According to the Bible the Lord "calls" or summons people to do certain things. In a general sense God calls all men to receive the salvation and redemption that can be found only in His Son Jesus Christ [Rom 8:30; 1 Cor 1:9; 1Th 2:12]. This calling is more than just an invitation, though, it is a command [Act 17:30]. Thus God calls and commands all men everywhere to repent and receive Christ. Though this calling is for all men, it is a call to the individual. God personally and individually invites and commands each individual to partake of the blessings of His redemption. This call is given outwardly by the gospel [2Th 2:14] and inwardly by the Holy Spirit [Rev 22:17]. Those who refuse God's gracious call will be eternally held accountable for their refusal [Jn 12:48].
After one has answered the call to salvation and received Christ, God calls him to other callings which are moral in mature and affect a believers attitude and conduct. He has called believers to "fellowship with Christ" [1Co 1:9], to "holiness" [1 Th 4:7], to "liberty" [Gal. 5:13], to "peace" [1Co 7:15], and to "virtue" [2 Pe 1:3]. Believers are to "walk worthy" of the calling they have received [Eph 4:1].
But there is still another calling that is even more personal than the moral callings. It is God's call to the individual believer for a specific ministry. The Lord has been calling individuals for specific ministries for millennia. He called Abram out of Ur; Moses out of Egypt; and Aaron from among the Levites [Heb 5:4]. God had certain duties He wanted them to perform. The Lord also called many others in the Bible for certain ministries. From Isaiah [Isa 6:9] to the twelve disciples to Paul [1 Tim 1:11], the Lord has been calling men into His ministry.
A call from God into a ministry is a high and heavenly calling [Phil 3:14] which, unfortunately, is taken lightly by some ministers today [if they are truly called]. Paul was called to be an "apostle," "preacher," and "teacher" of the Gentiles [Rom. 1:1; 1Tim 1:1; etc.], and he never lost sight of his calling. He actively engaged in his ministry until the day his head was taken. Of course, the Lord doesn't call men to be apostles today because no minister today has the "signs of an apostle" [2Co 12:12]. I know there are some frauds out there who claim to be apostles [Yes, even among Fundamental Baptists] but they are deceived. Just ask one of them for some signs and they usually shut up. But the Lord still calls men to other callings or vocations such as pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. He calls and provides these men to the Church for the "perfecting of the saints" [Eph 4:11-12].
For many believers one of the most difficult and elusive things they ever encounter is determining the will of God for their life. Others seem to know the path God would have them travel, but hesitate to follow it. And a small minority of others quickly determine the will of God for them and immediately follow it. I have heard several preachers tell of their being "called to preach." Most of them admitted that not long after their salvation they became aware of a burden in them to "preach the Bible," but the thought was almost repulsive to them. You must realize some of these fellows were moonshiners, drunks, dope heads, and just general "good-ole-boys." Preaching was about as far from their past lifestyle as east is from west, and their old man flesh resisted even the thought of it. They just couldn't picture themselves standing in front of a bunch of people wearing a suit [most of them never owned one] and preaching from an open Bible. The flesh told them they would make a fool of themselves. But as most of you know, the Lord doesn't give up.
I remember one brother who swears God would have killed him if he had not surrendered to preach after months of resistance. He had had several "close calls" already, was miserable, and near his "wits end." He finally gave in to the Lord and said a great burden was lifted from his heart. He is still faithful in the ministry and has a valuable work. It is not unusual for the burden of the Holy Spirit to be much more pronounced in calling men into the ministry than it was in convicting them of sin. I've heard more than one testify to this.
Even while in their misery, though, I believe these brothers have a desire to be a preacher; they just didn't know it yet. That is, the new man in them wants to obey God and preach, but the flesh is either afraid to try or otherwise rejects the thought. Preaching was on their mind nearly every thinking moment. Every time they went to church, heard a sermon, read the Bible or even thought on spiritual things, they knew they should be a preacher. This seems to be what Paul means when He says, "If a man desire the office of a Bishop..." [pastor, 1Tim 3:1]. The man desires it in the sense that he wants nothing else. He is compelled to seek it. In relation to this the advice some seasoned preachers give to those who question their calling is, "If you CAN quit, then quit." A God called preacher preaches not because he likes to, but because he MUST! Preaching is not something he does; being a preacher is what he IS!
