Home Church Community

Statement of Beliefs

Contact Us

Search Our Site

Bible Study Resource

Printer Friendly Version

Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Ministers, Pastors, and the Calling (Part 1)

The Importance of Music in Worship
The Church and Going to Church
Ministers, Pastors, and the Calling (Part 1)
Ministers, Pastors, and the Calling (Part 2)
Introduction: Financial Support for Ministers
Financial Support for Ministers (Part 1)
Financial Support for Ministers (Part 2)
Church Leadership and Authority Conditional
Communal Living

How many of us somewhere over the course of our Christian lives, have heard of someone being "called to the ministry?" Most Christians have probably heard this phrase at one time or another, maybe even a number of times. And certainly we are familiar with the concept. For most of us, this is nothing less than the first step in the process of a man (or perhaps a woman) becoming a pastor, youth pastor, music pastor, missionary, or evangelist.

But let's think about it. Although we've all no doubt heard the phrase "called to the ministry," have any of us ever read such a phrase in the Bible?

Well, that's a pretty loaded question. Sure the phrase "called to the ministry" may not appear word for word in the text of the New Testament, but that doesn't mean the concept isn't in there somewhere.

First of all, let's establish that the phrase does not appear in scripture. When we examine possible sitings, such as Ephesians 4:1-6 or I Corinthians 7:16-24, we immediately see from the context that Paul is talking about a general call to all believers, not a calling to a position of leadership.

Ephesians 4 refers to "one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (verse 4-6). The one hope of our faith is for all believers and not something specific to those "called" to a leadership role. This demonstrates clearly that Paul is speaking of a universal call because there is one hope of the calling he speaks of.

I Corinthians 7:17 and 24 does state that "each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him." But we know from the context that what Paul means is that slaves should not necessarily try to become free, wives should stay with their husbands, and the uncircumcised should remain uncircumcised. Even as Paul clarifies in verse 20, "Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him." The idea is not that God has called a man to a new place or situation in life but that a man should remain in the situation he was in when he was when called.

Now, we want to also clarify to avoid a potential straw man argument from those who might disagree with us. We believe it is clear from the New Testament record that God did indeed call apostles to their ministry. But we believe this was a special case. The New Testament does not use the phrase "calling" in regard to leadership roles except for the apostles including Paul (who was partnered with Barnabas for ministry to the Gentiles.) So, it is our belief regarding other leadership roles in the Body of Christ such as pastors, teachers, and evangelists, that these were not callings. They were paths men chose for themselves and had to meet specific requirements in order to obtain.

However, even though Paul encourages men to seek the gift of prophecy in I Corinthians 14:1 and 39, we believe that because of the special nature of a prophet's work, God was the only one who could make a man a prophet. So, prophets were not "ordained" through a Biblically-prescribed human selection process as pastors, evangelists, and teachers were. Nevertheless, a man's claim to be a prophet was easily testable given the Old Testament standards. His prophecies had to come true ALL the time or he was a false prophet. So, even this position was not without a test and qualification.

Well, before we examine the text of scripture to see if the concept of "being called to the ministry" is in there, let's define what the phrase means.

What are these people supposedly "called" to? They are called to "the ministry?" But "what" ministry is that? And notice the definite article ("the"), which appears before "ministry." Quite a particular distinction that is given to this "ministry" whatever it may be.

The concept behind this phrase seems clearly to be that no man ought to enter the ministry unless he is "called." Therefore, this doctrine teaches that all men who come into "the ministry" are called individually by God to do so. This will be important as we compare this doctrine to the Biblical standard of how positions of leadership were assigned. But is all this doctrine about being "called to the ministry" found in the Bible?

Certainly there were to be ministers (i.e. "servants") of different levels ranging from apostles (whom Paul referred to as "ministers") to deacons (which is the same word as "ministers" and "servants") of local Churches. The question is, how did people come to be in these positions?

Since the apostles are grouped in Ephesians 4 alongside "evangelists, prophets, teachers, and overseers" it would seem that these five groups are likewise set apart as actual offices. The office of the "deacon" (spoken of elsewhere in the New Testament) may have been a looser position held by more people with slightly less authority in local congregations.

However, although these five (or six including deacons) were all recognized leadership positions within the Church, was the method of placement into such positions a matter of individual calling by God?

A survey of the Biblical record reveals that the only "office" associated with the term "called" in the New Testament is that of the apostle. This would include Paul and Barnabas since both Paul and Barnabas were at the same time set apart by the Holy Spirit to minister to the Gentiles. And it is clear from the rest of the epistles that Paul considered his call to "minister to Gentiles" to be synonymous with his being called an apostle to the Gentiles.

