Is Pastoral “Desire” a Qualification for Ministry?

Reposted, with permission, from DBTS Blog.

The question of a pastoral “call to ministry,” reminiscent of God’s call of biblical prophets and apostles, has long been a issue with which ordination councils have been concerned. Many operate on the assumption that no one aspiring to the ministry may proceed without such a “call.”

I concede, of course, that God’s Spirit is active in distributing gifts in his church “according to his own will” (Heb 2:4) and “as he determines” (1 Cor 12:11, cf. v. 18). It is for this reason that the Scriptures may state plainly that God has appointed the church’s teachers (1 Cor 12:28) and has sent its laborers into the harvest (Luke 10:2). Indeed, we have reason to believe that God’s providential preparation of his ministerial appointees is extensive and complex (see, in principle, Gal 1:5 and Jer 1:5). Please do not hear me saying anything less than this.

The question under consideration in this post is not whether God appoints men to the ministry (he does), but how we know it. The Personal Call Model, if I may call it this, vests primary weight in answering this question in the candidate’s own testimony. Does he have a personal desire for the ministry (so 1 Tim 3:1) and has he had one or more private experiences (even revelatory ones—otherwise, why use the word “call”?) whereby he has become existentially convinced that God wants him in the ministry? If so, then the council may proceed to examine his life and doctrine. If not, the council may not proceed.

I would suggest that the Personal Call Model is not only incorrect, but is positively contrary to the spirit of Paul’s discussion in 1 Timothy 3. Rather than agreeing with Paul that the choice of church officers is not a personal one, but an ecclesiastical one, the Personal Call Model front-loads the whole ordination process with questions about the personal experiences and desires of the candidate. Of course, it would be rather strange for someone to arrive at an ordination council without a desire to be an elder, but that’s not the issue. The council is not called to probe a candidate’s desires; it is called to examine his competencies.

By offering the church a list of qualifications for eldership, Paul is informing us that the decision to pursue eldership (or any other church function, for that matter) is emphatically not something that someone makes after he has become existentially convinced that it is his “calling” in life. You can make other decisions that way (i.e., you can personally conclude that becoming a doctor or a lawyer is your “life calling” after becoming existentially excited by the prospects of one of those careers), but you can’t choose to become a pastor on these grounds. And that’s because it’s not your decision to make. The church makes that choice (let’s call this the Ecclesiastical Call Model).

It is important to notice, I would contend, that the “desire” for the good work of the pastorate in 1 Timothy 3:1 is not one of the qualifications for ministry. The qualifications actually run from verses 2–7, and consist of an evaluation of whether the candidate’s life and doctrine validate his desire. As such, the first question of the candidate for ministry is not, “Do you desire the good work?” or “Do you feel this is your ‘calling’?” (we rather assume that this is the case—why else would he be here?), but rather, “Are you a man who is above reproach?”

The modern church is, I think, making good progress in escaping the error of revelatory calls to ministry. But the idea continues to haunt when we make the candidate’s “desire” for the good work the first (and greatest?) of the qualifications for pastoral ministry.

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Larry's picture



"The best we can do is say that we THINK that God is leading us in a certain direction" is exactly what I would say.

Your earlier statement that, "When this [God has deeply impressed something on my heart] has happened, I know it.  I do not expect other people to yield to my leading as though it were of God, but I have known what I had to do" is what I was responding to. It is troubling because of the end, "what I had to do." That seemed to indicate an infallibility of the impression such that failure to follow it would be disobedience. If a church says to you, "We do not think you are qualified to pastor," your view seems to lay the groundwork for, "I will do it anyway" which ignores the God-given role of the local church.

The grave to which I referred is someone who would say to you, "Ed, I know you claim that deep impression is from God, but God deeply impressed me that he didn't give you that impression." Now you have conflicting impressions with no means to answer them. 

There is no easy answer, but I think there is a danger in that kind of language. 