With other people the Lord seems to work somewhat differently. Instead of bringing a very definite, intense burden to publically "answer the call", He sends a general desire to serve. Though I differ with John R. Rice over the issue of the purity of the King James Bible, he was still an effective minister used by God. However, I read where he said he was not "called to preach" as others describe it. He said he was "allowed" to preach and took every opportunity God presented him. I can identify with this. Not long after I was saved I realized that my inclination was to be a Bible teacher. I knew much less about the Bible then than I do now [still very little], but I sensed that was the direction the Lord was leading me. God has allowed me to be a Bible teacher for over 20 years and has opened up doors for me in that regard. He has also allowed me to write books and develop this website. He has been very good to this worthless dog [2Sam 9:8].
Along the way, though, there have been well meaning brethren who have assured me I have been "called to preach" [they mean be elligible to be a pastor] and I should obey and surrender to the call. They would say things like, "When are you going to start preaching?" When I was younger I would wonder about this and think I was missing something somewhere, but later I just told these people "You have the Lord tell me when and I'll start." This is not to say I have not preached; I have on many occasions. Every believer is to be a preacher of the gospel, including women [Acts 8:4]. [Now, don't some of you go into conniptions here. A woman can proclaim the gospel to an individual or a group as well as a man; however, they are not to be a pastor or have authority over the man.] But I have not been directly called to be "a pastor. Unless the Lord did a great work in me I would be a quite poor pastor;" I am a Bible teacher.
There is an old "preacher saying" that claims, "The only difference between preachin' and teachin' is how loud you talk." This reveals the attitude some hold toward teaching. They see little difference between it and preaching. Many other brethren look at teaching as a secondary calling and is thus inferior to preaching. In fact, to hear the average Fundamentalist preacher talk one would think "preaching" is the most important activity a minister could ever be engaged in. To a lost person it is, but it is not to a believer. A born-again [hear in Appalachia it is often "borned again"] believer needs to be taught more often than preached at. In the Bible preaching means to proclaim something and today it refers to the proclaiming of the gospel [1 Co 1:18, 15:1; 1 Th 2:9, etc.] John the Baptist and Christ came preaching the "Kingdom of heaven" [Mt. 3:1, 4:17], but as we will see Christ's ministry more emphasized teaching than preaching.
In some ways teaching is a more involved practice than preaching. Technically, all one must know to preach is basically the gospel, yet the Bible teacher must have a good Scriptural grasp of the doctrinal subject he is about to teach. For example, when Christ preached it was with a very concise and simple message, "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." But when he taught it was with a much more detailed and doctrinal manner. How many of you have heard preachers speak about the great "sermon" Christ "preached" on the "sermon on the mount"? We all have, but Christ never preached from the mount in Matthew 5-7 and it wasn't a sermon. It was a detailed doctrinal lesson He taught about the characteristics of the coming Kingdom. Look at Mat 5:2 when Christ began to speak, "And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying." Now look at Mat 7:29 when He ended speaking, "For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." With this you should see the primary difference between preaching and teaching and the place teaching has in God's scheme of things.
Another thing many preachers assume is Christ was a preacher before He was a teacher, but they are wrong again. There is nothing like a quick look at the Bible to clear up such matters. Christ referred to Himself as a "teacher" more than a "preacher," and much to the chagrin of many preachers, when the Holy Spirit recorded the Lord's ministry in the Scriptures, He usually placed "teaching" ahead of "preaching"! Look at Mat 4:23 for example, "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom." Also see Mat 9:35, Mat. 11:1; Act 5:42, 15:35]. In short, preaching is primarily for the lost and teaching is for the saved. I would say some of you learned something right here, especially some of you preachers.
