The saying is true and irrefutable: If any man [eagerly] seeks the office of bishop (superintendent, overseer), he desires an excellent task (work).-1 Timothy 3:1, Amplified Bible
We desire so thoroughly to know, and so heartily to love the truth, as to declare the whole counsel of God, and to speak it as we ought to speak it. This is no small labour.-Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1)
The visible representation of Jesus Christ in the earth is His Body, the church. In ordaining the church (Greek: “Ekklesia” meaning “assembly” or “congregation”), Jesus had clear objectives in mind as to how it was to operate. As we read further in the New Testament, we see a great deal of discussion dealing with those whom God chooses to lead His church. Ephesians 4:8-11 describes five leadership offices that He personally gave for this purpose: The apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor and the teacher (2). These are what we collectively call the “five-fold ministry,” and verse 8 says that those who hold these positions are gifts given by Jesus to us. In this study, we will examine how a person comes to occupy these vital offices, including the nature of the calling, the qualifications necessary to meet that calling and the avenue through which a person must go in order to answer the calling.
Terms such as “minister” and “ministry” are often thrown around far too loosely. Although all Christians are to be ministers in the sense that we are all gifted by God to serve His church (more on this shortly), the type of ministry we are discussing in this study is limited to those who serve in the above listed leadership positions. For them, the ministry is a full-time vocation for which they are to be paid (Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7; Corinthians 9:14; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). It includes such vital duties as leading (“ruling”) the church (1 Timothy 5:17), overseeing the church’s spiritual life (1 Peter 5:2), setting church policy and doctrinal standards (Acts 15:6-29), and giving the church reproof and correction when necessary (2 Timothy 4:2-4). In short, they guard the very souls of the congregation (Hebrews 13:17).
Given the eternally critical nature of these tasks, it is understandable that they would be limited to only those individuals who meant the most stringent qualifications-those who are personally selected by no less than God Himself.
In Hebrews 5:4 we are told that “…no man taketh this honour (of spiritual leadership) unto himself, but he that is called of God…” In Paul’s Epistles, notice that he almost always opens by referring to himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” He recognized that his ministry came not from his own personal ambitions, but through the sovereign will of God. Romans 1:1 gives us even further detail: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle…” Take particular notice of the word “called.” The Greek word used is “kletos,” which means “invited.” The ministry is by invitation only. James 3:1 further tells us “…be not many masters (teachers), knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” In other words, God will judge ministers by a stricter standard than He will judge lay people, so we should not even desire to enter the ministry unless we know that the call is there.
God’s call to ministry cannot be manufactured. It is either there, or it is not. If a Christian is not called into this sort of ministry, it does not mean that God loves him any less or that He doesn’t have a plan for his life. Scripture clearly shows us the all of the members of Christ’s Body are important:
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him (1 Corinthians 12:14-18).
In light of this, the normative call for a Christian is to work for a living, and to use their God given gifts and talents to serve the church in a lay capacity (1 Corinthians 12:4-27; 1 Peter. 4:10-11). There is nothing at all wrong with this. In the words of noted theologian R.C. Sproul:
To say that full-time Christian service is the highest calling is to overreact…The New Testament makes it very clear that we have a responsibility to work and that there’s dignity to our labor and to earning a profit. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s what makes survival possible for the human race…We are designed by God so that we are able to meet both the responsibilities of our spiritual growth and the responsibilities of our labor. (3)
However, for a person who does have a ministry call on his life, he will never have true fulfillment unless he is obedient to that calling. The act of placing a person into a leadership position is what we commonly call “ordination.” The word “ordain” comes from the Latin meaning “to set in order.” In later Latin it came to mean “to appoint to office.” Just as God “ordained” the moon and stars (Psalms 8:3), He also “ordained” Jeremiah to be a prophet to the Gentile nations (Jeremiah 1:5). Similarly, Jesus “ordained” 12 men to men to serve Him in specific ways (Mark 3:14). He set them apart for a specific office and duties: He ordained them (4).
For those wishing to bypass God’s guidelines, it is, unfortunately, far too easy. “Paper factory” ordinations are a dime a dozen. With a minimum of effort, practically anyone can find organizations willing to offer some sort of frivolous “credentials” which do legally allow the holder to perform marriages and even avoid paying taxes. However, to put it bluntly, this is blatant defiance to God’s Word. A person claiming the ministry by these means is nothing more than a spiritual renegade. True ordination, by God’s standards, is a very solemn process which takes much time, training and testing. With this in mind, 2 Timothy 3 gives a very strict set of qualifications which a person must meet before he can even be considered for such a position (these qualifications are also stated in Titus 2)
- He must be “blameless” (v.2) i.e. above reproach, a person proven to be of unquestionable moral character.
- He must be faithful to his wife (v.2-although it was not a requirement for church leaders to be married. Paul himself was not-see 2 Corinthians 9:5).
