The call to the gospel ministry
Many dangers lurk before a man when he is willing to accept a call to the gospel ministry on the basis of subjective experience only.
A subjective experience is no sure proof of the Lord's will. The Lord has nowhere promised to speak to us except through the inspired and all-adequate Scriptures. When and as soon as we drift away from the inscripturated Word, then we have no way to know and ascertain the source of our thoughts and ambitions.
For the overseership of a local church is an ambition, a godly ambition, and one should approach it with fear and trembling. The pitfalls are many. And the most common is mere subjectivity, what I think, and that without reference to the Scriptures, to what the church thinks and everything else.
If you are to decide by your own feelings and sentiments, then you have landed yourself in the quicksand of deceitfulness. "The heart is deceitful above all things." What you approve of by yourself and on your own authority is probably what the Lord is opposed to. Subjectivity turns a deaf ear to the Word, and it is to the Word that the Christian is bound.
Otherwise there will be anarchy in the church, and everyone will feel free to start his own little empire, in total disregard to how the Lord is working around him. If we are to decide by subjectivity, then Moses and Jeremiah, to name only two of the most stalwart ambassadors of God, would never have been prophets. Their inward feelings, and their strong convictions, were, "Lord, I don't want to be a prophet; I am young; I am unable to speak; send someone else."
It is ironic that most of the time, those who are really called from above are reluctant to accept, and those who are never called by God want to run and engage in their free-lance enterprises.
Subjectivity as the arbiter not only denigrates the ultimate authority of the Scriptures but also despises the church of God, and is a potential threat to the unity of the same church. Again, subjectivity is variable. What is feel strongly about today might change easily by tomorrow. And what will be my hold and stay in the days of trouble and testing? We need something permanent and unchangeable, and that is afforded by none else but the sure Word of God.
How to counsel youngsters who desire to enter the ministry
Spurgeon was still a teenager when he entered the ministry. I would be the last one to cast doubt upon the genuineness of his ministry. This is to say that the exception proves the rule.
If the young man is still young in the faith (as Paul calls him, a neophyte: a newly-planted one), then he is automatically disqualified. But I would take the young man aside and counsel him on the matter.
Basically I would take the truths and principles enunciated in Assignments 4 and 5, and explain to him what is involved in the matter. I would check whether this "call" is something subjective, without any solid and biblical basis.
If so, it does not auger well for him. On the whole, a sound piece of advise in such instances is to discourage potential candidates, and show them the hardships, disappointments and life of loneliness he has to endure for the sake of Christ and righteousness. (Generally people who are not called for the ministry suffer from a delusion that the ministry is a romantic calling).Spurgeon speaks about a farmer who told him that while he was in the fields he saw a could formation, "P.C." The farmer was convinced that this was a message from the Lord, "Preach Christ." Spurgeon had a different interpretation: "Pluck corn.
"The young man will need my help in bringing him down to earth once again, and show him the nitty-gritty of the ministry. I will do some Bible studies with him, using, for instance, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 and 11:16-33. Also about the possibility of receiving a "Thorn in the flesh" to keep him from exalting himself unduly.
Warnings against wrongful entry into the ministry
1. Schism and apostasy.
The willful and obstinate man (or, as indicative of further apostasy today, woman) who endeavors to entry the ministry without due calling from above is acting upon his own impulses or upon the will of the people.
His credentials will be merely human; he has no backing from the Lord and being thus unqualified, he is easy prey to Satan, the deceiver of souls, to work apostasy through him. If the man was obstinate enough to start running when the Lord has not bidden him so, how much easier will it be for him to perform and do things contrary to the Word, as did Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:33-34).
2. An uncalled man is so dangerous in the ministry, whatever his academic qualifications might be.
The sorry thing today is that most churches accept a man on the evidence of his diplomas and degrees, which is merely the world's measure. I am not casting a shadow upon the importance of studying the Word, far from it; the minister is meant to be fully approved in this sense, to be a real scholar, but after all is said and done, mere intellect is not enough, if the man does not enjoy the anointing. Entering the pulpit at your own volition will lead you to adopt worldly standards or accommodate the Truth of God when pressured to do so. And pressures will come, constantly and persistently.
As an aside, let me say that 2 weeks ago I preached on stewardship and the Christian's obligation to give his tithes and offerings to the Lord. A man and his wife have just withdrawn from the church on hearing this; and they have been attending for many years. Shall I thus lower the standards? No.
3. An uncalled man has no authority.
Oh yes, he will probably have denominational authority, but the godly minister craves above all things to be endued with power from above. The real and inherent authority belongs to Jesus Christ, and it should be from him that the preacher receives his authority.
4. The uncalled man flies in the face of established authority in the church of God.
The Lord desires that his people will function together with orderliness, not in confusion and "everybody doing what is good in his own eyes." But the uncalled man is such a person; he does not properly regard the church and the authority vested to her.
