Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. (1 Tim. 3:1)
The terms overseer, elder, pastor, bishop, and shepherd are used interchangeably in the New Testament. There is a calling to look after people, to be responsible for their well-being.
It is not a calling to have so one can “lord” it over another. It is a calling to serve. Within that call is the thought of leading, teaching, discipling, shepherding, etc. Paul says this is a noble call.
The passage in 1 Timothy 3 is a common used to at least begin the discernment process as one explores the calling into ministry. One of the things Paul mentions is one we may tend to overlook from time to time: not a recent convert. We may have a habit to see someone come to faith who has a powerful personality and think, “Well, of course they should be in ministry!” We may tend to push those into ministry who have outgoing personalities and mistake it for “calling.” Or, we may rush someone into ministry before they have some basic foundational work accomplished in their spiritual life.
Currently we are working with a young person who has come to faith out of Islam. It is incredibly tempting to push this person forward because we are incredibly excited. What needs to happen in tandem (at least) is we make sure basic discipleship is being accomplished as well.
When it comes to recognizing the calling, I speak to my denominational experience, because that is all I have. I appreciate the conversation I have with other denominations and would easily make this statement up front: Somewhere between what my denomination does and what the Presbyterian USA Church does lies some sort of happy medium. :)
For my own group (the Assemblies of God), there are times when it simply feels like a cattle call. And, to be honest… it looks like one, too.
For the Presbyterians, having listened to friends go through that grueling process, it’s a wonder they get ANY ministers after that meat grinder of a process!
The call to ministry needs a discernment process. Timothy could pick leaders from among those he knew. Let those who are closest to the one called have a bigger say in the process. Let their voice be a more prominent voice. While the denomination goes through the legal hoops now foisted onto the process, let the closer leadership help with the spiritual process. It’s a both/and world. I have to get over the shock of needing a criminal background check, but I don’t want THAT to be the most intense part of the process.
There needs to be that ongoing conversation about calling, discernment, hearing the voice of God, theological foundation, understanding of the church, understanding of the ministry gifts, etc.
Rather than simply a “credential” for a “minister,” why not move to the ultimate goal of ordination, but to a gifting? We’re Pentecostal, but we shy away from “apostle” and “prophet.” We certainly have those functions in our churches, but God forbid we should actually ordain someone into an “apostolic” ministry after we’ve gone through a thorough discernment process. We’re more “biblical” than that these days! ;)
Let us always raise a standard for ministry. Let us continue to believe in “calling,” but let us have more discernment in that process, and let us help those called to define their ministry gifts along the way.