? I, for one, would not want to go to a church where the elders were not completely of one mind as to my call.
  • What percentage is required from a vote by church members?   In my experiences, churches generally require a two-thirds or 80% majority, and I would not want to settle for less than 80%.

For the pastor seeking a church:

  • It is important that even before serious conversations are held you identify what for you are ‘red lines’ and ‘deal breakers’.

Although not explicitly mentioned, all of the above is saturated with and accompanied by fervent and relentless prayer for the clearest of divine guidance.   There is much, almost unceasing, prayer by the men at the centre of all of this, but also prayer involving his wife and family, his church leadership and friends.   Perhaps a season, a retreat, of earnest prayer would also be appropriate and necessary.

One closing, but immensely important aspect I would stress; one which, in many ways, is covered by all the above – for the prospective pastor it is vitally important and critical that he gets to know the culture of the church that he is considering to the best of his God-given ability.  Every church has its own culture, its own way of doing things, its own values etc.   These are deeply ingrained, often unconsciously, until they are challenged.   As you get to know the church, its leadership, people and history, cry to the Lord to enable you to discover its culture and how cherished it is and whether in any way it would become a hinderance to you in ministry there.   Some church cultures are stubbornly resistant to change and may be best avoided altogether.


[i] Martin, A. N. (2018). The Man of God Vol. 1 Pastoral Theology. Montville: Trinity Pulpit Press.  p208

[ii] Many of these questions I have borrowed and adapted from Colin Adams’ excellent preaching blog – http://www.unashamedworkman.org/popular-old-posts/41-questions-to-ask-a-potential-church/

[iii] Anderson, R. C. (1985). The Effective Pastor. Chicago: Moody Press. p13

[iv] Anderson, R. C. (1985). The Effective Pastor. Chicago: Moody Press. p106

[v] Prime, D. (2003). Pastors and Teachers. Hants: Christian Books.  p31

[vi] Anderson, R. C. (1985). The Effective Pastor. Chicago: Moody Press. p116-117

The Subjective Call of God

(On Mondays, The Preacher considers the vitally important subject of The Call – how God calls a man into a pastoral and preaching ministry. Each week we look at some scriptural principles and some practical considerations, as well as learn from a wide range of individual testimonies.)

Having looked last time at the necessity of a call from God into a pastoral ministry, in this study we look at the internal or subjective sense of call that often begins that process in a man’s heart.

Whatever you may think of it, I have had a definite and irresistible call from God to serve Him in the Church.  During the last three years I have become increasingly conscious of this call, and my life now could be summed up in the words ‘separated unto the gospel of God’.  There is no higher service; I ask no other.

(John Stott) [i]

God’s call begins with God

“None but He who made the world can make a Minister of the Gospel.”

John Newton

As we have already stressed, this is something that begins with God and not with me.  The clue lies in the very terminology – the call of God.   Even when we consider what it means, in Paul’s words, to aspire to the work of eldership, when properly evaluated that aspiration will be discovered to have been planted in a man’s heart and soul by God.

There is, says Jesus, a “Lord of the harvest” (Matthew 9:38), and he appoints and assigns workers, wherever he desires in the work of the kingdom.  That is applicable to the work of pastoral ministry as it is to that of cross-cultural ministry to which that verse is perhaps most commonly applied.

God’s call could begin with a desire in our own hearts

Charles Spurgeon claimed that, “The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work. In order to a true call to the ministry.” [ii]

John MacArthur writes, “In 1 Timothy 3:1 the apostle Paul has written, “If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” The word translated “aspires” is (ὀρέγεται), a word occurring only three times in the New Testament. It means “to stretch oneself out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.”” It pictures a runner lunging for the finish line. The second time the word appears is in 1 Timothy 6:10 where it is translated “longing” related to money, which is the object of so much love as to make it the very foundation for “all sorts of evil.” The third usage is in Hebrews 11:16 where it is rendered “desire,” with the object of desire being a “better country.” So each context determines how legitimate the stretching and reaching is.

“The second word speaking of inner compulsion in 1 Timothy 3:1 is (epithume), a verb meaning “to set one’s heart upon, desire, lust after, covet. The noun form of this verb usually has a bad sense, but the verb has primarily a good or neutral sense, which expresses a particularly strong desire. This aspiration for the ministry is therefore an inward impulse that releases itself in outward desire. Sanders noted that it is not the office but the work that is the object desired.” It must be a desire for service, not for position, fame, or fortune. So this aspiration is good as long as it is for the right reasons.” [iii]

God’s call could begin with a desire to care for souls

Very often, the call to pastoral ministry begins, at least from a human perspective, with a desire in the heart of a man to care for souls, to minister to the spiritual needs of men and women in his local congregation.  He does not wait for an official role to be identified for him or a formal job title to be given to him.  He just naturally finds his heart burdened by and drawn to pastoring other believers.

It has often correctly been said that ever before an elder is set apart as an elder he is already doing the work of an elder.

It is important to also bear in mind that the aspiration Paul speaks of in 1 Timothy 3:1 is an aspiration to the office of overseer, not just to be a preacher.  Therefore, he will, in some sense, aspire to every aspect of the work of the overseer – preaching, caring, serving, overseeing, ruling, rebuking, correcting etc etc.

