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Responding to the Call
Matthew 9:9 – 13. Matthew was a tax collector by profession, an occupation that Jews strongly despised because tax collectors were agents of the Roman government. The Jews, for the most part, hated being under Roman subjection. According to the NIV Study Bible, the tax collector’s booth was likely a toll booth on the major international road that went from Damascus through Capernaum to the Mediterranean coast and to Egypt. Matthew was not only called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, but to be an apostle (a minister of the gospel). God is still calling men and women into full time ministry. He is still raising up apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, what persons refer to as the fivefold ministry.
Considerations of the Call
Ephesians 4:7 – 13: Based on this text there is either a fourfold or a fivefold ministry, since pastor/teacher may be one office. However, we will stick with the designation fivefold ministry. The offices are those of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Let’s take a closer look at these offices and some of their responsibilities. An apostle is literally, one who is sent. He could be an individual sent out by the local church as its representative, or most importantly, he can be an individual sent by God. In this capacity, an apostle may be a missionary who takes the gospel to new territories, crossing geographical, cultural and linguistic borders to ensure that persons hear the good news. His role is not merely evangelistic as he must disciple the saints, plant and establish churches. An important function of the apostolic is to raise up other fivefold ministers to ensure the continuity of the church. An apostle may provide pastoral “covering” to various leaders and their churches. This responsibility must involve providing tangible help to edify and strengthen the leaders and the churches.
The prophet is a person who hears from God and who speaks for God. This includes forth-telling and foretelling. Forth-telling is simply speaking a message that is given by God. It is a timely message that an individual or the church needs to hear; it is a “now” word that prompts the church to take action or that encourages the church in the season that it is going through. Foretelling is predicting the future. In this regard, what the prophet says must happen, or else he can be deemed a false prophet, or at the least, he did not accurately hear the voice of God. The prophet helps to maintain the purity of the church and helps to keep the church focused on its mission. He exposes sin, proclaims righteousness, warns of pending judgment and challenges worldliness and lukewarmness in the church. The ministry of the prophet includes warning, exhorting, comforting and edifying.
The evangelist is responsible for preaching the gospel with the goal of leading people to Christ. He has a powerful anointing for the salvation of souls. In other words, his ministry is productive in seeing people saved and delivered. In this light, the evangelist’s sphere of ministry is chiefly outside the “four walls” of the church. It is in the community where the lost are largely found. The evangelist also has a responsibility to train and mobilize the church in evangelism. The only healthy way for the church to grow is through the ministry of evangelism. Saints transferring from one church to another is not growth of the universal church. Once churches recognize and mobilize its evangelists they will experience exponential growth.
I want to spend some time dealing with the office as pastor, since this office is largely accepted as the primary leadership of the local church. The pastor has the responsibility to oversee and care for the needs of a local congregation. This is a challenging task! The pastor has to preach which involves such things as prayer, doing research, studying passages (consulting commentaries and other resources), putting thoughts together in an outline and finding fitting illustrations. The pastor must teach, which uses some of the same steps as preaching but often involves more time in studying. The pastor must counsel: this involves making time to meet with individuals, understanding various problems, preparing assignments and following up. In some situations, counseling may take weeks: for example, pre-marital counseling can be 6 – 8 weeks of 2 hour sessions.
The pastor is also responsible for leadership and administration. Honestly, some pastors are good preachers, but they are not necessarily good leaders and/or administrators. A simple solution for this would be to partner with someone who has those gifts. While this is kingdom thinking (strategic partnerships), some pastors are insecure and afraid to delegate. Leadership and administration involve such things as casting vision: the church must know where it is heading as ordained by God; so the pastor must know the vision and communicate the vision. It involves planning: many persons have no idea the amount of time that must be invested in planning; there are many components of church life that involve planning if a church is to achieve excellence. Leadership involves assessing the whole picture: the pastor must be able to manage and collate various data such as finances, Board, department heads, departments, evangelism and the building up of the saints. Juggling these things is not as easy as it seems.
