Last time we considered a pivotal verse on the issue of the “call” to full-time Church leadership in I Timothy 3:1: This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. Specifically, taken together, the two terms desire and desireth describe the man who outwardly pursues the ministry because of a driving compulsion on the inside.
This principle immediately and fundamentally implies that not just anyone can preach, which is the exact opposite of modern opinion. Why? Because not just anyone can disregard all else to fill that office and then fulfill its responsibilities. A preacher is called of God to preach and does nothing else. Many, if not most, people today believe in “lay‑preachers,” “laypastors,” and “lay‑elders.” But these simply do not match the Scripture, no matter how one tries to justify them. Preaching and teaching the Scripture takes the majority of a man’s time to prepare for; it is not something that can be done as a “sideline.”
Many disagree with that view, but think of it in a simple practical way: would any of us want a surgeon to operate on us simply because he read a couple books on how to perform surgery, perhaps one titled, General Surgery for Dummies? Anyone, in fact, could ask the same question of their vocation, such as this: “Could just anyone walk into my office and say, ‘Well, I read a couple of books on your job, so I think I can do it as well as you?’” How ridiculous, and if I may be frank, how arrogant and insulting! But this is precisely what many do with teaching the Bible. They think that just a little time in the Word, such as reading their Sunday School lesson or reading a couple of commentaries, qualifies them to preach and teach. How tragically wrong that is! Yes, a pastor has many duties, but the majority of his day must be spent in the study of the Word so he can adequately prepare to feed God’s people. We submit, if this isn’t a man’s attitude, he doesn’t belong in a pulpit.
Many people today react to this by saying, “You just think you are part of an elite group. Or maybe it’s just that you’re proud and don’t want to share the glory with anyone else.” On the contrary, one of the main reasons we make this clear is for their own protection. As James declares, “My brethren, be not many masters [i.e., didaskalos, teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas. 3:1). Here is a serious warning that seems to be overlooked by almost everyone today. Such would-be teachers, whether a Sunday School teacher, lay-preacher, or other position, have no idea what responsibility they take on when they presume to teach the Scripture. Every person who takes on that task will give an account of it and will be more strictly judged than other believers. James is telling us, “We warned! Don’t take this on unless God has called you and you have properly trained for it.”
As a pastor, this principle hits me every time I sit down to study in preparation for preaching and teaching. I will answer for what I teach, and it is for that reason that I spend so many hours in study. There are times when I will spend hours, or even days, on one verse, or even a single word, because I want to get it right.
The above attitude of the ministry being a “glorious profession” also shows a total misunderstanding of the ministry. If a man preaches the pure, unaltered Truth, especially in our modern pragmatic, relativistic society, the last thing he’ll receive is glory, rather he’ll experience resistance, rebellion, and even rage from many, if not most, hearers.
So, once again we are brought back to a distinct call of God, which takes place between Him and His servants. We see once more that this was true of Paul, as Luke records in Acts 13:2: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (emphasis added).
Calling is not the end, only the beginning of a long journey. A man must secondly be tested according to the qualifications for leadership (I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), thirdly trained in doctrine and practice (I Tim. 3:6; II Tim. 2:2), fourthly ordained by other leaders (Acts 14:21-25; I Tim. 4:14; 5:22; Titus 1:5;) and then finally sent forth by the Church (Acts 13:2-3). But at the very foundation is the irresistible call of God in his life.
If I might interject a personal example, I did not start out to be preacher; I was headed for another vocation entirely, a surgeon. The ministry was not my plan, but it was God’s. He called me to the ministry and put within me that compulsion. We find the same story of men throughout Scripture and throughout Church History.