The Pursuit of the Gospel Ministry
Some Counsel to a Person Who Has not Reached his Goal
who had felt called to the ministry and then been derailed along the way
asked: “Should I completely
erase from my mindset the idea of vocational ministry either here or on
the mission field?”
I attempt an answer to your question, I would like to look at some general
truths from Scripture. As we
look at the data about the government of the Church from the New
Testament, we see several things.
we notice that just as various words, such as the Bride of Christ and the
Body of Christ, are used to describe the same thing when it comes to the
Church itself, so we discover that different words are used to describe
the same office in the Church. For
example, in Acts 20:17, we are told that Paul “sent to Ephesus and
called to him the elders (plural of PRESBUTEROS, from which we get
the word “Presbyterian.”) of the church.”
Yet in speaking to that same group of elders, Paul tells them in
verse 28: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the
Holy Spirit has made you bishops (plural of EPISCOPOS, from which
we get the word “Episcopalian.”), to care for the church of God which
he obtained with the blood of his own Son.”
other words, Saint Luke is telling us that every one of those elders was
also a bishop. Or, we might
say, as The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in
America says in Chapter 8, “The Elder,” 8-1:
man who fills it has in Scripture different titles expressive of his
various duties. As he has the
oversight of the flock of Christ, he is termed bishop or pastor.
As it is his duty to be grave and prudent, an example to the flock,
and to govern well in the house and Kingdom of Christ, he is termed presbyter
or elder. As he
expounds the Word, and by sound doctrine both exhorts and convinces the
gainsayer, he is termed teacher. These titles do not indicate different grades of office, but
all describe one and the same office.”
truth that all bishops are elders and all elders are bishops is born out
in Paul’s instructions to Titus: “This
is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and
appoint elders (plural of PRESBUTEROS.) in every town as I directed
you . . . For a bishop (singular of EPISCOPOS.), as God’s
steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a
drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.” (Titus 1:5, 7.)
only are the words “elder” and “bishop” used to describe the same
office, we see in these two passages above that every local congregation
is supposed to be governed by a group of elders who rule collegially
rather than individually. Acts
20 and Titus 1 are not isolated texts in the New Testament, Acts 14:23
tells us: “And when they
had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting
they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.”
is seen further in Philippians 1:1, where Paul writes:
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in
Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons,”
indicating that each local church should have both bishops and deacons.
the Apostle Peter refers to himself as an elder when writing to the
office-bearers of the Diaspora: “So
I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder (SUMPRESBUTEROS.)
and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the
glory that is to be revealed.” (1 Peter 5:1.)
thing we notice about church government in the New Testament is that there
is some kind of connection and mutual accountability between the
individual churches. Not only do we find churches giving talent and money
to help other churches (Romans 15:25-27),* but we find them consulting the
Bible together in an organized way to reach decisions (Acts 15:2, 3,
I survey the New Testament, I am compelled to embrace the two-office
position, holding that there are only two permanent offices that are
essential for the local church: that
of elder and that of deacon. Going
strictly by what we can deduce from Scripture, we cannot draw a hard and
fast line between ruling and teaching elders.
It is simply that some elders are given financial support in order
to give themselves full time to the work of the ministry:
“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double
honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. “ (1
Timothy 5:17.) This “honor”
specifically includes financial support:
“for the scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it is
treading out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”
(1 Timothy 5:18.)
way that this works out practically can be as follows.
A man comes to confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
He soon exhibits interest and ability to share his faith with other
people, and the disciple begins to make disciples.
As he matures in the faith, elders begin to take notice of him and
work with him more closely, taking him under their wing in active
apprenticeship, guiding him in his studies.
In the course of time, the elders, after examination and prayer,
may come to recommend him to the congregation as a candidate for
ordination to the office of elder. All
this time, he is earning his living by working in the world, supporting
his own family.
he shows special ability, the eldership may encourage him to pursue
further studies away from that congregation, in which case, they would
financially underwrite the costs for this and entrust him into the care of
others who would be able to take him further along.
But in our time moving away may not be necessary, because we have
the blessings that our Lord bequeathed to us through Gutenberg, and we
also have computers and the Internet.
This intellectual pursuit might include his attending what we call
seminary, where he can better learn the languages in which the Scriptures
first came to be written and where he can sit at the feet of modern
Gamaliels. In time, he may
come back to the original congregation, or the larger body of elders may
choose to place him somewhere else.
he comes back or arrives at his new position, he may or may not receive
financial support. Various
circumstances would enter into that decision, such as the financial
ability of the people of God to support his ministry full-time and the man’s
ability to do the work of the eldership while earning his living in the
other words, in the picture I have outlined above, what we commonly call
pastor-teachers or teaching elders ordinarily come from the ranks of what
we commonly call ruling elders. That
is, teaching elders are simply ruling elders who demonstrate their
effectiveness in ministry effectively enough that the church begins to
supplement their incomes so that they can increasingly devote themselves
to the work of the ministry, particularly to prayer and the ministry of
the Word. (Cf. Acts 6:4.)
is so contrary to the modern model, rooted as it is in a profound
distortion of the clericalism of Rome and Constantinople.
(We have inherited so much from our dysfunctional parents— where
in the Word of God do we find a special category of people given the
authority to administer a sacrament called marriage?)
The way the modern model tends to work is like this.