- He must be “Vigilant”….”Sober”… “Of good behavior”. (v.2)
- “Given to hospitality.” (v.2)
- “Apt to teach”(v.2)-He must have an expert knowledge of the Bible, and be skillful in how to properly communicate and apply it.
- “Not given to wine.” (v.3)-He must not be a drunkard. Total abstinence from alcohol is the ideal.
- Not a striker”…”Patient”…”Not a brawlnvert (v.6).
- He must have a good reputation among those outside of the church community (v.7).er” (v.2)- He must be a lover of peace, not violent or quarrelsome.
- He must not be greedy, covetous, or driven by love of money.
- His home life must be in proper order. He must prove his leadership ability with his family before he can be entrusted with leadership in the church. (v. 4-5).
- “Not a novice.” – He must be a mature, seasoned Christian, not a new convert.
Once the person’s qualifications have been established, the next step is to prove the validity of his calling. This MUST be done through the careful oversite of the local church. The church is the only agency approved by God for this purpose. Although Bible colleges and seminaries can be a part of the training process, the church alone is the biblical agent for ministerial ordination. In Acts 13:1-4, we see a perfect example of how this principle operates:
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.
Note three things in the above narrative:
- They were in the company of “prophets and teachers,” spiritual leaders who knew them well and oversaw their spiritual development.
- After receiving their calling from God, they were “separated” to do their work.
- The church leaders laid hands on them, blessed their ministry and sent them on their way.
This is the exact way that it is to be done today. Paul and Barnabas didn’t simply strike out on their own. They were ordained and sent out by the leaders which God had placed over them. Biblical ordination is simply the church’s eldership recognizing the call on a person’s life, and being willing to endorse it through the laying on of hands (Acts 13:3; 1 Timothy 4:14). This must be done with the utmost care and reverence. In 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul instructs Timothy to “Lay hands suddenly on no man (to ordain him into the ministry), neither be partaker of other men’s sins…” In other words, if Timothy ordained a person who had not yet been proven worthy of it, then he assumed responsibility for the spiritual damage that person might cause. This is a sober warning to those who would be careless with God’s holy calling.
Once ordained, it becomes the minister’s responsibility to walk worthy of his calling (Ephesians 4:1). As the televangelist scandals of recent decades have shown us, it is possible for a person to be genuinely called and gifted by God, yet lack the character and integrity to properly steward that calling. Does this mean that ministers are perfect or infallible? Not at all. Like all Christians, ministers struggle with their own sins and weaknesses every day. However, there are sins which are so damaging to a person’s character and credibility that the person is no longer qualified to serve in the ministry. Obvious examples of this would be sexual or financial misconduct. Paul recognized this, as he shared his own keen awareness that if he did not diligently guard his own life and conduct, that even he could be disqualified from his calling (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
When a Christian leader falls, the impact is much farther reaching than if an ordinary lay person falls. A very sacred trust has been violated (5). Can fallen leaders be restored? Under certain circumstances, yes, although regaining the credibility necessary to meet the above qualifications can be very difficult, and sometimes impossible. Even if restoration does occur, it is highly unlikely that the person’s ministry will ever be the same. When God puts a broken vessel on His potter’s wheel, He remakes it into a different vessel than it was before (Jeremiah 18:1-4). . We often here God referred to as “The God of the second chance.” While this is true to some degree, that doesn’t give us licence to squander our first chance. When Esau sold his birthright, he was never able to regain it, although he “sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:16-17).
If you are called to the ministry, then get in touch with your church’s leadership and pursue that calling with all of your heart. If you are not, then don’t feel like you are any less important to God than those who are. Every member of the Body of Christ is important. Discover what gifts and abilities God has given you, and serve Him just as diligently. Whether it be a “pulpit ministry” or not, there is never a shortage of work to be done. May God richly bless you in your service for Him!
NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY:
1-Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. “The Preacher’s Power, and the Conditions of Obtaining It.” Chapter 11 of An All-Around Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students. The Spurgeon Archives. Publishing Date Unknown. 30 May, 2003
2-Although a detailed discussion of each of these ministry offices is beyond the scope of this article, Dr. Donald Gee has done some excellent teaching on the topic entitled “The Ministry Gifts.” It can be found in Chapter 10 of the book Pentecostal Experience: The Writings of Donald Gee.
3-Sproul, R.C. (Robert Charles). Now That’s a Good Question. Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois USA. pp. 416-417.
4-Lightner, R.P. “Ordained, Ordination” from The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology ,edited by Walter A.Elwell. page 63 Copywrite 1991 by Baker Book House co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
5-An especially disturbing example of this is the recent scandal involving sexual abuse of children among clergy. If biblical standards are to be properly applied, those guilty of such a heinous crime should not only be permanently removed from the ministry, they should also be subject to criminal prosecution (see Romans 13:1-7).