A few years ago, while living in Louisville, I was invited to join one of Kentucky’s most exclusive clubs. Located downtown, the Pendennis Club is one of the state’s most historic and prestigious societies. Its membership included Senator Mitch McConnell and other leading Louisvillians.
Friends who were members had invited me to lunch there a few times over the years. The dining room was a sight to behold. Century-old hardwood floors, ornate trim work, antique furniture, old-world sconces, and historic art all adorned the room. The dining hall—and the entire building—felt like a throwback to yesteryear, a twenty-first-century, Americanized Downton Abbey.
I quickly sensed that membership wasn’t for me. Given all that membership entailed, financial and otherwise, I wasn’t interested in joining. But one part of the membership process intrigued me. To be a member of the Pendennis Club, you had to be nominated by a current member in good standing, cosponsored by several others, and affirmed by the entire membership.
In other words, you didn’t seek membership; membership sought you. You didn’t call them; they called you. You didn’t apply; you were nominated. For your nomination to be successful, other members in good standing had to vouch for you, and the whole club had to affirm you.
The call to pastoral ministry is similar. You don’t select the church; the church selects you. In the New Testament, there are no rogue agents or self-appointed ministers. Every legitimate pastor has a church standing behind him. Church affirmation is essential to the call to ministry.
THE CHURCH’S AFFIRMATION
As we’ve seen in this book, your call to ministry includes an internal desire for the office and external character alignment with 1 Timothy 3:1–7. In both cases, the local church is positioned to assess and validate your fitness for ministry.
We see hints of this in Paul’s letters to Timothy. Writing to his beleaguered son in the faith, Paul instructs, encourages, and assures Timothy by reminding him of the community’s affirmation:
- “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:14).
- “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:5–6).
In addition to these charges to Timothy himself, Paul also instructs Timothy in affirming the gifts of others:
- “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
- “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin” (1 Tim. 5:22).
When you consider these examples, as well as the councils that surrounded important appointments of leaders—like Judas’s replacement in Acts 1 and the deacons in Acts 6—a clear pattern emerges: the church appoints its own leaders. Leaders do not appoint themselves.
This is in line with the nature of the call. Since pastors are undershepherds of God, not just anyone can take up the post. God, in His wisdom, has made the church a natural vetting instrument. While this vetting authority might be channeled procedurally through a ministry team, elder board, or other group acting on behalf of the church, that doesn’t negate the congregation’s role in affirming one’s gifts and recommending him for ministry.
This process also ensures that a would-be minister earn his reputation through faithful and consistent service. Ideally, no church would affirm a call to ministry without having seen enduring signs of that call. And furthermore, because of the plurality inherent in a congregation, this process guards against oversight or favoritism. If a host of saints agree on one’s fitness for ministry—can affirm his character and teaching ability— chances are the man is indeed qualified.
As you can see, the church is responsible for commissioning pastors to the ministry. It would be unwise, if not disobedient, to bypass community affirmation in pursuing the call.
*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