As part of his duties, the pastor must make hospital and home visits. These could be minutes or could be hours depending on the extent of the need. Pastors must demonstrate compassion, and cannot necessarily run off because they have other responsibilities. Ultimately, the pastor must invest much time in ensuring that the needs of the congregation are met: the bigger the church, the greater those needs are. A pastor may have denominational, societal and national responsibilities. For examples, he may be a district official, he must attend and participate in district meetings or he could serve on a school board or on the board of a civic or charitable organization.
The final office that is mentioned in Ephesians 4 is that of the teacher. The teacher must teach the Word, explaining it so that believers can understand it. The teacher may also lecture in Bible schools and other forums. Teachers must be knowledgeable and therefore should be well trained. I would encourage any person with this call to qualify themselves academically even going as far as getting a PhD if that is possible. I will also encourage teachers to keep on reading in various areas. Many churches are struggling because they lack good, biblically based teaching that is also relevant to the life situations that believers are facing. The Bible is replete with many principles that affect and cover all major areas of life. The teacher has the tools to extract these truths and communicate them in an anointed and exciting way. There is some overlapping of the fivefold ministry roles; the church needs to be connected to all five gifts if it is to function effectively.
For many people a vital question is “How do you know that you are called?” I will share some of the principles that come to mind. There is the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit has spoken to you and you simply know that you have been called. In fact, this voice has been speaking to you repeatedly over a period of days, months or even years. There is a burning desire or passion to be involved in full time ministry. You cannot see yourself being satisfied in life unless you are in full time ministry. The call may be reinforced and confirmed by a prophecy, often by someone who doesn’t know you, or someone who doesn’t know what God has been saying to you. The call to ministry may be evident in the demonstration of certain gifts such as the ability to teach, preach, administrate and counsel. One of the greatest confirmations is when others recognize the call of God on your life – family, friends, ministry leaders, pastors and denominational officials.
Another vital question is “How do you respond to the call?” One of the things that you can and should do is to talk to your pastor and get his guidance and input. He or she can encourage you, share important personal experiences with you, and provide mentoring. Another important step is to prepare by attending a reputable Bible School. Jesus trained the disciples for approximately three years before really releasing them to do the work of the ministry. Bible School will train you in Bible, theology, leadership and other subjects needed for ministry. It will also allow you to develop yourself by interacting with other students and ministers: iron sharpens iron. One of the most critical things that must be done in responding to the call is to develop your spiritual life. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem where they would be endued with power when the Holy Spirit comes on them. Spiritual maturity and intimacy are needed for effective fivefold ministry. Ministers must be aglow and fervent in spirit: the fires of Pentecost must burn in them if they are to have the quality of impact that God wants them to have.
Ministers of the gospel must not only be spiritually healthy, they must also be emotionally healthy. The truth is that hurting people hurt other people and ministers who are hurting can hurt many people because of their position of influence and leadership. Ensure that any unresolved issues in your life are dealt with. This is not the time to live in denial, but to objectively look at yourself through the eyes of the Holy Spirit and deal with anything in your heart. You cannot heal others if you need healing yourself, if you are broken and dysfunctional. The reality is we reproduce what we are. Another massive area is working on your family life, particularly if you are married with children. The minister’s first church is his or her family. In fact, Paul makes it clear that if a man cannot manage his family he will not be able to manage the church of Jesus Christ: if you can’t manage the small things, how will you be able to manage the bigger things. There are too many broken ministerial families; don’t add to the statistics. Other things that you ought to do are to apply for ministerial credentials and find an area where God wants you to serve.
Characteristics of the Calling
I wish the following scenarios were fiction, but sadly they are true. Minister 1 died of a drug overdose; Minister 2 divorced at least three times; Minister 3 was guilty of adultery with multiple women; Minister 3 misappropriated church funds for personal use; Minister 4 gambled out church money; Minister 5 was arrested for assaulting his wife. Any leader can have a moral failure, but an essential part of our call is living in a manner that brings glory to God. Three Scriptural passages that every minister should focus on are 1 Timothy 3:1 – 7; Titus 1:5 – 9 and 1 Corinthians 13.