God’s call could begin with a desire to minister the Word of God

While the work of the overseer involves more than this, as we have seen, it certainly involves this.  It is, of course, the one distinctive qualification of the elder as opposed to the deacon – the ability to teach.

Speaking of my own personal experience, there is no doubt that from an early age I had a real burden for teaching and preaching, and that came before the desire to care for souls, it has to be said.   I found a great delight in reading and studying the Scriptures that overflowed in a desire to share what I had found with others.

God’s call could begin with an awareness of the need

Thought it must be stressed that the need is not in itself sufficient for a call, as that would be a purely emotional response, it is often the way that God plants the seed of a call in a man’s heart.  You might hear the plea of a pastor labouring away in a country where the need of gospel churches is great and feel God tugging at your heart strings, whispering – You are the man!

God’s call could begin with someone recognising a gift or ability in us

We might, for example, be asked to take part in a service or Bible study and someone detects in our voice, our manner or our words an ability or even an authority, that prompts them to draw it to our attention.  This requires great care and sensitivity as we react because our hearts are deceitful and proud and we love the praise of others, but it might be a means God uses to awake within us a sense of call.

Derek Prime testified, “My own conviction concerning the call to the ministry was present soon after my conversion in my teens.  It surfaced when it was my turn to give the talk at the young people’s meeting of the church through whose witness I had been brought to Christ.  The pastor was present, and afterward he turned to me and asked, “Derek, have you ever thought of the ministry?” [iv]

I want to commend this approach to all men in oversight roles in local churches.  We should be looking out for men in our fellowships, praying over our membership lists, that God would identify in his own way those we should be speaking to about and encouraging in considering some form of ministry.

God’s call is irresistible

This is what lies behind the Spurgeonic advice I refer to in my own testimony.

“John Ryle, a nineteenth century bishop of Liverpool, had no early sense of call, and when he shared his decision to enter the ministry it came as a complete surprise to everyone.  His explanation was, “I felt shut up to do it and saw no other course of life open to me.” [v]

“In order to 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…..what if I call it a kind of στοργή, such as birds have rearing their young when the season is come; when the mother-bird would sooner die than leave her nest.  It was said of Alleine by one who knew him intimately, that “he was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls”; he was “inspired with an impatience to be occupied in direct ministerial work.”…..If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fulness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants.  If on the other hand, you can say that for all the wealth of both the Indies you could not and dare not espouse any other calling so as to be put aside from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, depend upon it, if other things be equally satisfactory, you have the signs of this apostleship.  We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake this ministry, we shall be unhappy in it, shall be unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister.” [vi]

I apprehend the man who is once moved by the Spirit of God to this work will prefer it, if attainable, to thousands of gold and silver; so that; though he is at times intimidated by a sense of its importance and difficulty, compared with his own great insufficiency (for it is to be presumed a call of this sort, if indeed from God, will be accompanied with humility and self abasement), yet he cannot give it up.

John Newton

“More important still, behind this advice there is the basic truth that God always give a clear call to those whom He has chosen for the ministry so that when that call comes they can do nothing other than respond to it. They will not be able to say ‘no’ to it. It follows that if someone thinks he may be called to the ministry but is not absolutely certain, then he should wait until he is sure. God does not give uncertain calls.” [vii]

Pastor Al Martin compares the standard advice given by Spurgeon – that of “if you can possibly do anything else, do not preach, do not go into the ministry”, with that attributed to Robert Dabney which he sums up as, “if you can preach at all, do not, you dare not, do anything else”. [viii]

At one end of the spectrum, Dabney seems to be saying that if you have the desire and ability to preach and pastor, assume that God has so gifted you unless, in Martin’s words,  the “impediments are so clear and the obstacles so evidently from God”.   Spurgeon’s says, again in Martin’s words, “if you can do anything else and maintain a good conscience, invest your life in any other calling but that of the Christian ministry.” (emphasis mine).

Personally, I don’t view these two positions as being so far apart as it might at first seem.   Since it is a godly aspiration to consider pastoral ministry, would it not be right for a man to explore the possibilities and options, to push at doors to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).   

I would agree with both Spurgeon and Dabney.  I think they are both correct.  I would have no hesitation in saying to a man who I thought might be gifted for pastoral ministry, or who himself possibly senses such a call – give God the chance to turn you down

  • God’s call brings a deep sense of unworthiness

“Another element of a call is a deep and abiding sense of personal weakness and unworthiness. He who feels aright in view of the difficulties and responsibilities of the work, must with Paul say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” “[ix]

So, what steps should we take if, in these and possibly other ways, we begin to sense what just might be a call of God to pastoral ministry

Pray

Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 30:21

But I was dreadfully afraid of mistaking my mere human emotions for the will of God. So I resolved to make it a subject of close deliberation and prayer for a few days longer, and to look at the proposals from every possible aspect.”

