This is a follow-up to a recent blog post, Choosing Elders, Part 1
In that blog, I tried to explain that there is some confusion relative to the call to preach. That certainly brought on a few questions from various friends. As I have said before, the “call to preach” often goes like this: a young man without any history of teaching or leadership announces a call to preach—maybe at a Bible conference. The young man may or may not have a “preaching pedigree”—but it surely doesn’t hurt if he does. Everyone accepts “said call” as valid since we don’t want to be found fighting against the Lord. Within a few months, this young man is filling the pulpit regularly, perhaps licensed or maybe even ordained or pastoring. He spends the next several decades leading a church—albeit, not very well in some instances.
Now, this young man may have been called—and he may not have been called. However, this does raise some questions. What is the “call” to preach? Is it a Damascus road experience? Is every “desire” to preach actually a call? Do we have a right to question a man that says he has been called?
If you’ll recall, one of the instructions that Paul gave Timothy was “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). So, to some degree, an elder should be teaching other men—called men—“to teach others also.” How was Timothy (or how are we) supposed to choose these men that we will train? The questions above will help us evaluate who is an adequate “trainee” for the eldership.
Though there is, perhaps, a confusing idea of the call to preach today, that certainly is not to say God doesn’t call men—He most certainly does. He gave apostles…He gave prophets…He gave evangelists and shepherds and teachers. This is God’s work (Ephesians 4:11-14). He does this in two ways. First of all, when God calls a man, He gives him a desire to serve in such a capacity. Paul wrote to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). The Greek word here translated “aspires” is oregomai which can be defined as “to stretch one’s self out in order to touch or grasp something”. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul uses the same word to describe one’s unhealthy “craving” for money. The Greek word translated “desires” in 1 Timothy 3:1 is epithymeō which can be defined as “to long for” or even “to lust after.” So, in calling a man to seek the office of elder, God gives him a healthy “craving” to “long for” the office. This is not some Damascus-road type experience. This is an internal, deep-rooted yearning to serve a church as an elder.
However, I do not want to imply that every desire for the office of elder is a desire given by God. Sometimes men mistake a desire to serve the Lord as a call to preach. And, as I’ve said, there is a sense in which churches are fearful of doubting a man’s professed call because we don’t want to be found working against God—and certainly we don’t. However, the desire to preach is not the only thing God gives when He calls a man. The second part of God’s call into eldership is verifiable giftedness. If a man is not gifted for preaching the Bible, he simply has no reason to believe he is called. As an elder looking to train other men, we should be looking for just such giftedness. If God calls a man, He gifts him. If He has gifted him for the office, He has called him. These are two sides to one coin.
How then can churches verify whether a man’s “submission” to God’s call is actually valid? Thankfully, we are not left in the dark here. In two separate letters, God inspired Paul to write of attributes to look for if a man desires the office of elder--1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. These attributes range from a man’s marital status to his personality traits to his abilities to relay the message of Scripture to a congregation. Let me be clear here—God does not call unqualified men into church leadership. If a man struggles with moral purity, he is not called to be a church elder. If a man has a harem, he is not called to be a church elder. If a man has no ability to teach a congregation, he is not called to be an elder in the church. A church is not in any way required to accept a man’s profession to be called to preach without question. On the contrary, a church is required by God to examine a man closely according to characteristics God has given us in His word and evaluate his giftedness—and, thus, his calling.
Once a church affirms that a man has indeed been called and gifted (again, not separate events) by God, the church should slowly give the called man opportunity to grow into an able preacher. Look, even though God calls a man and gifts him to preach, there is still much to learn about pulpit ministry. One does not become a faithful expositor of God’s Word without training. Again, Paul instructed Timothy to train men in Ephesus to be elders in the church there. Preaching is work. It takes great effort. However, it also takes some understanding of what exposition looks like and how it is accomplished. It is certainly a blessing if a young elder has seen exposition properly done in the church that he is a member of. However, it will still require him to be instructed on how to accurately and adequately preach a text. A church should give a God-called young man every opportunity to learn how to preach. It will not only good for him, it will ultimately be good for the church as well.
I hope this at least answers some of the concerns raised in the previous blog relative to the call to preach. The term “call to preach” is simply interpreted in so many various ways today—especially since we don’t have any Scripture that actually uses that language. I am not against the term at all. However, we must connect the call with the gift to minister through the Word. If we separate God’s call and God’s gifting of a man, we are essentially misunderstanding the office of an elder.
Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net