Here are just some of the principles that leaders need to apply. Leaders must be above reproach. In other words, no one can rightly accuse them of doing anything wrong. There is always the possibility of false accusation, but this must be baseless. Further, leaders are to be the husband of one wife. Leaders are not to be adulterers in thought, speech or action. Things such as pornography, flirting, inappropriate touching or thinking about another woman are anathema to leaders. Leaders must be temperate and self-controlled: leaders must be able to discipline and manage themselves so that they do not fall into sin or are imbalanced in any area of their lives. According to Gene Getz, “A leader should be wise, discerning and experienced; the kind of Christian who reflects true humility and is disciplined by God’s grace to live a godly life and to be a person of prayer.”
A leader must be a respectable Christian. There are some Christians and pastors that people have no respect for. These individuals do not demonstrate godly, visionary and capable leadership. Leadership is more than having a position; some people will not respect you because of your position, but they will respect you because of your character, your compassion, your commitment, your competence. In other words, some people will respect you as a leader because you clearly demonstrate the qualities of a good leader. A leader must be hospitable opening his home and his life to others. Leaders exist to bless others. We are God’s representatives who demonstrate His benevolence to others by our generosity. Unfortunately, there are some ministers who are arrogant and treat others as pawns to facilitate their selfish promotion and benefit.
Again quoting from Gene Getz, “A leader should be able to communicate in a nonargumentative, nondefensive and nonthreatening way-demonstrating gentleness, patience and teachability without compromising the message of the Word of God: a leader must be able to teach.” The leader really does not accomplish God’s vision by arguing people into submission. He is not a slave master, but a person who must be able to empower others so that they personally develop and contribute to the mission of the organization. A leader must not emphasize defending himself; this is not to say that there aren’t times that he must speak out against false accusations. Usually when leaders become defensive it is because they are insecure, incompetent and unable to handle progressive thinkers or people who think differently from the status quo. Further, a godly leader is not a bully, threatening people to do his bidding. Such constructs of leadership – argumentative, defensive, threatening – are ungodly constructs borrowed from secular models of leadership. When leaders genuinely care about people, they will be gentle and patient. They will also be teachable, learning from (not simply teaching) those that they lead.
Your character as a leader is more important than your doing for God. Godly character will produce godly action. Action without character is really legalism and it bears the fruit of legalism: pride, harshness, hypocrisy, traditionalism, deception, competition, jealousy and frustration. The five crucial characteristics that leaders need and that I pray for regularly are humility, love, purity, wisdom and anointing; these must be linked by faith. Leaders who have godly character will make an indelible and lasting impact on others.
Challenges of the Calling
“This scene is played out in different ways in different churches: Pastor Ames had been the spiritual shepherd of Fellowship Assembly for ten years. He unlocked the double glass doors and proceeded into the church lobby. It was Saturday morning and he knew that he would be alone. His face showed the agony of deep thinking. As if carrying a great weight, he slumped heavily into one of the couches in the lobby. He tried to cry but no tears came. He tried to pray but only mumbled a few monosyllabic words. After ten years he could take it no longer. His heart filled with anguish, his thoughts filled with bitterness, his body filled with weariness, he was ready to resign.” This is excerpted from my book “The Church on the Edge of Destiny.”
One of the challenges that leaders have to deal with is burnout. Ministers often love to work for God and typically work hard to meet the needs and expectations of the congregation. They may not have adequate times of rest and relaxation. Burnout has many results including spiritual coldness, bitterness, depression and anger. Another challenge is balancing family and ministry. Too often, ministers neglect their families for the ministry. Leaders need to set up proper boundaries: there must be time set apart for family that is not to be interrupted by church activities or requests. Spouses need to have date nights so that they are able to refresh their marriage. The Bible is clear: if a man cannot manage his family, he cannot manage the church of God.
Some ministers are underpaid and either underappreciated or unappreciated. Most people do not realize the amount of work that good pastors do. Some pastors do their work so effortlessly that it appears to be simple. For example, a gymnast may perform a beautiful routine, but it is done so gracefully that the observer has no concept of the weeks of intense work the gymnast had to undergo. Pastors are not volunteers; ministry is a serious career and must be properly compensated.