John Paton [x]

Jim Packer’s biographer comments, “He was convinced that, being shy, he did not relate easily or naturally to other people. In particular, he felt (as he still feels) acute difficulty in speaking to children. This, he argued to himself, was inevitably going to cause him difficulties in ministry. Yet he was convinced that — whatever the difficulties — he wanted to minister to the people of God. Finally, during his third year at Oxford, in 1946, Packer spent a long Sunday afternoon thinking and praying about his future.” [xi]

Share

If applicable, share your thoughts and your desire with your wife or, if applicable, with a woman you envisage making your wife in the future, and together wrestle in prayer with God, for if God is calling you, he will also be calling your wife or prospective wife.  Without your wife’s wholehearted agreement and support you dare not venture into pastoral ministry.

Share with your spiritual leadership and ask them for their counsel but also for their prayers – both for you and with you.  One of the great joys of my time in ministry in Liverpool was when a young man begin to explore whether God’s call was on his life for pastoral ministry and I met with him and his wife every fortnight to pray about this one issue.

Take counsel, too, with other godly people who know both God and you well.

Here’s more wise advice from Spurgeon. “Considerable weight is to be given to the judgement of men and women who live near to God, and in most instances their verdict will not be a mistaken one.  Yet this appeal is not final nor infallible, and is only to be estimated in proportion to the intelligence and piety of those consulted.  I remember well how earnestly I was dissuaded from preaching by as godly a Christian matron as ever breathed; I endeavoured to estimate, with candour and patience, the value of her opinion; but it was outweighed by the judgement of persons of wider experience.  Young men in doubt will do well to take with them their wisest friends when next they go to the country chapel or village meeting-room and essay [attempt, try] to deliver the word.  I have noted – and our venerable friend, Mr Rogers, has observed the same – that you, gentlemen, students, as a body, in your judgement of one another, are seldom if ever wrong.  There has hardly ever been an instance, take the whole house through, where the general opinion of the entire college concerning a brother has been erroneous.  Men are not quite so unable to form an opinion of each other as they are sometimes supposed to be.” [xii]

Weigh

With God’s help, a man in this situation needs to reflect at length on all the characteristics and areas of gifting required for pastoral ministry, drawing both from Scripture as well as the wisdom of counsellors.  This needs great care, but we are instinctively self-deceiving and usually kinder to ourselves then we merit, but if we share our own insights and observations with wise and godly advisers, we will limit the possibility of self-delusion.


[i] Dudley-Smith, T. (1999). John Stott: The Making of a Leader. Downers Grove: IVP.  p18

[ii] Spurgeon, C. H. (1954). Lectures to my Students. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott. p26

[iii] MacArthur, J. (1960). Pastoral Ministry. Nashville: Nelson.  pp89-90

[iv] Prime, D. a. (2004). On Being A Pastor. Chicago: Moody Publishers.  p26

[v] Prime, D. (2003). Pastors and Teachers. Hants: Christian Books. p19

[vi] Spurgeon, C. H. (1954). Lectures to my Students. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott.  pp26-7

[vii] Prime, D. (2003). Pastors and Teachers. Hants: Christian Books.  p16

[viii] Martin, A. N. (2018). The Man of God Vol. 1 Pastoral Theology. Montville: Trinity Pulpit Press.  P35-36

[ix] Prime, D. (2003). Pastors and Teachers. Hants: Christian Books. p28-29

[x] Paton, J. (2007). John Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust.  Pp53-54

[xi] McGrath, A. (1997). J. I. Packer: A biography (Grand Rapids: Baker. Grand Rapids: Baker. P30

[xii] Spurgeon, C. H. (1954). Lectures to my Students. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott. p29

The Call Of God To Preach

(On Mondays, The Preacher considers the vitally important subject of The Call – how God calls a man into a pastoral and preaching ministry. Each week we look at some scriptural principles and some practical considerations, as well as learn from a wide range of individual testimonies.)


It takes quite a lot to put me off reading a book on preaching, but the following words nearly succeeded in doing just that.  The author recalls a conversation with his father which went like this:
 
“Dad, does a person have to be called into ministry or can they just volunteer?” He thought for a moment, “Well, I guess it’s okay to volunteer.”  “Good,” I said.  “I would like to volunteer.”  So I did. [i]
 
In my experience, that reflects a current prevailing mindset among many Christians, but one which is so clearly at odds with biblical teaching and examples and is the cause of some terrible casualties in Kingdom work.   I spent some years heading up an international mission agency and was struck how wholescale had been the abandonment by most of my counterparts, both within my own organisation and outside, of the need to look for a call to ministry and service.  Repeatedly I was advised not to be so restrictive in considering workers, after all if there is a need and someone is willing and able to meet that need, what else are you looking for?  Over the years, when we turned down a few good, competent and able people who we were not convinced had God’s call on their lives, we were met with astonishment.
 
As I read the Scriptures, I am, again and again, struck by the emphasis on God’s appointing, commissioning and setting apart of his messengers.
 
Paul begins most of his New Testament letters by reminding his readers that he has been called to his apostolic ministry by God –
 
…called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Romans 1:1)
 
…called by the will of God to be an apostle (1 Corinthians 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (2 Corinthians 1:1)
 
…an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (Ephesians 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (Colossians 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Saviour (1 Timothy 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (2 Timothy 1:1)
 
Indeed, almost a dozen times in his letters Paul uses such expressions as “by the will of God”, “called”, “appointed”, “commissioned” and “set apart” when referring to those with the high calling of being ministers and servants of the gospel message.
 