No pastor can expect his church to amount to much unless he has an effective teaching ministry. Of course, he is to be the primary teacher. That is why the Bible stipulates a pastor be "apt to teach." Unfortunately, some pastors are not apt to teach at all. I think some would have a problem teaching a starving dog to eat a biscuit. Part of the reason is they have little to teach because they know relatively little. Another reason is they don't think teaching is as glamorous as preaching and spend little time perfecting their lessons and approach. Paul didn't have such hang-ups. In Act 28:31 Luke spelled out the approach of Paul's ministry. He was engaged in, "Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him." See also, 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11. Preaching makes sinners believers; teaching makes believers effective and knowledgeable Bible believers.
Once God calls a person for a ministry he must enable him for service. When a brother surrenders to the call he is not instantly prepared for the ministry. In fact when the brother is called he essentially has no ministry. God must enable him as he enabled Paul,
|And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; [1Ti 1:12]|
Before Paul was actually placed into a full ministry he spent three years in training and instruction [Gal 1:18]. Once God found him faithful in this, He put him into the ministry.
Every minister must learn the Bible and God's ways before he can be fully effective in God's service. Contrary to popular belief attending a Bible school does not guarantee one is ready for a ministry. For some a Bible school may be the best avenue to take. For others it may be being under the tutelage of a more experienced minister. And some others may learn a considerable amount by reading and studying on their own. In fact, going to a Bible college can often be a hindrance. There have been countless believers who head off to Bible school believing in the purity of the Bible [KJB], and then two to four years later come back there is no pure Bible. All they can offer one is a "reliable translation" that is not pure and inerrant. This is detrimental to the cause of Christ. Every believer must determine the Lord's will for himself as one that must give account.
Sometimes the enabling can be hard. Paul was shipwrecked and whipped. Others have suffered through terrible ordeals in being conformed more like Christ. We are to endure hardness as a good soldier [2 Tim 2:3] and place our burdens on the Lord. I know this is easier said than done, but that is the lot of a minister of Jesus Christ.
Like many of you reading this, your author has heard many pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and ministers in general over the years "preach." From a visiting missionary's "one night stand" to an evangelist's two week "revival" [plus camp meetings, Bible conferences, and "preacher retreats"], he has heard preachers from a broad cross section of society deliver countless messages. When I was younger in the Lord and ignorant of many Bible truths I was enamored by any man who claimed to be a preacher and devoured everything he said. Unfortunately, now that I am older and hopefully a little wiser [43 years old and 23 years saved] my enthusiasm has diminished to a degree. Why, you may ask? Because after a few years of listening, watching, and studying preachers and analyzing their mode, method, and motivation for preaching, I realized many preachers too often preach to impress people more than to minister to people. Especially if there is a notable "preacher peer" in the room they wish to impress. They appear more in love with the act of preaching than with the purpose of preaching. The self-centered ego of man is not eradicated when he is called to preach. It is a powerful influence of the flesh that strives to get a preacher off track by satisfying a selfish desire or ambition—to be thought of as a gifted, clever, smart, powerful, brilliant, etc., preacher by his peers.
The ego of man is the epitome of pride. It loves positive attention and notoriety. The only thing it may desire more is to be loved, admired, and "appreciated." This is in stark contrast to the attitude a believer in Christ should hold. Christ said more than once before one could follow Him he had to "deny himself"—deny the desires of his flesh. Paul said believers should make themselves of NO reputation and be a humble servant; traits man's proud ego shuns. I'm convinced the biggest enemy a Christian has is not the Devil or the world, it is his own vain, proud, self-gratifying "flesh". This self fixation or ego IS the LUST and PRIDE of man—"the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life"! Personally, I have much more difficulty trying to hold my "flesh" in check than I do dealing with the world or the Devil. Every morning when I look into the mirror, I see my greatest enemy starring back at me. He literally gives me "fits."
