The call to ministry is an honorable experience. The call to the pastorate is humbling. The role of the pastor is connected to shepherding. Shepherds are responsible for their sheep. All ministry assignments entail people, but the pastor is more intimate and involved with the people served. An evangelist is devoted to preaching the gospel. The pastor is devoted to preaching the gospel, discipling the parishioners, administrating the church functions, visiting the sick, and administering sacraments, among other responsibilities. The evangelist’s ministry assignment may end immediately after preaching. The pastor’s ministry assignment continues after preaching. Oftentimes, the pastor is called to serve a few more hours after arriving home.
Some look at the role of a pastor and assume it is a glorified position. They may base this on what is seen in the media. As the saying goes, “Everything is not as it seems.” There is a plethora of responsibilities a pastor faces prior to standing before the congregation, and a torrent of events that occurs after preaching. Thus, some admit they were never called, claiming they felt led to enter the ministry because it offered the best platform for instituting economic, racial, political and social programs. Those who truly received the pastoral call understand that the pulpit is not for personal gain, but for God’s glory.
As stated in The Rise & Fall of Pastors in the 21st Century, God’s intent for pastors is to feed and lead His sheep. He or she is a representation of the unconditional and uncompromising love of God. This chivalrous assignment, if not called by God, can be paralyzing to an individual. Ben Patterson claimed, “A call is not a career. It has no maps, no itinerary to follow, and no destination to envision. Careers lend themselves to formulas and blueprints.” When God calls an individual to ministry, at times, it is unexpected. Sometimes, it is at an inopportune time. One may sense a feeling of discomfort and uncertainty, because God does not provide details all at once. In a career, individuals may have dreamt about it as a child. He or she attended schools to prepare for the career. Most people have a general idea of the details that entail the career. This doesn’t hold true when you are called by God.
Bishop Will Willimon shared a conversation he had with a young man who was prayerfully considering becoming a Methodist pastor. A concern of the young man and his wife was the meager salary on which they would have to live. They viewed it as a challenge because they were used to an affluent lifestyle since childhood. When God calls one to the pastorate, He never mentions money and material benefits. God instills the desire to impart His word and to nurture His sheep, but the conversation about finances is rarely discussed. This sparse conversation about finances is not to say that pastors are to shepherd for free, but to provide a clear understanding of the weight of the call. In the biography of one of the Church of God’s former general overseer, Bishop Raymond Crowley, the writer noted, “In 1934, his beginning weekly salary as a pastor ranged from $10 to $12. His membership’s average attendance was in the twenties. The church began to grow through Raymond’s evangelistic preaching and pastoral visits.”
The Apostle Paul had addressed hard work and freedom from the love of money with the Ephesian elders: “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak.” He also reminded them of the words of the Lord Jesus, who said Himself that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:33-35). The instruction Paul had was to discontinue the persecution of Christians and to become a spokesperson for Christ. He was to declare God’s unfailing love and grace for the Gentiles. Paul was also informed that his assignment wasn’t going to be easy, but costly. The Lord said about Paul, “Go thy way... a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake” (Acts 9:15-16). One may ask: With such limited and painful information, why would anyone choose to respond to the call of God? Wouldn’t you want to do something a little more enjoyable and less threatening? Dr. James Berkley claimed that responding to the call is a holy ambition. Holy ambition appears as a desire to do all for Christ, to elevate him, to deny self and enjoy the freedom and fulfillment of doing God’s will. Holy ambition even encompasses humbly accepting perceived failures, if it will further God’s purposes. The key point is “to further God’s purposes.”
Ministry is serving God’s people and fulfilling His plan on Earth. His ultimate plan is reconciling mankind back to Him (2 Corinthians 5:19). Due to the disobedience of Adam and Eve, mankind’s intimate relationship with God had been severed (Genesis 2:16-17). God’s solution to reuniting Himself with mankind was His son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Thus, God’s plan of reconciliation needed to be made known; therefore, He established pastors—men and women who share His heart for the sheep. Chaplain Craig Kocher describes God’s call as “the subtle movement of the Spirit.” The individual is called to a deep communion with God.
One’s acceptance of the pastoral calling means a “yes” to God and fearlessly abandoning anything that does not work toward His ends. The role of the pastor, in relation to the plan, is to teach and to nurture God’s sheep. This leaves no room for selfish gains and motives. The pastor’s daily drive is to seek ways to urge God’s sheep to stay in relationship with Him. Accordingly, God gives the pastor a heart for the people. Most pastors are attentive and compassionate. God gives them the ability to listen and discern. Pastor John Piper shared his testimony as he celebrated thirty years of pastoral ministry. He stated, during his sabbatical from working as a seminary professor, he sensed an increased longing to address a flock week after week and tried to draw them into an experience of God that gives them more joy in Him than they have in anything else and thus magnifies Christ. This is what led him back into pastoral ministry. He responded to the call.