There is no work quite like Ph.D. work. Those who’ve completed the degree know exactly what I’m talking about. You must set aside five or so years of your life to research and write on a topic, ending your labors with a dissertation that makes a unique contribution to your field of study.
The Ph.D. is known as a “terminal degree” because it is the highest degree one can earn, but all who’ve completed one knows it can feel terminal in other ways.
Shockingly, the three letters most associated with the Doctor of Philosophy degree is not Ph.D. They are A.B.D.—all but dissertation. Half of those who undertake the Ph.D. degree never complete it, with most stalling out during the dissertation phase, thus becoming known as A.B.D.
A good friend who’d completed his Ph.D. a few years before I completed mine gave me advice that was, in hindsight, absolutely essential. He told me, “Whatever you do, pick a topic to write your dissertation on that absolutely captivates you; that will animate you day in and day out until you complete your dissertation.”
That was excellent advice. It took me six years to complete my Ph.D. I was serving full-time at Southern Seminary, had served local churches as pastor and interim pastor, and was a husband and the father of five young children. Literally, for years on end, most nights of the week, I put my wife and children to bed at 8 p.m. and worked until 3 a.m. or so completing the project.
That advice is good for those entering doctoral work, but it is even better for those contemplating ministry. Unless you have a singular, overarching passion that will pull you forward in ministry, it may be best not to pursue it. That passion must be for the gospel and the Great Commission.
Spurgeon proves prophetic on this point, saying:
“Brethren, if the Lord gives you no zeal for souls, keep to the lapstone or the trowel, but avoid the pulpit.” He further insists, “We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as a fire in our bones, other-wise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it, shall be unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister.”
An Apostolic Pattern
Passion to preach the gospel drove Paul’s entire ministry. He endured hardship, suffering, and eventual martyrdom because of his drive to reach the lost.
Those called to ministry have a passion for the gospel and the Great Commission, and those most used by God in ministry have an extraordinary passion for the same.
The Apostle Paul was set apart from his mother’s womb, and “made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me.” Of this calling, he reflected, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” Paul’s calling was a calling to preach the gospel.
This is key. Fundamentally, if the ministry is viewed through a humanistic lens, then it is easy to sign up for and withdraw from the ministry based upon the relative feelings of the pastor. The preacher preaches because he wants to preach; he must preach; he has to preach. Woe is me if I do not preach.
A cursory survey of Paul’s 13 New Testament letters makes this clear. His heart bled for the lost, and it propelled him forward in gospel ministry, in spite of terror and tumult.
For example, consider Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. To the Romans, he reflected:
I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
And in this letter, he reflected to the Romans about this burden for his own countrymen, the Jewish people, who, in the main, had rejected Christ. Again, consider the Apostle’s heart for the lost:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh… 
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
A Personal Responsibility
Evangelistic urgency isn’t reserved for Paul, or some other elite class of super Christians. Every person in ministry is called to the work of gospel proclamation. In God’s divine economy, it is his plan for reaching the world for the glory of his name. Look at Paul’s airtight logic for gospel ministry.
For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’
Your evangelistic urgency will ebb and flow due to many factors, including the receptivity of your hearers, your own spiritual vitality, and other personal and contextual variables. But I know of no better way to evaluate my spiritual and ministry vitality than how passionate I am about the gospel. If I’m lukewarm about the Great Commission, it points to deeper concerns.
To pursue ministry but not having a passion for the gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission is like pursuing medicine, but not liking patients. I suppose you can manage along, but you will lack fruitfulness and joy. Most troubling of all, you will hinder God’s divine plan for reaching the world for Christ.
Ministry work is gospel work. A love for the lost, and a desire to see them come to know Christ, will be forward propulsion for your ministry. Don’t embark on ministry without a love for the gospel and the Great Commission. It’s the one passion every pastor must have.
 Laura Morrison, Why Do People Drop Out of Ph.D. Programs? GradSchools.com, April 2014. http://www.gradschools.com/get-informed/surviving-graduate-school/life-during-graduate-school/why-do-people-drop-out-phd.
 Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 26.
 Ibid., 29.
 Colossians 1:25.
 I Corinthians 9:16.
 Romans 1:13-16.
 Romans 12:1-3.
 Romans 10:1.
 Romans 10:13-15.topicsEvangelism, Pastoral Ministry, Preaching