Summary: In this study, we will examine how a person comes to occupy the ministry office, 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.
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)