5. The hireling (as the Good Shepherd called him, John 10) will run when he sees the wolf coming, and the wolf will scatter the sheep.
"All who have come before me are thieves and robbers." They care nothing for the sheep. Milton complained about the situation in his day, "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed" (Lycidas). It so happens that the hireling will sound in people's ears what they want to hear, not what the Lord commands to be proclaimed (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1ff). Thus, when times of stress arrive, the hireling will not be found.
On the contrary, the caring shepherd will remain, for better or for worse. "Therefore, having received this ministry, we faint not."
6. The uncalled person has no promises on which to lean and feed his own soul.
God guarantees his comforting presence and power only to those whom He knows. Cf. Exodus 4:12; Isaiah 6:7-8; John 20:21. Through thick and thin, the true minister will survive for his soul thrives upon the gracious promises of God. (It does not mean, though, that the true minister will not experience periods of depression and disappointments, such as Elijah and Paul did. Paul despaired even of life, 2 Corinthians 1; but through this trail he learned all the more to trust in God who raises the dead).
7. The great and all-embracing purpose of the ministry is to extol God's Name and that, in calling the church and sanctifying it, all would redound to his own glory, in the exhibition of his grace and wisdom. Now the church is made up of people who are obedient to Christ. Obedience is the ultimate proof of our love to Christ. "If you love me, keep my commandments." One of his commandments is that only those who are ordained by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20) are to be committed with the charge of his own people.
But the uncalled man hardly shows this love to the Lord, for his is acting not out of obedience but out of his own whims.
Ways to test your call to the ministry
1. THE SCRIPTURAL TEST.
This is really the touchstone and determining factor above all else. Whatever other test is mentioned is in a very real sense already included in this test. The others tests are expansive of this one. By the Scriptural test we mean measuring up the prospective candidate for the ministry by the rule of the Word. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are two comprehensive passages that describe the qualifications of the bishop/elder/pastor. Does he satisfy the qualifications; if yes, and he's willing to do the work, and the church approves of him, then he's really called; if no, then his place is not in the ministry, at least not for the time being.
2. THE STRETCH TEST.
The candidate should have an earnest aspiration for the gospel ministry. It should not be the case that out of a choice of careers, the only one left available is the gospel ministry, and so, whether he likes it or not, he enters it. An epithumos (strong desire) should be evident, way too evident, otherwise the prospective candidate, though qualified according to the Scripture, is not yet ready.
3. THE CONSTRAINT TEST.
Somewhat similar to no.2, but seen from another angle. There should be a divine sense of necessity, such as Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians 9:16. A compelling conviction is what drives him on. When Jeremiah, in his distress, said, "I will speak no more of Him," then the hidden Word became in his heart as a burring fire; he could not hold it in any longer. Paul desired intercession on his behalf "that I may open my mouth with confidence, and proclaim the mystery of the gospel, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6).
4. THE GIFT TEST.
The true gospel minister is recognizable by his intellectual, social, domestic, and spiritual giftedness. He is well-equipped for the task. Not all ministers are equally gifted, but they are all qualified, as Paul describes himself and his fellow-ministers, "Able (competent) ministers of the new covenant" (2 Corinthians 3:6).Among other things, he should be apt to teach. What he has he is able to communicate effectively to others. He keeps his family in order and dignity. If he fails in this, then it is evident that he is not able to take care of the family of God.
5. THE PROVIDENTIAL LEADING TEST.
It is precarious to attempt to interpret God's providence, for it is mysterious and way beyond our thoughts. Under this heading, I am simply referring to the fact that God places his prospective ministers is such places and times and circumstances that they will be given the opportunity to work in his vineyard. Actually, God knows from the very first who will be his minister; thus from birth he is somehow training him and leading him up to the actual exercise of his ministry, though we may not be able to decipher his ways (cf. Galatians 1:15).]
6. THE CHURCH TEST.
We are not meant to act on our own. Even in knowing the love of Christ, we are meant to experience and know it "with all the saints" (Ephesians 3). The church is a body; all members are interdependent, and least of all, the ministers should never impose themselves upon the congregation to be accepted and recognized as ministers.
Rather it is the church's prerogative as a body to recognize the calling and giftedness of a man, and thus to ordain him. A beautiful instance of this is found in Acts 13, where it is said that the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, and later it is said that they were sent out by the church. The church acts in according with God's will and sets its seal of approval upon her ministers, which were chosen and sent by the Holy Spirit. This makes for really effective and God-honoring ministry.
Also it is within the context of the church that the man is to be examined and proved as far as his competence goes. The church, on the basis on the evidence of blessing in one's life, has the authority to recognize her ministers. "No man takes this honor upon himself, but him that is called of God" (Hebrews 5).