Unfortunately, this uncrucified flesh has dwelled among preachers, as well as all other believers, since the beginning. Instead of preaching from pure, godly motives solely to help others and please God, flesh has ulterior motives and secretly seeks to impress people and "show off." Any honest preacher with any time under his belt will admit this. The tendency to "knock their socks off" with one's wit, oratory, "knowledge," and "presence" is a desire that is hard for many to ministers to overcome. They treat preaching as if it is a competition. Some Bible schools even have "preaching competitions" for their young preachers and award prizes to the "winner." How do they determine the winner? Do they count souls saved, lives changed for the good, Bible doctrines expounded, etc.? No, they measure their oratory, organization, knowledge, and performance against their fellow competitors. No wonder many preachers harbor this competitive, adversarial spirit throughout their ministry. Usually a minister has to be quite seasoned and mature in the ministry before he realizes the futility and vanity of such an attitude. Preaching is not a "competitive sport," it is the means God has established to save those which are lost and edify those who are saved.
It appears oratory, delivery, and even sophistry have in many cases become a substitute for Holy Spirit endued power. When one reads of the ministries of those in centuries past, he realizes the results they obtained were NOT a because of flashy oratory or clever "alliteration." They were effective because they had upon them the prayer induced power of God! Charles Finney said in his autobiography he would purposely preach in a soft, quiet manner so as not to create any excitement in his meetings merely from his "presentation."
Describing one meeting in the "sitting room" of a home [not in an air-conditioned, padded-pew, spacious "church building"] Finney said,
|"Nothing had been said or done to create any excitement in the meeting. The feeling was all spontaneous. The work was with such power that even a few words of conversation would make the stoutest men writhe in their seats, as if a sword had been thrust into their hearts. It would probably not be possible for one who had never witnessed such a scene to realize what force the truth sometimes has under the power of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed a sword, a two-edged sword. The pain that it produced when searchingly presented in a few words of conversation would create a distress that seemed unendurable."|
Don't think Finney was speaking to children or those of a "weak" heart, because "the meeting was composed of many of the most intelligent and influential...young men in the town." Finney as many other saints of the past had power. Not necessarily "powerful preaching" or "vibrant messages;" he had the power of God! To what did Finney ascribe this power; what did he claim was the key to its avail? Let him answer,
|"In regard to my own experience, I will say that unless I had the spirit of prayer I could do nothing. If I lost the spirit of grace and supplication even for a day or an hour I found myself unable to preach with power and efficiency, or to win souls by personal conversation."|
I believe it is clear that the primary reason there is rarely power in preaching today is there is rarely effective prayer before the preaching. A prayer less ministry is a powerless ministry; a ministry weak in prayer is weak in power; and a ministry filled with prayer is filled with power. It's that simple. Ah, but the flesh doesn't like to pray, does it?
When a man is called into the ministry, what is the end of his calling? For what purpose was he called? Although many seem to have overlooked this passage, Ephesians 4:11-13 is clear,
|"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:"|
In short, a God called minister is called to make Christians better Christians; to make them more like Christ. In light of this, what does the Bible claim is the first and primary duty and obligation of a minister in striving for this goal? Powerful preaching, vibrant teaching, effective counseling, etc.? You would be surprised how many preachers cannot answer this simple, basic question from Scripture. I have asked this question to groups of preachers only to see them fumbling through their Bibles appearing to search for the answer when in reality some of them didn't know where to begin. What is a preacher's [pastors] first duty to his people? What does God require of him first? It is NOT preaching; it is NOT teaching; it is NOT Bible study. Let's let twelve God called pastors tell us,
|"But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" [Acts 6:4].|
Prayer comes first, it always should come first. Without it the ministry of the word will be of little effect. Notice preachers, a God called minister is not called first to preach, he is called first to pray! Preaching is necessary, but it is secondary. I will be the first to admit that my prayer life lacking. The reason I have little power is I have little prayer. Ministers try to make up for this lack of power in their lives by composing clever sermons, loud sermons, short sermons, long sermons, entertaining sermons, etc., but they all are inadequate. There is no substitute for the Holy Spirit.
Having addressed the first aspect of the calling equation, prayer; we will now briefly look at the second—the ministry of the word. Most all ministers realize they are called to "preach the word," but it has never ceased to amaze me how ministers who have been preaching for even 30 or 40 years don't understand the specifics of their accountability. Many ministers preach messages on the "stewardship" of the believer and how they will be held accountable for what God has given them, but few can produce from the Scriptures what they as ministers are actually stewards of.