Paul is not simply ‘pulling rank’ as he writes to the churches; he is stressing his divine authority.  He writes as the appointed herald of God and speaks with all the authority of the one who called him into the ministry.   To hear God’s appointed messenger is to hear God himself and, conversely, to reject the message of God’s appointed messenger is to reject the message of God.
 
As far as I am aware, Exodus 3 brings us the longest record in Scripture of God’s calling someone to do a job and you could hardly find someone less keen on volunteering than Moses!   Five times he makes excuses and expresses his reluctance to obey orders.
 
I cannot find a single record in God’s Word of a man volunteering for service.   As I write that, I can almost hear someone say, ‘What about Isaiah?’.  Well, what about Isaiah?   I have heard numerous valedictory and commissioning messages expounding Isaiah 6:8, pressing home God’s earnest question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  But I have yet to hear such a message setting that well-known verse in its context.   I suspect that if verse 8 was actually verse 1 of the chapter, Isaiah’s answer would have been very different;  probably something along the lines of, ‘certainly not me!’. 
 
The point is that Isaiah’s response to God’s call was the response of a man who has just had the breath sucked out of him by the heart-stopping, jaw-dropping vision of an indescribably glorious and sovereign God; who has been reminded of his own innate sinfulness and that of the rest of humanity; yet reassured of his own forgiveness.  In response, Isaiah cannot but obey when called.  This isn’t offering himself as a volunteer, this is the obedience of a servant.
 
This matter of the call is of great importance because, among other things, it has to do with authority.    If a man – not to mention a woman – stands on a platform or in a pulpit, having volunteered to preach but not having been appointed by God, then they have no authority.  
 
No man should preach without the call of God on his life, any more than I would turn up at the White House and claim to speak in the name of the UK government.
 
Here are some examples of God’s call on men’s lives as recorded in Scripture:
·     Moses (Exodus 3)
·     Joshua (Numbers 27:15-18; Joshua 1)
·     Isaiah (Isaiah 6)
·     Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1)
·     Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1-3)
·     Jonah (1)
·     Paul (Acts 9)
·     Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13)
 
Now, of course the Bible calls all believers to be ambassadors for Christ and to be gossipers of the gospel – that’s part of what it is to be a Christian; but it is also clear from Scripture that God calls men and women to specific roles and ministries. (Matthew 9:38; Ephesians 4:11
 
By call we mean the unmistakable conviction that an individual possesses that God wants him to do a specific task.[ii]
 
God’s call could come to anybody!  Among those he called in the Scriptures were a farmer (Amos), a priest (Ezekiel), a tax-collector (Matthew), fisherman (several), a Pharisee (Paul).  God often surprises us with the men he chooses for ministry – 1 Corinthians 1:26-30)
 
In the context of these studies, we are thinking of the importance and nature of that call with regard to the call of God on a man’s life to the pastoral ministry.
 
“The work of the ministry is too demanding and difficult for a man to enter it without a sense of divine calling. Men enter and then leave the ministry usually because they lack a sense of divine urgency…Lutzer has spoken of the difficulty of ministry as follows: I don’t see how anyone could survive in the ministry if he felt it was just his own choice. Some ministers scarcely have two good days back to back. They are sustained by the knowledge that God has placed them where they are. Ministers without such a conviction often lack courage and carry their resignation letter in their coat pocket. At the slightest hint of difficulty, they’re gone.” [iii]  (MacArthur, 1960, pp. 83-4)

This is a subject of such importance that it would be almost impossible to overstate it.  The Bible carries numerous warnings from God about those who claim to represent him and speak with his authority but who do not.  This seems to have been a particular problem in the days of Jeremiah given the frequency with which it is mentioned in his prophecy.  See for example Jeremiah 14:14-15; 23:21, 32; 27:15; 29:9; 35:15
 
I have lost count of the number of examples of men, personally known of or known to me, both in pastoral ministry as well as in other spheres of work such as cross-cultural mission, who have, albeit with probably good intentions, entered into the work without any confirmation of the call of God on their lives and this has resulted in disaster for themselves, for their families, for their churches, and for the communities among whom they have been working.
 
I don’t see how anyone could survive in the ministry if he felt it was just his own choice. Some ministers scarcely have two good days back to back. They are sustained by the knowledge that God has placed them where they are. Ministers without such conviction often lack courage and carry their resignation letter in their coat pocket. At the slightest hint of difficulty, they’re gone. (Wayne Lutzer)
 
Brothers, we should have a holy fear of stepping into a call as high as that of pastoral ministry, the highest of all callings, without being utterly sure that we do so at the call of God.
 
This whole subject is of immense importance, not only for individuals who may be questioning whether God is calling them into ministry, but also for those already involved in pastoral ministry, because we should be looking for the men within our congregations who may well have the call of God on their lives.  When in pastoral ministry, it should be our frequently repeated prayer, ‘Lord, is this man…is that man…suitable for the ministry?’   We should not be afraid of putting them in situations where their ability could be tested, for example, and challenge them to bring the possibility before God in their own prayers.
 
