Picture this: A recently converted young man (let’s call him Bobby) approaches me to share of his zeal and passion for God and his desire to make Christ known among the nations. My conversation with Bobby would probably go something like this:
Bobby: I’m so excited! I want everyone to know about the God who saved me from my sin and who now calls me His friend. My blind eyes have been opened and my chains have fallen off, and I just want everyone to feel this way!
Me: Praise God! That’s wonderful.
Bobby: I just can’t hold this in. I think God’s calling me to go to seminary.
Me: Wait. Why do you think God is calling you to seminary?
Bobby: Well, because I want to go into full-time ministry. I want to tell everyone about Christ!
Conversations like the one above are not at all uncommon, particularly with young men who have been recently converted, have a burden for lost souls, or simply find the idea of ministry appealing. However, many of the guys who are quick to proclaim their desire to go into ministry or to attend seminary never actually go into the ministry at all. And sadly, there are some who start out in vocational ministry but fail to stick with it for various reasons.
While I could easily write about the many explanations for pastoral burnout or make a case as to why the flame that once burned fervently for the Lord inside a young man’s heart is now quenched, I am instead going to attempt to provide some pastoral insight on the front end of the problem.
From my perspective, the church has created an unwarranted separation between vocational pastoral ministry and other occupations. Let me explain it this way: When we see a young man who exhibits a heart for God and who is confident in his faith, many people automatically assume that God must be calling that man into pastoral ministry. This attitude has transformed the way we view pastoral ministry, and it has greatly influenced the minds of young men who see becoming a pastor as the only way to be useful in God’s kingdom. Doesn’t our world also have a need for godly accountants, construction workers, and teachers?
Along with this unwarranted separation between vocational ministry and other professions, in many cases, churches set unreasonable expectations on their pastors. Rather than expecting pastors to equip the entire church to do the work of the ministry, the church often expects the pastor to do the entire work of the ministry (See Ephesians 4:11-12). Therefore, a great chasm grows between the layperson and the pastor, which feeds the attitude that pastoral ministry is the only way to truly serve God.
Sadly, we live in a day where I have come to expect that every young man who is serious about his faith will tell me he wants to be a pastor. While some of these guys might be gifted for pastoral ministry, there are many more who place unfair pressure upon themselves to be something they were never meant to be.
The pastoral office is not for the weak of heart, and even more importantly, it is not for those who would rather do something else. (And, did I mention – It’s more than okay if a young man who is a strong, spiritual leader wants to do something else!) Scripture tells us in 1 Timothy 3:1 that if anyone desires to be a pastor, he desires a good work. From this verse, we see that a desire for pastoral ministry is a prerequisite for the man pursuing the pastoral office. However, pastoral ministry is not a vocation you simply choose out of a college catalog on career day during your senior year of high school. The desire for ministry looks different than the desire to be a financial advisor or a chemist; the desire for pastoral ministry is one that requires care for the souls of men and women. Therefore, while the pastoral office is certainly not the only way for a Christian man to pursue God and to be useful in His kingdom, it is an office that should be pursued carefully, for someone who pursues it wrongly can do a lot of harm to a congregation, to his family, and to himself.
To sum things up, here is my pastoral advice for a young man who wants to go into full-time vocational ministry: Rather than spending all your time discerning whether or not you are called to be a pastor, spend your time simply being a Christian and focusing on your own godly living. While 1 Timothy 3:1 prescribes a necessary desire that must be present within a man who is called to pastoral ministry, verses 2-7 describe what the character of that man will look like. And the character of the man who is fit for the office of pastor is the same character that all Christians are called to aspire towards. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance to plant yourself in a local church that can help cultivate your gifts and walk alongside you as you seek to live like a Christian, whether you become a pastor or not. Remember, you are most useful to the kingdom of God right where you are, whether you serve as a pastor, landscaper, student, architect, or are currently unemployed. If you think you want to be a pastor, aspire to the character traits in 1 Timothy 3:2-7, and if you are truly called to the pastorate that desire will not flame out, and God will provide a way as your desire and gifts become evident for all to see.