Once at a "Bible Conference" the Lord allowed me to teach to some preachers, and I brought up the issue of a minister's stewardship and accountability to God. I quoted 1 Cor. 4:2 ["Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful"], which they were all familiar with and had used many times. But then I asked the question "What is it that ministers are stewards of? What specifically are we accountable for?," I got a bunch of blank looks from most of them. Others fumbled through their Bibles. None would answer. [I know it is hard to answer questions from a speaker like this but this was not a hard or trick question. It dealt with the very basis of their and my ministry.] Finally I took them to 1 Cor. 4:2 and told them to look at the verse right before it, 1Cor. 4:1,
|"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God."|
We are ministers of the "mysteries of God." These mysteries are the specifics we are accountable for. Seeing this the preachers then began to nod their heads and say "Amen," but then I asked the next logical question [you guessed it], "What are the mysteries of God? Can you briefly state them? More than that, can your congregations state them?" More blank looks came from many. Some mentioned a couple mysteries. This is tragic—ministers of God who do not know what they are stewards of or what they accountable for, and cannot even briefly describe the fundamental basis for the "ministry of the word." We ministers should be able to rattle off the seven basic mysteries found in the Scriptures without hesitation. We should be able to find them in an instant and expound on each one for a time without notes. How are we going to fare at the Judgment Seat of Christ with such basic ignorance? These words of stewardship were not hidden, they are not obscure. They are there plain for all eyes to see and understand. Many of us ministers are too busy trying to impress and "show off" to see "the forest for the trees." We should be the ones who see most clearly. Woe be unto us if we don't get back to the basics. Woe if we neglect our stewardship and calling.
Mysteries At A Glance For
those of you not familiar with the major mysteries of the
Bible, here is a brief overview.
Mystery of Godliness [1 Tim. 3:16]—Deals with the
person of Christ, His unique birth, nature, and death.
If one has a firm grasp of these mysteries, he has equipped himself with the basic truths needed to be an effective minister of God's word.
Probably the biggest reason the Bible's revealed mysteries are so little emphasized today is they deal primarily with sound doctrine. Unfortunately, Bible doctrine is rarely the subject of preaching these days. Devotional or "inspirational" messages seem to dominate many preachers sermon library. One reason for this is devotional messages are much less "offensive" or "controversial" than doctrinal messages. Nearly anyone, saint or sinner, can listen to a typical “uplifting” devotional message without becoming very much disturbed. Millions of lost people have “enjoyed” countless inspirational “sermons” without realizing they are lost and have a need. Granted, a devotional message has its place in a ministry, but trying to get people to “feel better about themselves,” should not be the main thrust of one’s ministry.
However, the main reason, I believe, devotional messages dominate over doctrinal messages is devotional messages are easier to prepare—they require less study. One can “throw together” a simple inspirational message with one verse and some “illustrations” [stories from one’s youth, etc.], but an effective doctrinal presentation requires considerable study and organized delivery. Even some of the most well known evangelists spend little time on doctrine. They most often preach relatively simple [but often heavily illustrated] salvation messages [which have their place]. However, the first purpose for the inspiration of the Scriptures was that they be "profitable for doctrine" [2 Tim. 3:16-17]. It is doctrine that separates a true Bible believer from a liberal or a cultist. Without a sound doctrinal foundation, no believer can have the knowledge, strength, and wisdom he needs to be very effective for Christ.
