This article was originally posted in November 2016
The path toward pastoral ministry is different for every man. Some seem to zip through college and seminary and are pastoring a church in their twenties. Others are called by God later in life, in the midst of raising teenagers and working a secular job. Sometimes, a man’s gifts are recognized, and he is quickly called as a pastor of a church. Other times, a man’s calling is recognized by his pastors and church, but he has to wait for an opportunity to serve. I have found myself in this last category for several years. As tempting as it can be to look at the paths of others and yearn for how God has been at work in their calling, I have found it more fruitful to ask myself why I continue to wait. For the encouragement of fellow brothers who are also waiting to serve as a pastor, I want to share a few of the lessons that I have learned.
Trust in God’s Providence
Lord, here I am—eager and willing—why won’t you use me? Why is it so hard to be called as a pastor? Have you forgotten about me? All of these questions have crossed my mind as I wait. But they all subtly seek to undermine my confidence in God and in His sovereign and wise providence. God is in control of everything, including when churches need pastors, what churches look for in pastors, and how churches search for pastors. And in His sovereign care of church leadership, God is not indifferent or arbitrary—He is wise and loving.
With this in mind, I look to Christ. In Him, I am reminded of God’s gloriousness. By remembering who Christ is and what He has done for me, I can trust in what He is doing in churches and through calling men as pastors. While I know Romans 8:28 well, it is helpful to apply this verse to churches and the pastoral call: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). In waiting, God has taught me to be patient and to depend on Him.
Grow in God’s Grace
Over the years, I have made it a practice to regularly read and pray through the pastoral epistles. I remember once pausing to reflect upon Paul’s counsel to young Timothy: “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). As I was thinking about this verse, what struck me was the need for Paul’s instruction. Those in ministry are always in danger of failing to keep a close watch on themselves and on their teaching. It takes constant vigilance to avoid falling into this Satanic trap.
As a result, this is a time for me to grow into a man who will faithfully serve God in pastoral ministry. It means continuing to grow in my spiritual disciplines, through consistent prayer and the study of God’s Word. It means devoting myself to my wife and our marriage, sacrificially loving and encouraging her. It means leading my family well, guiding my children to Christ. I need to use this time of waiting to train myself for godliness.
Serve in God’s Church
Before I am called to pastor a church, I must love His church. After all, Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). To love the church as Christ loved the church, I must be involved in the life of the church. So I am thankful for my pastors who supervise and mentor me in pastoral ministry. With their encouragement, I have preached in worship services, taught in Sunday School classes, visited members in hospitals, led a small group, attended elders meetings, and carried out many other responsibilities.
At the same time, I have also sought to serve the church in less public ways. I have cleaned the church building, helped set up chairs for our worship services, assisted with security, and served in the nursery. This hasn’t always been easy for me, since I desire to be behind the pulpit regularly and to lead God’s people. But through this time, the Holy Spirit has shown me of my need to grow in humility and of the godliness of so many church members who serve the body of Christ.
Rest in God’s Gospel
Finally, my wait has shown me that my identity cannot be wrapped up in my ministry or in a church office. My identity is in Christ. I am reminded by the Apostle Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Even if I am never called to serve as a pastor, I rejoice in knowing that Christ has died for me, and I look forward to an eternity of praising Him for such a great salvation. During my remaining days on this earth, I want to live in light of this glorious future. If this means that He will use me to pastor one of His precious flocks, then I will thank Him. And if it means that He will use me to serve Him in other ways, then I will thank Him. Regardless of my future, I rejoice because my name is written in heaven. May my life glorify Christ in whatever way He pleases!