Many people have no idea what pastors do, and it’s not unusual for pastors to feel inadequate in their role. I’ve felt that way, as Paul apparently did in asking, “who is equal to such a task?” He then noted (speaking of the human body): “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 2:16; 4:7). Despite the times of doubt that pastors sometimes face, they find reassurance in remembering that God has called them and that they have his anointing to serve him in this way—an anointing confirmed by their ordination.
I am pleased that our elders approach their calling to pastoral ministry with humility and faith. Paul tells us that pastors, along with other ordained ministers, are called “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). All Christians are called to share in the ministry of Jesus, through what Paul refers to here as “works of service.” Ordained ministers, including pastors, are called to serve by equipping and then leading God’s people in these works.
To be called by God to serve as a pastor is a privilege, blessing and responsibility. It’s a calling that comes to different people in different ways—sometimes quietly, over a long period of time; at other times dramatically and suddenly—like Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:12-14). I have been asked, “How do I know ‘for sure’ that I am called to be a pastor?” You will know “for sure” only in your spirit and through the confirmation of those you serve. We walk by faith, not by sight, and the opportunity to serve God is unlike any other life endeavor. The center of that service involves feeding others through sharing with them the living and written Word of God. This flows out of a desire that others come to know God through Jesus Christ and put their trust in him alone for life now and eternally. Signs that point to such a calling are love for studying and communicating the Word of God, desire to pray with and for people, desire to enable people to come to God in worship, and desire to help people become a fellowship of those gathered in the Holy Spirit around the Word of God both written and living.
Pastoral service brings with it the power of God moving through us in humility. Though that brings us joy, it can also bring disappointment. None of us are perfect, and neither are the ones we interact with in ministry. Sometimes God’s leading is mysterious, beyond our comprehension.
Whether we are rich or poor, learned or uneducated, or anywhere in between, God has a job for us and he calls us to it. We must not confuse the form of that call with the substance of it. He usually calls people by dropping hints. Many have told me that they eventually realized that God was dropping such hints in their life for years, though they did not notice them right away. We humans can be dense at times. But when we look back on our lives and pray about God’s will, the little hints he has placed in our lives are recognized as our call to pastoral ministry. It takes some time for us to hear, and it comes when we are ready to respond.
There are numerous ways we experience such affirmation. You might feel that you have fallen into this role because no one else was stepping up. But this may be a sign that God wants you to join others in his service. Some of us have been serving in pastoral ministry for years without perhaps even recognizing it. But others have seen the fruits of your service, and this could be God’s affirmation. If you have been asked by others to serve in a pastoral leadership role, then this may also be a call on you to serve.
Pastoral ministry, regardless of the specific area of service, is extremely challenging. The stress level can be significant, rated by some to be second only to medical doctors. To function properly as a pastor requires that we resist the pull of our fallen human nature and maintain humility before God. We are all called to be his servants, using the gifts he has given us to direct others to him.
As we let our Lord serve us, we must then grow in our ability to shepherd and serve others. For that reason, we require our U.S. senior pastors to participate in a Continuing Education Program. Some pastors fulfill the requirement by taking classes at Grace Communion Seminary. Earning a degree takes considerable time, finances and other resources. If you are able to pursue a degree at GCS, or simply want to take a few classes there, I urge you to do so. GCS also offers several non-credit classes that are available online to anyone at no cost. You’ll find them at www.gcs.edu/course/view.php?id=32.
Because many of our pastors cannot pursue a GCS degree, we offer other continuing education options, including classes at Ambassador College of Christian Ministry (http://www.ambascol.org/).