Leaders will encounter relationship challenges. They have to deal with multiple personalities in the church including antagonists who like to get their own way. Antagonists are a serious challenge not only to leaders but to the health and vitality of the church. They oppose leaders, not because the leaders are doing anything wrong, but because they have a different perspective, a false sense of grandeur and superiority and the feeling that they know what is best for the church. Antagonists tend to challenge decisions and undermine authority. In extreme cases, they can stir up dissension that results in factions or that can ultimately split the church. Leaders will need wisdom, but will also need to be courageous to confront this carnal and demonic spirit, even if that means removing the offending individual from fellowship. They will need faith to trust God to vindicate their leadership, exercising tremendous grace, patience, love and gentleness.
Perhaps the biggest threat to Christian ministers is the failure to maintain spiritual intimacy with God. Pastors may get too busy to spend quality time with God. When you study the history of denominations, you find that many of them started with a real passion for God. They started with fervor, with a strong sense of purpose and divine call. However, as they aged, they became increasingly institutionalized until they became a shell of their former spiritual selves. Ministers face the same problem: starting with the vitality of the Spirit then dying a slow death. Ministry becomes dry, predictable, monotonous. Efficiency (doing things right) may replace effectiveness (doing the right things). Ministers may coast by on experience that to the uninitiated may seem like the anointing but is a rather sterile substitute. The apostles were called first to be with Jesus, to be in His presence. The Holy Spirit was sent so that our lives would be saturated with the fullness of God. Spiritual intimacy is essential to powerful, life-transforming ministry.
There are many challenges that ministers face, but I will just mention one more: loneliness. Pastors are expected to minister and be available to others, but often don’t know who to turn to or have no one to turn to for counsel. They may talk to their spouses and in some instances to their children. However, they will not want to burden them and may want to protect them from being worried, afraid or angry. In any case, the constant discussion of church problems may put a tremendous burden on a marriage and on the family. Children can begin to despise the ministry, can become rebellious and even backslide. Turning to other ministers for counsel can also have its challenges. Some of them are malicious and competitive and may be secretly glad that the minister is going through some challenges. Others may not be confidential or may not be equipped to adequately deal with what the minister is facing.
Most of you will not be called to the fivefold ministry, so what can you do for the men or women of God? The first thing I will ask you to do is to pray regularly for them. Perhaps nothing is more powerful than Spirit led and empowered prayer for your leaders. They need God’s anointing, wisdom, humility, grace, strength, courage, love, vision. Pray for their marriage, their children, their emotions and for their relationship with God. Really cry out to God on behalf of your leaders because their task is a tremendous one. The next thing that I will ask you to do is to support and submit to their leadership. Leaders are not perfect, but they cannot function effectively in an unsupportive environment. Your cooperation is needed if they are to succeed in doing what God has called them to do. To resist God-ordained leadership is really to rebel against God. Humble yourself and come alongside of your leader to hold his hands up so that God’s mission can be accomplished.
Do offer to carry some of the load. Some pastors want to delegate, but cannot always find people who are committed and reliable. There is a strong spirit of unfaithfulness in churches today. Some people are committed to their job, but they are not committed to the mission of the church. Leaders often struggle to find people that they can empower and mobilize in ministry. Let your pastor know that you are available to help in whatever area he may need help. Another thing that I would ask you to do is to be reasonable: the pastor, for example, has to manage all aspects and departments of the church. This means that he cannot just be concerned about you and your personal problems, or your ministry or department alone. In any one month, a minister may have to juggle a hundred responsibilities excluding his family and personal life. Finally, make sure that they are properly compensated. There is the mistaken belief that pastors do nothing and that their work is volunteer work. It is not; it is integral to the growth and health of the church, and the Bible is clear that ministers are to be properly supported.
I teach in a Bible school and most of the students do not sense any call to the fivefold ministry. They simply come to receive theological training, in some instances so that they may be more equipped in their ministry in the local church. Many of the students are middle aged or older, which means that we are not attracting the younger generation, particularly those that feel any sense of call to the fivefold ministry. The Bible tells us to pray for laborers, but sometimes the people who pray are the ones whom God will call.
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