Christian feels a “call” on his life.
Without any confirmation from the people of God, he goes off to
study at some independent, former evangelist’s training school.
He pursues his studies while tasting the ecclesiastical smorgasbord
around him. For six months he
attends the Premillennial, Pre-Tribulation Rapture, King James Version,
Kick ’Em in the Keister, Independent Baptist Church (The secretary
usually answers the telephone simply with “Keister Baptist Church, how
may I direct your call?”) After
trying all kinds of remedies unsuccessfully for his aching spiritual
keister, he tries out the local Anglican Orthodox Church, but soon wearies
of all the smoke at this Fundamentalist imitation of being an
Episcopalian. Then somebody
suggests the Word of Faith Family Worship Center, and off he goes, getting
slain in the spirit, speaking in tongues and truly sanctified.
While he is recovering from a brain concussion after the “catchers”
miss him during the Benny Hinn visit, somebody invites him to the Keswick
Chapel, where, having entered into the deeper life, he begins the long
journey of dealing with all the bitterness he developed while attending
Keister Baptist. Finally,
somebody hands him a book on the Five Points of Calvinism, and it makes
coming under the care of any church body, he enrolls in seminary, taking
his new bride with him. She
goes to work teaching school, and he sits around seminary pontificating on
how illogical infralapsarianism is. But
he passes his work anyhow and graduates.
Soon he receives a “call” from a group of folk about whom he
knows next to nothing and who know next to nothing about him.
They pressure presbytery to waive all kinds of time and internship
requirements, and he is rushed into ordination quicker than King Henry II
arranged for Thomas a Becket to be ordained the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He is ecstatic. Visions of the Apostle Paul, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and
Billy Graham dance in his head. He
even borrows money to buy a Geneva gown and the two Tabs of the Law, so he
can look like the portly Whitefield.
isn’t long before his ecstasy is dampened.
After preaching his second, thirty-five minute sermon, he receives
a visit from the most influential elder in the church, Edgar Plutophile.
Edgar tells him that their former pastor never preached more than
twenty minutes, and he was the favorite speaker at the Rotary Club, often
using the same message both places. After
Joe Christian fails to meet the twenty-minute mark for the third Sunday in
a row, Edgar shows up with two other elders, both of whom work for Edgar.
Joe notices Edgar’s big Masonic ring and wonders how his forehead
might look with a big “G” and a compass and square embossed there,
because Edgar is plenty worked up.
isn’t long before Joe receives a call to another church, but this time
his “prayer partner” and confidant on the session turns out to be a
womanizer, and Joe discovers that his wife is having an affair with this
“Spiritual Giant”— he became her “prayer partner,” too.
Joe goes to his presbytery broken-hearted, looking for help.
One of the assistants at the Will-o'-the-Wisp Presbyterian Church
tells him that they have an opening for somebody to do their telephone
solicitation. Another simply
says, “You no longer meet the qualifications for being a pastor.”
So Joe gets a job at the Office for Health and Human Services, and
begins to go to night school, balancing work and visitation with his two
children, while working on his MSW. After
taking a hiatus from church attendance for a couple of years, he starts
going back to a Southern Baptist Church down the road from the
cracker-box, apartment complex that he calls home.
It is connected with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and the
preaching leaves a good bit to be desired, but at least they are kind, and
many people actually seem to love the Lord Jesus and other people, too.
In the course of time, he meets a sweet, young divorcée at their
Singles Fellowship, and after three years they get married.
They arrange their weekends with their blended family, so that
their free weekends match. Every
other weekend they head out of town and really develop a close bond with
the local chapter of the Good Sam Club.
Their great ambition in life is to move up from their Slide-in,
Pick-up camper to a Holiday Rambler.
course, I have painted these two paths in graphic hyperbole, but I submit
that there is some truth in the above.
God is always sovereign, placing us where he wants us, using our
own and others’ sins and stupidity to work out his good purpose for us.
And the basic thrust of the New Testament is blossom where you are
planted. He takes us where we
are, even if we got there through all kinds of less than Scriptural paths.
let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in
which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was any one
at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove
the marks of circumcision. Was any one at the time of his call
uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision
counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of
one should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave
when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself
of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a
freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of
Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So,
brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with
God.” (1 Corinthians 7:17-24.)
in the course of time, God will call you through his Church.
First you might teach Sunday School; then you might become elected
as a deacon and eventually be ordained as an elder.
In God’s good time, you may indeed end up on the foreign mission
field, where, having taken an advanced degree in the School of Hard
Knocks, you may eventually become a “pastor” to your fellow
missionaries, who are fresh out of school, full of youthful idealism and
naiveté. Also, we have a
parochial school with a little over four hundred students, and we’re
always in the market for Christians who are college graduates, willing to
work for next to nothing.
bless you. I will pray for
* “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem with
aid for the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make
some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem; they were
pleased to do it, and indeed they are in debt to them, for if the Gentiles
have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of
service to them in material blessings.” (Romans 15:25-27.)
‘“And with this the words of the prophets agree, as
it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the
dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will
set it up, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles
who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known
from of old.’ Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those
of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from
the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and
from blood. For from early generations Moses has had in every city those
who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.” Then it
seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to
choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and
Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among
the brethren, with the following letter: “The brethren, both the
apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in
Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting.”’ (Acts 15:15-23.)