More times than I can recall I have heard a preacher begin preaching a series of meetings and became impressed with his initial messages. However, after I heard him a few more times I noticed a peculiar trend; the brother would begin repeating things he had said in earlier messages. He would repeat certain pet phrases, key illustrations, and sometimes entire major points. After another message or two I realized the poor man actually didn't have anything else of substance to say. He had exhausted his knowledge of the Bible in less than 7 messages [sometimes even less]. What is the problem? The man simply doesn't study as he must to have access to the Bible's wealth of material. Sure he has a handful of powerful, barn-burner messages that can "singe the hair on your head," but once he has used these, he has little else. Unfortunately, I have sensed these brethren don't know much else. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think so. I feel certain if one asked some Evangelists to explain the difference between the Bible doctrines of "propitiation" and "imputation" he wouldn't get much of an answer. I know for a fact that some of them barely know the difference between a dispensation and a transmission and they probably know more about the transmission. The only biblical division they can point to is the division between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Another type of minister is what I call the "aah" preacher or the "amen" preacher. These brethren are known by the characteristic "ugh" or "Amen" that they belch out after every few words. Here in West Virginia there are some of these preachers on the local radio station. They start off talking in a normal manner then after a couple minutes "the spirit hits them" and they take off "preaching" and the "aahs" start. It's like they can't get air in their lungs fast enough, "Moses went up the mountain—aah—and he saw a burning bush—aah—and as he was going up the mountain—aah—he saw this bush a burning—aah—and as Moses saw this bush a burning—aah...." You get the picture. About every two or three seconds there is a "aah," "amen," or even "glory." To paraphrase another, "If brother Jones took all the "Amens" out of his message his 45 minute sermon would last only 15 minutes!" Why do these fellows use these words as a "filler"? Many times I think it is because they don't have anything else to say. Every message from week to week sounds much the same. Hardly nothing new. Study, preacher, study!
It seems some evangelists as well neglect to study. Since they rarely speak at a place more than five or six times at a stretch they may see no need to develop fresh, doctrinal messages. Pastors usually speak to the same people week in and week out, but some still neglect the study of doctrine. However, the Bible places an emphasis on doctrine and even says an elder who labors in the word and doctrine is worthy of "double honor" [1 Tim. 5:17]. Any minister who has studied the Bible much at all knows there definitely is "labour" involved in determining Bible doctrine. Each doctrine must be searched out and proven comparing Scripture with Scripture [1 Thes. 5:21, 1 Pet. 3:15]. To neglect this is detrimental to any ministry.
I have heard preachers joke about getting their messages from Christian publications. One preacher would say jokingly from the pulpit something like, "I went to the post office early this morning so I could get my copy of the Sword of the Lord before brother Jones gets his. Now, I will preach his message before he can." The fact is though, some preachers regularly "borrow" their messages from other. There is nothing wrong with getting ideas from other ministers, books, and publications. In fact, listening to tapes and reading Christian publications is to be encouraged, but preaching another person's sermon almost verbatim is not the ideal. Get your own messages, preacher! Personally, I have learned more about the Lord and His word by studying and preparing material to teach from than by hearing other ministers. Furthermore, one will usually deliver a message he has labored over with more zeal and care than one he has "borrowed."
In relation to this, though, there are many ministers who have a very limited amount of time to prepare messages. Here in the Appalachian Mountains, many if not most Fundamentalist ministers must work at an outside job as well as maintain a pastorate. I know Independent Baptists pastors who drive over an hour to work, work a 10-12 hour night-shift in a dark, dreary coal mine, drive back home, sleep a little, squeeze in a little study, spend a few minutes with the family, and do the same thing again for six days a week. Then preach on Wednesday night, have visitation on Thursday night, and on Sunday deliver two sermons and maybe even teach Sunday School! These brethren have my complete admiration. True, thy don't know the Bible as well as others, but they are faithful and doing the best they can. God will not forget their dedication and labor. If it were not for men like this many of the Baptist churches around the country would be empty. Do you think some "Bible College trained preacher boy" is going to come to a small hick town and take a pastorate that runs only 30-40 people and pays him around $200-$300 a month? Very, unlikely. Some of you reading this can identify with what I am saying; some of you can't. But before you criticize one of these brothers for not knowing the Bible as well as you, or not always having fresh, polished messages, you should just try to live by his schedule for a couple weeks. Many of you wouldn't make it.
The above is just a few tidbits and observations I have picked up over the years concerning ministers and ministries. There are others who are much better equipped and prepared to do this than me, but hopefully someone reading this will learn a thing or two about God's work and His calling into service. That old book has everything we need in it to determine how to live a successful life that is pleasing to God.
"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." AMEN!