So, what are the steps through which God normally calls a man into pastoral ministry?  Well, there are two main areas, each of great importance and both of which must be addressed with all seriousness.  There is an internal or subjective call which must, at all costs, be confirmed by an external or objective affirmation.  In the next study we will consider the first of those.
 

[i] Stanley, A. a. (2006). Communicating for a Change. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Press.  P9
 
[ii] Prime, D. (2003). Pastors and Teachers. Hants: Christian Books. p18
 
[iii] MacArthur, J. (1960). Pastoral Ministry. Nashville: Nelson. Pp83-84
 

The Call of God to Preach

Each Monday on The Preacher we consider the vitally important subject of The Call – how God calls a man into a pastoral and preaching ministry. We will look at some scriptural principles and some practical considerations, as well as learn from a wide range of individual testimonies.

This week’s testimony comes from the late Derek Prime (1931-2020) who was a good friend and something of a mentor to me, before we really used that term. Derek was a much loved Pastor as well as being the author of many books and a sought after speaker and preacher. The following was part of personal correspondence we had a few years ago and which he gave me permission to use for this purpose.

Converted in my early teens from a non-Christian background, I had an almost immediate conviction that God was going to call me into the ministry.  As it seemed too presumptuous a thought to mention to anyone, I kept it to myself.   Looking back, I realise that an important link in the chain which led to me conversion was the challenge of having to study a verse of Scripture and then share it with others.  Two school-friends invited me to their Bible Class at Lansdowne Evangelical Free Church, West Norwood, in south-east London, and I gained much from it.  My turn came and I chose – for what reason now I can’t remember – Revelation 2:10: ‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.’  I can still recall the excitement of preparing to share something that I had discovered, plus the joy of communicating it to others.  I am not able to date the exact time of my conversion, but I now realise that God was at work in me long before I appreciated that he was, and that Christians observing me were aware of something happening.

The first time the thought of the ministry came to the surface was a couple of years afterwards when I was fifteen or sixteen.  The church at which I had been converted, and to which I then belonged, had its building destroyed by fire through enemy action during the war, and the numbers attending were relatively few.  A small young people’s fellowship met weekly and at some of the meetings everyone took a turn in leading, praying, testifying and speaking.  My turn came to speak for the first time.  My nervousness increased with the minister’s arrival at the meeting, but I soon lost that nervousness once I began to speak, and enjoyed the privilege.  Afterwards – to my surprise – the minister, the Rev Fred Hart, sat down beside me and asked, ‘Have you thought that God might be calling you into the ministry?’  Then for the first time I put into words the hopes I had.  Perhaps after all I wasn’t being so presumptuous.

One of the first questions I asked was, ‘What should I do to prepare myself for the ministry?’  I am grateful for the answer that was given.  ‘Get the best education you can,’ was Mr Hart’s reply.  Until then I hadn’t thought of going to university, but this counsel motivated me.  Looking back, I am aware that I must have developed a new attitude to school work, and the advice that I had received prompted me to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge.  Eventually I obtained a place to read history at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, following national service.  The Senior Tutor at that time was E W Welbourne, later to become Master of Emmanuel.  Like most students seeking a place in College, I prepared myself for the interview by reading an academic book on the train so that, if asked, I could speak about what I had been reading recently!  The first questions Mr Welbourne asked were, ‘Why do you want to come to Emmanuel?  Did one of your schoolmasters come here?’  My answer was, ‘Because of its name, sir.’  ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.  ‘Its significance,’ was my reply.  ‘That would have pleased the Puritan founders of this college!’ the Senior Tutor responded.  To my amazement I found myself giving my testimony, and explaining why I wanted to go to university.  An interview which I thought would have lasted half an hour went on for nearly three hours.  For a considerable time we debated the issue of believers’ baptism.  I realise now that Mr Welbourne was a skilled interviewer and that he deliberately drew me out.  But the experience strengthened my conviction that the ministry was to be my ultimate calling, and that was why I wanted to go to university.

I owe an immeasurable debt to the leader of the Bible Class in which I was converted.  Will Gant, an employee of Hodder and Stoughton, the publishers, preached frequently in local churches and mission halls.  At first he took me along with him – when I was about sixteen – to read the Scriptures.  Then he gave me more to do, and within a year I was receiving invitations to preach from some of those places.  Reflecting on it now, I’m amazed at how patient and encouraging people were.  There were horrendous moments too, such as the time when I was preaching at Coulsdon in Surrey.  Although I was well through my sermon there was still a long time to go before the expected end of the service.  Had I really only been speaking for ten minutes?  Seeing my worried glances at the clock, a bold voice from the congregation declared, ‘Don’t worry – the clock’s stopped!’

Will Gant was marvelous in feeding me with the right kind of books to read.  One of the first was James Stewart’s magnificent book on preaching, Heralds of God, which had only recently been published.  When I was eighteen he gave me Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, and I began to build a library.  Foyle’s second-hand religious books’ department became a favourite haunt, and on my bookshelves now are volumes of Spurgeon’s Sermons and F B Meyer’s book on Expository Preaching that I bought there.  Almost unconsciously, my conviction about the future was showing itself in the books that interested me and the appetite to communicate the gospel.  As a young person it was natural for me to become involved in children’s work, and there wasn’t a Sunday in the summer when, together with others, I wasn’t sharing in open-air meetings for children on local commons and parks, and it was all invaluable experience.

