Trevor Archer, Training Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC), and Paul Mallard, pastor of Widcombe Baptist Church in Bath, have 60 years of pastoral ministry between them. We asked them to give some pointers in looking for a pastor.
This may seem so obvious as to be unnecessary, but it is not only contemporary denominations that are riddled with unsaved, unbelieving leaders; the frightening fact is that the Evangelical scene is not exempt from the danger.
A love for Jesus
Ministry flows out of a love for Jesus (John 21:15-17). It is quite possible for a person to be in ‘love’ with a particular ministry or status in the church rather than in love with the Lord. So, in considering a man for the pastorate, explore his delight in and intimacy with the Father, his captivation with Jesus and sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit in the Word. If a person is not daily devoted to Jesus, he will not survive the rigours of ministry. He will eventually either lapse into bitterness and cynicism or bail out.
A love for God’s Word
There must be evidence in the life of anyone aspiring to ministry that there is a growing understanding of the Word of God, a rejoicing in the gospel, a delight with its glory and an excitement about its power.
This is not saying that a person must have an ‘academic’ bent or theological qualifications; some may, but that in itself is not a qualification. What matters is an appetite for God’s Word, a readiness to get to grips with the great doctrines of the faith, a hunger to understand how the gospel applies to all of life in all its complexity and challenges and issues.
A love for God’s people
Jesus obviously loves the church; he gave himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Whilst people who make up the church can be delightful, enchanting and encouraging. They can also be frustrating, difficult and stubborn. (As one wag once put it, ‘Church would be great if it wasn’t for the people!’) Some people in church are ‘grace growers’ – those difficult customers that God uses to grow the grace of patience and compassion in our lives! A call to ministry is a call to love and serve people of all kinds.
Is there a heart to be around people, a willingness to share life with others, a readiness to face conflict resolution for the sake of the gospel and the capacity to maintain a thick skin with a tender heart?
A love for the lost
Pastoral ministry will have at its core a desire to see people come to Christ, to be rescued from the wrath to come. A heart for the lost is not something magically endowed once a person has been commissioned to a ministry. It has to be part of who they are and how they ‘tick’.
Ask questions about the number of non-Christian friends, the consistency with which they pray for unbelievers, the readiness to witness to unbelievers. These provide the best evidence of this aspect of any call.
A desire to serve
A call to ministry is essentially a call to serve God, his gospel, his people and his world. ‘Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task’ (1 Tim. 3:1). The word translated ‘aspires’ means ‘to stretch oneself out in order to touch or grasp something’. It is to ‘desire passionately’. Such a desire sees what needs to be done and sets about the task. It is not enough in itself and needs to be accompanied by other criteria but its absence or a reluctance to serve ought to ring alarm bells.
A maturing character
Those appointed to leadership in the church are to be blameless and above reproach and mature, not a new convert (see I Tim. 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9). The Bible always places character before gifting. That’s because gifts can and should always be developing but a fundamental flaw in character will undermine and eventually destroy any ministry.
But the Bible is not talking ‘perfection’. It recognises that every Christian, including pastors, struggles with sin (Rom. 7:21-24) and needs forgiveness (1 John 1:8-2:1). Growth in grace is a lifetime activity and maturity a process only finished on the day of home-calling, so coupled to this matter is the next: teachability.
A teachable spirit
The greatest challenge anybody faces in Christian ministry is themselves! It is important that a pastor has a self-awareness that invites other Christians to speak into their lives and welcomes constructive critique of their character and abilities.
Can a man identify his own strengths and weaknesses? Are there trusted friends in his life who challenge and if needs be rebuke him? Has he some ability to laugh at himself? It is never a good sign if a man takes himself too seriously and lacks a sense of humour.
A stability in relationships
Being married is not an essential qualification for ministry! Far better therefore when examining suitability for ministry to look for the stability and appropriateness of their relationships, particularly with the opposite sex. Qualities such as humility, respect, appropriateness, purity, consistency and other person-centeredness are high on the list of qualifications for modelling good relationships.
If a married man is to be a pastor, examine the health of his marriage. A perfect marriage does not exist but there should be clear evidence of faithfulness and love which mirrors in some measure the love that Christ has for his church (1 Tim. 3:2; Eph. 5:25-33).
Furthermore, a pastor’s wife must be totally supportive of her husband’s call to ministry. Gospel ministry will involve particular burdens to bear and pressures to withstand, a certain loss of privacy and an emotional cost to be paid. Unless both in the marriage are committed to the call it will not work. These things must be fully discussed and explored.
A giftedness for the task
A man might love to study and pore over the Bible. He may well do this out of a genuine heart and passion for God’s Word. He may have a really good grasp of theology, yet put in front of a congregation, though ‘solid’ in his doctrine, he is found to be lacking any real ability to communicate. He comes across as rather dull and boring – and worse still makes the Bible seem dull and boring!
Pastoral ministry is about real people with real problems. A pastor needs the ability and gifting to be able to feed his congregation regularly and apply the gospel into the mess which is our everyday life.
An evidence of God’s blessing
Coupled to this issue of giftedness is the question of evidence! How has the Lord used a man aspiring to the pastorate? What evidence has there been of God’s blessing on his ministry? It is an entirely legitimate and important question.
The three Gs – grace, grit and gumption
It is only grace that will enable anyone to survive and thrive in ministry and reach the finishing line. It is only grit that will keep them at it. And it is only gumption – the ability to decide what is the best thing to do in a particular situation – that will enable them to do it with energy and determination. So look for evidence of these characteristics in any prospective pastor!
This article is based on a ‘The Call’, a short book which the authors have recently published through 10Publishing, aimed to help both individuals considering ministry and churches considering gospel workers.