Paul Henebury's picture

Thanks Larry, it does help.  I demur from your view about it not mattering because Mark's stance on the "desire" seems ill-considered.  Moreover, as I thought it would, it brought to the surface an underlying rigidity regarding the Holy Spirit's impulses within the believer that I didn't like the look of (although Mark is not along in seeming to deny special providence).  I say this respectfully because I agree with him that the "desire" is not one of the list of qualifications which follow.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Larry, you are not hearing me.  You are reading into what I am saying.  So when you say:

That seemed to indicate an infallibility of the impression such that failure to follow it would be disobedience. 

this proves you are not hearing me at all.

This "impression" is because others have probably abused the concept.  Do not lump me in with that bunch.

In the words of Richard Nixon, "Let me make myself perfectly clear."

I would never expect someone to do anything because I felt "led."  Being led is a fallible thing, much like interpreting certain Scriptures can be uncertain. Nonetheless, we come to conclusions, being clear that there ae different viewpoints and that we are fallible.

If I say "Babylon" in Revelation refers to a literal Babylon in Iraq, and someone else believes it is Rome and someone else believes it is a symbol of the world system,  we hold our viewpoints, perhaps firmly. This is just one of a zillion possible examples.  I don't expect people to automatically agree with me and my conclusions, and I do not consider them disobedient or unenlightened.  

Same thing with a leading.  It is fallible. I cannot be absolutely sure, but when I have a personal conviction that God wants me to do something, I should not expect anyone to act in light of it. Please hear me: I am saying I could be wrong!  But I could be wrong about Babylon, too; that doesn't stop me from trying to interpret.

"The Midrash Detective"

Larry's picture


Thanks, Ed. I get what you are saying. I understand that you would not expect someone else to do something because you felt led, but your comment that you "had" to do something based on this impression led me to think you were claiming some sort of very high status such that to ignore or disregard this impression was sin (because you "had" to do it). If you are not claiming an obligatory status for this impression, then I can accept that. The question is, Is that impression open to correction by others such that you would no longer do it?

I think it is a little different than interpretation of Scripture (e.g., Babylon) because there you have actual words, sentences, and paragraphs to deal with. Here we have only a non-verbal impression of some sort, a feeling. You can't really exegete an impression. If you and I disagree on Babylon, we have some concrete evidence to work with to try to convince each other. But "I feel impressed by God" or "The Spirit is leading me to ..." doesn't give us anything to work with.

To think out loud and press in a bit, I wonder how being "led by God" can be fallible and still have any meaning or usefulness?

If an impression might be from God, from Satan, from a late-night pizza, or the sight of an attractive person and there is no way to discern the difference, then what does it really mean to be led by God? If they only way to discern the difference is Scripture and wise counsel, then what good does it do to call it a leading, particularly when Scripture doesn't seem to use that terminology that I can recall (aside from Rom 8 and assurance). It seems like that is at the heart of the redefinition of NT prophecy into something fallible. To put it cynically, it seems an attempt to co-opt God into my desires, to sanctify them and give them increased authority because "God told me." If we say that we have to judge it by Scripture, that doesn't seem meaningful because we have to judge everything by Scripture. God hasn't led me to a concrete answer on all that yet so I am still thinking about it.

I wonder if a better description or way of talking about it might be more useful? I typically say something like "It seems like this was the right thiing" or "It seems like God is in this." 

Perhaps I just have an allergic reaction to "God led me."


Ed Vasicek's picture

Dear Larry,

I have addressed all your concerns and objections in the previous posts.  Don't know if you have simply  forgotten what I said or if we are simply at an impasse?

I thought about posting your "new" objections and my "old" replies, but I am recovering from carpal tunnel surgery.  We seem to be going in cricles.

"The Midrash Detective"

Larry's picture


Thanks, Ed. I think there are a few unanswered questions, but I am fine with that. I haven't forgotten what you said. I just think it doesn't answer the questions I have, some of which are more generic than specific.

I hope you recover quickly from your surgery. 


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