In the early 1970s, a strange phenomenon happened in my small hometown. As the tide of the Jesus Movement rose, a dozen young men expressed calls to ministry. Most took place in services conducted by peers, often with mystical-sounding testimonies of “God told me to preach” or “God called me into the ministry.” Barely a year passed before the dozen dwindled to six. In a few years, only four continued pursuing ministry. Some claiming divine call could no longer be found attending church or even living as Christians. What went wrong on their path to ministry? Could it be their understanding of calling?
The calls of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul seem to be go-to texts when thinking about a call to ministry. But who has witnessed a burning bush or a heavenly vision or a blinding light preluding ministry? And who would think our call to ministry on par with these biblical figures?
Yet entering pastoral ministry must be more than a career decision among a list of prospective jobs. While not dispensing with “calling to ministry,” Bobby Jamieson, associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., suggests this language may move the ministry conversation “in the wrong direction,” making false presumptions on qualifications and gifting for ministry.
The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring
A man who’s been transformed by Christ and desires to preach the gospel might say he feels called to be a pastor.
This personal conviction, while heartfelt, doesn’t acknowledge important, challenging steps necessary to be a qualified leader. So where should full-time ministry begin?
In The Path to Being a Pastor, Bobby Jamieson explains why it’s better to emphasize “aspiration” over “calling” as men pursue the office of elder and encourages readers to make sure they are pastorally gifted before considering the role.
He prefers, following Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1, “aspiration” to pastoral ministry as expressing a more biblical view (20–21). Jamieson writes, “‘Calling’ attributes to God something that you cannot be sure of until it happens. ‘Calling’ implies you know God has done something before he has done it” (25).
‘Calling’ attributes to God something that you cannot be sure of until it happens. ‘Calling’ implies you know God has done something before he has done it.
In The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring, Jamieson takes aspiring pastors and elders on a journey to prepare for ministry. With short, candidly biographical chapters, he looks at finding, walking, and approaching the destination of pastoral ministry.
Do You Aspire to Be a Pastor?
While Scripture gives limited examples of unusual calls to ministry, ample examples of candidates aspiring to ministry recognized by local congregations catch our attention. We think of Timothy, Archippus, Titus, Gaius, Sopater, Trophimus, and others. They offer no burning bush, blinding light, or heavenly voice testimonies.
Instead, we see men desiring to serve Christ, giving evidence of aspiration to ministry, while being affirmed by churches in Syrian Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, Berea, and Ephesus. Encouraged by their local congregations, they eventually came under Paul’s mentorship. Subsequently, representing their churches (see Acts 20:4–5), they engaged in ministry opportunities. How did their churches and Paul prepare each man for serving other congregations? Jamieson, from a 21st-century context, explores the breadth of how first-century churches may have shaped aspiring pastors and elders.
Is a Mere Call Adequate?
Churches may presume that a young man claiming a ministry call is therefore ready for public ministry. When I first aspired to ministry, I didn’t find many congregations who took seriously their responsibility to train aspiring pastors rather than immediately giving them leadership roles. Yet this common failure puts the aspiring pastor, sending church, and future congregations at risk. As one of my college professors often said, “Some men are called to plow, not preach.”
A healthy local church should test and examine an aspirant’s character, gifts, and passion for pastoral ministry. Leaving that heavy lifting to a seminary will not work. The church stands in the gap between an aspirant and the pastoral office by observing and affirming humility, faithfulness, fidelity to Scripture, ability to teach and preach, shepherding heart, teachability, and desire to labor long and hard for the flock.
Might this be idealism? Better to call it motivation. Jamieson rightly explains, “The best way to learn the art of pastoral medicine is by closely observing a healthy church body. Learn to pastor from faithful pastors and healthy churches” (58). In doing so, he insists on church members and pastors attending to the church’s health as foundational for proclaiming the gospel in their communities and for nurturing the next generation of pastors.
How to Prepare?
“I’m called to ministry, so the next step is seminary.” Wrong! Seminary may be in the future, but “most of preparing to pastor happens outside of seminary” (137). Jamieson wisely counsels, “Even during seminary, your local church should be the primary context and means of your pastoral training” (143). In the longest and most helpful portion of his book, Jamieson writes 19 pithy chapters for “walking the path” toward pastoral ministry. For instance, if one aims toward ministry, then “start setting an example” as a follower of Jesus Christ. The rest of your life will be watched, so get started on giving others a model to imitate (61–65). Pastoral ministry involves leading others. Instead of waiting for a title, “lead something.” Develop a ministry to students; establish a retirement home ministry; start a reading group. Do people follow your lead? If not, maybe pastoral ministry is not the best aspiration (75–76).
Healthy pastoral ministry demands men soaked in God’s Word. Jamieson exhorts, “Master and be mastered by Scripture” (77). As Jamieson and I have both learned in the pastorate, “Nearly every day that you serve as a pastor will test your ability to interpret and apply Scripture” (78). Don’t wait for seminary. Develop regular disciplines of reading, meditating on, interpreting, and applying God’s Word to daily life.
While soaking in the Word, “take every teaching opportunity you can get” (83). In the early days of my aspiration, I never declined opportunities to teach or preach. We best learn to teach and preach by teaching and preaching. Jamieson calls on aspiring pastors to “apprentice in the craft of preaching” (91). Apprenticeship involves studying preaching under a good preacher, learning how to distinguish exegesis and homiletics, working to develop biblical expositions, maintaining a teachable heart when challenged or corrected, relishing feedback on both written and preached sermons, and growing in the use of words as tools for effective preaching (91–97).
The aspiring pastor should read for life, give yourself to prayer, banish pornography, marry wisely, lay down your life for your wife, pastor your children, study God’s blueprints for the church, and serve outside the spotlight (99–135).
Jamieson concludes with the most important advice: cherish Christ. He writes, “The pleasures of pastoral ministry can be so rich that you are tempted to want them too much.” How do you guard against this temptation? “Cherish Christ. As good as pastoral ministry is, Jesus is infinitely better” (175).
50 Years Later
Fifty years into the pastoral journey, I gladly commend The Path to Being a Pastor. I plan to give copies to aspiring pastors.
While much has been written on pastoral ministry, Bobby Jamieson condenses volumes of wise counsel into 176 pages. Each lively chapter bears meditation and discussion with aspiring pastors and elders.