Jeremiah had a God-given awareness that his preparation for service had been going on throughout his life-time, and even before.  Certainly God utilizes all the experiences that come to us.  Although national service seemed initially an interruption in the course of my life, it turned out to be a part of God’s training, and a further opportunity to prove my call.  After my preliminary training with the Rifle Brigade in Winchester, I was assigned to the Royal Educational Corps.  All members of the Educational Corps automatically became sergeants upon concluding their teaching course, and I found myself in Luneburg, Germany, attached to the Royal Scots Greys, and a member of the sergeant’s mess.  Apart, I think, from two Educational Corps sergeants, all other sergeants and warrant officers were regular soldiers.  In comparison with them we were mere boys!  They had to either tolerate us, or adopt us.  Fortunately, the latter happened.  I learned much about life, which perhaps I couldn’t have learnt so quickly any other way: from a fairly sheltered home background, I was exposed to totally new situations and temptations.  But – as never before – I proved the reality of the Lord Jesus’ presence with me, and his keeping power.

There were two other benefits of national service which strengthened my sense of call.  Through no choice of my own, my period of national service was spent in teaching – English, mathematic, and subjects like current affairs.  There were immense contrasts in the teaching situations I encountered, in that at the end of the scale I had to teach band-boys, up to every kind of mischief, and at the other extreme non-commissioned officers who were keen to learn because passing army exams determined their promotion.  To have to teach such a wide spread of interest and abilities tests and develops communication skills.  Almost unconsciously I was being prepared for the varied teaching ministry that a minister of the Gospel has to exercise.

The second benefit was that a small group of Christians met together in Luneburg, gathered from both army and RAF personnel.  Six of us were together most of our national service.  Only two of us were Christians when we joined the forces.  We met as often as we could for prayer, fellowship and Bible study.  Inevitably there was opportunity for those of us who had been Christians longer than the others to give leadership, and not least in Bible studies.  On a Sunday we met in the RAF chapel, and if a chaplain couldn’t be present, we were permitted to arrange a service.

In October 1951 I went to Cambridge convinced that, God willing, I would enter the ministry afterwards.  There were, however, a number of issues to resolve.  First, my parents were against I, and for a number of reasons.  My father had left school when he was fourteen, and for all but the first year of his working life had worked for The Old Times Furnishing Company in Victoria, London, which specialized in the hire of furniture for stage, films and exhibitions.  Towards the end of his life, he became one of the three directors, and he hoped that I would join the business.  Not being Christians at the time, my parents thought that I was throwing away excellent prospects.  Secondly, having been converted in an independent church which was Baptist in practice but not in denominational affiliation, which denomination, if any, should I join?  And thirdly, where should I train for the ministry?  This last question was particularly difficult because I knew that my parents would argue that three years in Cambridge was sufficient training!  The last question was, in fact, to take care of itself, as was the second.  Eventually the opposition of my parents was to disappear.

The early 1950s were exciting years to be in Cambridge from the point of view of the Christian Union.  Half the students had done national service before coming up, and there was a willingness to discuss Christianity and spiritual issues.  I can’t remember a single Sunday when some students didn’t profess conversion at the evening evangelistic service in Holy Trinity Church.  The Union debating hall was crammed full every Saturday night for the Bible readings.  Any young man with a conviction that God is calling him into the ministry loves to meet and hear contemporary preachers.  The Christian Union at Cambridge provided an almost unique opportunity to hear different evangelical preachers every weekend, drawn from all parts of Britain, and from most denominations.  As secretary for the first John Stott mission in Cambridge and then as secretary of the Christian Union I had ample opportunity to meet and talk with these men: a tremendous stimulus, which fired my spiritual ambitions and aspirations.

The Cambridge tripos system enables an undergraduate to change courses and after reading history for two years I changed to theology, with my parents’ somewhat reluctant approval.  During this period I wrote to the pastor and elders of my home church and asked for their considered conviction about my possible call to the ministry.  Was my sense of call something that only I felt or did they feel it too?  Without perhaps putting it clearly into words at the time, I had come to appreciate hat where there is genuine call from God to the ministry, an individual’s own convictions will be amply matched by the convictions of others, and not least those who have the responsibility of spiritual leadership.  I narrowly missed a meeting of the elders, and the weeks seemed endless before the reply came.  It was a strong affirmative, although they wondered whether God’s call might be for me to work initially among young people.  I’m so grateful for the prayerful thought that they gave to my letter.  Their united conviction was going to be significant to me during a period of initial waiting.  It was also going to be significant to me in the years of ministry that followed.  The enemy of souls is able to suggest to the preacher – particularly when he’s discouraged – that perhaps he ought not to be a preacher, and one of the most powerful answers is to be able to remember that the decision to obey God’s call was not simply hi own conviction but the conviction of the body of Christ.

