As a seminary president, I receive lots of mail. Publications from every sector of life flood my office daily, and I enjoy perusing many of them, especially those related to theological education. I am often amused and sometimes even frightened by much of what I read, as these publications demonstrate that much of what passes for theological education is shockingly unbiblical.
A couple of years ago, one such magazine caught my attention. It was the institutional magazine for one of America’s more progressive seminaries. Institutional magazines like this are typically little more than puff pieces meant to celebrate the institution’s achievements and update the school’s constituency on campus happenings and positive developments.
Against this backdrop, the magazine’s featured story stopped me in my tracks. The article, “Extending the Gift of Welcome to All,” highlighted a student’s homosexual lifestyle and ministry pursuit. The student was an alternative-lifestyle advocate who engaged regularly in homosexual activity.
My interest intensified as I read of the student’s perceived call to ministry and ensuing pursuit of theological education. He reflected on his interaction with the seminary administration and community, noting, “I didn’t go there [to the seminary] looking for them to say, ‘You’re gay and I affirm you.’ I wanted to go there and hear, ‘You’re in ministry, and I affirm that,’ and I felt that from day one.”1
Embedded within that statement is ruinous logic. At first glance, one might find the dichotomy between one’s lifestyle and call to ministry acceptable even appealing—especially in the modern milieu of subjective, autonomous spirituality. However, a closer look at the New Testament reminds us that the Bible does not afford us this option. To be called to ministry, one must possess a lifestyle that passes scriptural muster. God’s Holy Spirit, who calls, does not contradict God’s Holy Word, which confirms.
QUALIFICATIONS FOR MINISTRY
First Timothy 3:1–7 (and, similarly, Titus 1:6–9) make clear that God’s standard for ministry is high. The threshold is high because the office is high. The office is high because we serve a high God who zealously guards the glory of His name and church. If you do not meet God’s standard for the ministry, you can be sure He isn’t calling you to it.
The passage offers a clear and non-negotiable list of character qualifications for gospel ministry. The qualifications are prescriptive, not descriptive—that is, they didn’t only apply in Timothy’s day (descriptive); they apply today, too (prescriptive). To be sure, in ministry, it might be helpful to be winsome and eloquent. It seldom hurts to possess a magnetic personality. Yet these external traits mean nothing if you don’t meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3. Furthermore, the qualifications do not represent a one-time threshold to cross. Rather, they mark a lifestyle to be maintained, character to be cultivated, and ongoing accountability to God’s Word and God’s people. One’s call to ministry is inextricably linked to one’s godly character. The two cannot—and must not—be decoupled.
Over the next three chapters, we’ll consider each qualification with the care and intentionality the ministry deserves. Before us is not a pileup of words, it is God’s divine standard for ministry service.
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” 1 Timothy 3:1–7
1. Taken from the article “Extending the Gift of Welcome to All” in the fall 2012 edition of Mosaic, the institutional publication of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
*This article is an excerpt from Discerning Your Call to Ministry: How to Know For Sure and What to Do About It, by Jason K. Allen. If you are considering the ministry, there are two mistakes you must avoid. The first is taking up a calling that isn’t yours. The second is neglecting one that is.*
Available to purchase online at Amazon.com, Moody Publishers, and in LifeWay Christian Stores. Learn more at jasonkallen.com/calltoministrybook.
topicsDiscerning Your Call to the Ministry, Pastoral Ministry