Hebrews 5:1-5 tells us that regarding the position of High Priest, "No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God." But it reserves such a role for Jesus Christ in the same way that Aaron was selected. Certainly from the Biblical record of apostolic ministry and Paul's own commentary on his calling as an apostle we can conclude there was a similar case for apostles. But was this the case for any and all positions of leadership in the Church or were apostles (like the High Priest) a special case because of their prominence in the Church?

I Corinthians 12:28 says God has put apostles first in the Church. Consequently, it would seem that the original, twelve apostles were all appointed in person by Christ, as was Paul. In II Corinthians 3:1-18, speaking of his own ministry which was an apostolic one, Paul compares such ministry to the work of Moses. Both of these verses add support to our theory apostles were a special case among the other leadership roles listed in Ephesians.

When we consider the manner in which Barnabas and Paul were apart to ministry to the Gentiles, we find in Acts 13:1-2 that the Holy Spirit spoke this to a group of leaders at the same time. And the words of the Holy Spirit were so clear that they were recorded word for word for us in the book of Acts. This "calling" was not revealed privately to only Paul and Barnabas who then would present themselves as "called" to the others. Nor was it an intangible impression. It was a quotable and repeatable statement by the Holy Spirit heard clearly by many men at the same time, the majority of whom were not the ones being called.

This is quite different from the practice today. Today, young people believe God has called them to the ministry, but can they tell us exactly what he said? Even if they can, did anyone else hear it at the same time to confirm it? And when someone makes this claim, it is generally unquestioned. So long as they go on to proper schooling, we all just assume they did, in fact, hear from God. And unfortunately some of us have been witnesses to occasions when qualifications including the ability to teach or manage one's own household were not required before ordination. (All of these things are Biblical prerequisites as we will soon see.)

The calling of Paul and Barnabas had three essential characteristics that are notably different from the typical modern understanding of "calling."

1. It was a public calling, not a private, personal impression to those being "called."
2. It was for a specifically defined need and ministry, ministry to the Gentiles (As Paul later recounts in such verses as Acts 16:10, Romans 1:1,15-16, Galatians 1:15-16.)
3. The statement from the Holy Spirit was so clear that it could be recorded word for word without danger of putting words in God's mouth. In part, this is probably why their calling was public.

The question that arises is whether or not these other positions of leadership were considered callings in the same way that being an apostle was a calling of its own? Biblically speaking, there seems to be a difference between the calling to be an apostle and the general call to all believers.

But is there Biblical evidence that such a difference carried over to these other positions as well? Or, were these other positions filled by those with no other "calling" beside the general call to believe and serve that comes to every member of the Church? Were these other positions something men were called to be or were they filled by a process of men aspiring to a position on their own, meeting certain set qualifications, and then being selected to by other leaders?

The Bible is surprisingly silent about the "calling" of men to these other leadership positions. In fact, other than the instances where apostolic ministry is in view, the notion of leadership as a result of a calling is absent from the New Testament scripture. While there is much (particularly from Paul) about being called to be an apostle, there is no mention of men being called to be evangelists, called to be prophets, called to be teachers, or called to be pastors.

There are 4 Greek words translated in the New Testament to some derivative of "calling" in the English. There words are: kletos (#2822), which occurs 11 times; proskaleomai (#4341), which occurs 31 times; klesis (#2821), which occurs 11 times; and kaleo (#2564), which occurs 155 times. This gives us a total of 208 instances that could potentially talk about being "called to the ministry."

Out of that total 208 instances where the idea of "being called" occurs, 5 refer to Paul's calling as an apostle. 2 of these (found in Acts) include Barnabas who was initially Paul's partner in ministry to the Gentiles. 4 occur in the Gospels regarding the call of the apostles, including their original call to follow Jesus. 1 in Hebrews 5 refers to the calling of a High Priest comparing Jesus and Aaron in that regard. That leaves a total of 198 instances. All 198 refer either to the general call of believers or an even more general use of the term such as "to call into a room" or "named." Not one of these 208 instances applies the concept of "calling" to any other leadership role besides the role of an apostle.

We seem to have little context to understand men becoming apostles in a manner other than direct appointment by God in a manner publicly confirmed for all. Even if men did become apostles by some other process, it would be of very little relevance in today's church given that so few ever claim to be apostles.

And, we know how to confirm the validity of a man's claim to be a prophet, but how would men come into the remaining three positions, those of pastors (overseers), teachers, and evangelists? (We might even include deacons on this list.) Were they called and appointed by God? Or was there some other process?

Before we go any farther, we must clear up something about these positions. Today's church has a wide range of ministers and pastoral positions. We will now turn our attention to examining the Biblical basis for such positions in Part 2 of this study.