After considerable turmoil – having been drawn to evangelical Anglicanism, but being unable to accept infant baptism – I recognized that God was probably calling me to an independent church.  I promised my parents that if nothing opened up before Christmas 1954 – I had finished at university in the June –I would seek other permanent employment.  An older German Christian once said to me – probably sensing my impatient nature – – ‘God is never in a hurry’, and I was to prove and learn that lesson.  Certainly at that time there was little machinery to introduce the names of men to prospective independent churches, and the best approach was simply to be available to preach until the right door opened.  But although London is an excellent place for finding opportunities for ministry, bookings for preaching are usually months ahead.  Having been away from home for more or less five years – in the army and at university – it wasn’t going to happen quickly.  Remarkably, however, an invitation to a church did come in February 1955, but events had taken place that indicated that it wasn’t the right time or place.

Looking back, I am filled with amazement at God’s providence.  At that time all graduates were allowed to teach in government and local authority schools without teaching qualifications.  I offered myself for supply teaching to the London authority, and taught in a secondary modern school in Tooting.  Within a matter of weeks, I was offered a permanent job teaching history in a school nearer home – Battersea Grammar School.  I hadn’t been there many months when the head of religious instruction sadly died of cancer, and I was offered his post.  The fact that I had read history gave me the first entry into the school, and having read theology I was given the Head of Department post less than a year from leaving university.  For three and a half years I taught approximately six hundred boys religious instruction each week.  It was quite different from teaching in the army, and life in a grammar school common-room was likewise different from a sergeant’s mess.  But it gave me a varied experience of everyday life.

The sense of call never left me.  Looking back now, I can see how perfectly everything was fitting into a plan.  First, I had pleased my parents by taking a job which they thought had better prospects!  Secondly, I was in a position to get married and no doubt there was value in being married for a few years before undertaking pastoral ministry.  And, thirdly, I could be available to the churches to preach Sunday by Sunday without the pressure of feeling that I must receive a call quickly simply from the point of view of employment.  For those three and a half years opportunities for preaching both in the week and on Sundays were numerous, and I owe much to those who passed on my name and who encouraged me by their confidence.  The church to which we belonged, and where my wife and I had been converted, was without a pastor for some of the time that I was teaching.  There were so few men that I had become an elder, although most of the other elders were old enough to be my father.  It was good to gain the experience of elders’ meetings as so often young men going into the ministry have to lead elders’ and deacons’ meetings having never been elders or deacons themselves.

My call to the ministry became a reality one Monday night in 1957.  The church prayer meeting ended, and one of the elders, the church treasurer, sat down beside me.  ‘Derek,’ he said, ‘the elders have met without you, and we believe that the Lord is saying to us that you should be the next pastor of the church.’  Although it was unusual to become the pastor of the church where one had been converted and to which one already belonged, we immediately felt that this was right and God’s timing.  The matter was brought before the church, and a clear call given.  My wife and I were not at that particular meeting, of course, although we waited with a sense of excitement to know the outcome.  I’ve often wondered what our neighbours must have thought as they saw a couple of cars arrive, quite late in the evening, and a number of men come up to our front door and enter, only to leave in the same mysterious fashion about a quarter of an hour afterwards!  All of the elders came to issue the church’s invitation and to pray with us.

In October 1957 the ordination service took place, and we spent twelve of the happiest years of our life at West Norwood until in November 1969 the call came to move north to Scotland to the pastorate of a city-centre church, Charlotte Baptist Chapel in Edinburgh.

The Portrait of a Pastor

The Pastoral Call

HT: Cale Fauver

Is the pastor called to the high calling of a herald of God’s Word and a shepherd of God’s sheep? The Scriptures tell us in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that there are certain marks of those whom the Lord has set apart for himself (cf. Acts 13:2). John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) has some key insights and marks of those who are called to preach and pastor. He writes this, “”You must not thrust yourself into it but be thrust into it by the Lord of the harvest.” Now, allow the pastor and theologian of Haddington to lead us into the marks of those whom the Lord thrusts into the harvest:

  1. Inward Call: “His inward call by His Spirit must appear in your cordial compassion to perishing souls…[and a] desire to serve Him with such gifts as He bestows upon you, by employing them in winning souls to Him for their eternal salvation.”
    • First, a mark of the inward call is a desire to preach (1 Timothy 3:1). Jesus said that he came in order to preach (Luke 4:43). It was his desire. The pastor must also have a desire that is filled with compassion (Matthew 9:36)to men who are perishing in their sins. If we were to place our hear to hell’s gate for a mere minute to hear the screams and agony of those who were too late, too hardened, too obstinate; to hear them cry out that the evangelists and pastors appeared to be too busy, disinterested, or too frightened, our hearts would be enflamed to preach and minister to those in our midst. As Spurgeon once said, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!”
  2. Outward Call: “His outward call, in ordinary cases, is by the invitation, or at least the consent, of the majority of the flock to which you are to minister. Without this, you cannot be their pastor, nor can they be expected to receive your ministrations…nor have you any reason to look on yourself as sent by Christ as His ambassador.”
    • There must be an outward confirmation within the local church. The hearers of the local church serve a weighty role in the calling of a pastor. If one is gifted from the Lord it will be naturally manifested by the congregation. It is recognized by his desire for opportunity to preach and the hearers affirmation of your gifting and craft. It was said of Jesus that he “amazed” those who heard his understanding and answers (Luke 2:46); he taught as one he had authority (Matthew 7:29). Luke tells us that Apollos was “competent in the Scriptures…and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus,” (Acts 18:25). Luke confirms his gifting, as does Priscilla and Aquila as they take him aside not to stomp out his work, but to aid and fan the flame of his preaching, and the disciples whom he traveled to were “greatly helped” by his preaching (18:26-28).
  3. Dependence Upon Christ: “And in your being deeply impressed with your own insufficiency for that important work.”
    • Lastly, Brown reminds us that we must feel the weight of our own inadequacy to our own calling. We are creatures, men of the dust; and the Lord has put within our mouth, hearts, and affections a holy calling to preach Christ and Christ alone. Preaching is a humbling work; for “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18) and preaching is “folly” to those who are dead in their sins — but God is pleased through the folly of what we preach, through the folly of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21). Therefore, we are merely sowing seed (Mark 4:3), imploring men (2 Corinthians 5:20), sorrowful for those who are cut off (Romans 9:2; 10:1), and a desire to snatch others from the flames (Jude 23). And yet, all the while, we are dependent upon God to raise dead men to life (Ephesians 2:1-6), to cause them to be born again (1 Peter 1:3), to grant them faith and repentance (2 Timothy 2:25; Philippians 1:29; Acts 11:18).

Our duty, desire, and dependence is this, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

The Call of God to Preach

On Mondays, The Preacher is going to consider the vitally important subject of The Call – how God calls a man into a pastoral and preaching ministry. Over coming weeks we will look at some scriptural principles and some practical considerations, as well as learn from a wide range of individual testimonies.

One of the fascinating things about this subject is the variety of people’s experiences as they come to discern God’s call on their lives, and I, for one, never tire hearing of the different paths God leads his servants along.

I have asked a range of preachers – well-known and less so – to share their testimony with us and I’ll be posting them over the coming weeks and months. But I thought I should begin with my own story of The Call – so here it is.

It was during my last year at school that I began to seriously consider what path I was going to follow for a career.   I was already involved in teaching and leading a young people’s group in the church of which my Father was the minister and I was a member.  Initially, much as I enjoyed that role, I don’t remember giving any serious thought to pastoral ministry as a calling but tentatively looked at teaching and one or two other possibilities.  However, it wasn’t long before the idea occurred to me – and I put it no stronger at that stage – that perhaps I should consider pastoral ministry.

The obvious person to first speak to was my own Dad!  He mentioned to me that he wasn’t surprised but was intrigued because just a few days previously my twin brother had approached him for the very same reason.  This led me to be more cautious as I began to wonder whether, as the son and grandson of ministers, I was trying to stay within the confines of a world I was very familiar in and comfortable with.  My Dad’s advice to me was wise and also, as I discovered much later, Spurgeonic; namely, go away and try and forget it and find something else to do, and if that fails, we would talk again. I genuinely tried and failed and so a follow-up conversation ensued.

In the meantime, I had begun preaching at a few local churches and was also involved in a gospel group I was part of.  The enjoyment in preaching was growing and there were numerous responses from people which gave evidence that God was graciously using my very immature preaching of his Word.

Following a further conversation with my Dad, I was encouraged to approach the Baptist College in Glasgow and was subsequently accepted, though no other commendations were sought, if I remember correctly, than that of my own father.  Very soon after that, for various reasons, God providentially closed the door to the Baptist College and then opened the door to the Bible Training Institute (BTI) in Glasgow, where I spent the best three years of my life, receiving, in the words of the Principal, Rev Dr Geoffrey Grogan, the best training imaginable (BTI).  I will always thank God for those years of training and experience.

During my time at College I regularly preached at local churches but also at several student events and led the street work of the College in Glasgow City centre.  All of this not only gave me greater experience in preaching but also provided confirmation from a variety of sources that God had gifted and called me to be a preacher and pastor.  As part of my College course I was placed as student assistant in an evangelical C of S congregation in Falkirk, being guided and mentored by the godly Rev Dr Bob McGhee, who became a dear friend.  Again, my gifts and calling were being tested and confirmed all the time.

The year after College was a testing one for Caroline and myself as I was unemployed for that period of time but had many opportunities for preaching.  During that year I was, at different times, in conversation with three congregations who expressed an interest in my becoming their pastor but, in each case I personally strongly sensed this was not the right place for me and so I withdrew.  I then, through a remarkable set of circumstances, including the involvement of the late Derek Prime, was invited to preach at an independent church in Kentish Town, London, and, as a result, received a unanimous call to the pastorate there which I joyfully accepted.  Prior to moving south, I was ordained by the leaders of the independent evangelical church in Grangemouth where we worshipped, joined by Dr Grogan.   That call to London was, at least for that stage in my life, the final objective and external seal and confirmation on the call that had begun subjectively and internally in my own heart some 10 or 11 years previously.

Soli Deo Gloria!