What are the qualifications in our day for pastors, deacons, elders and leaders in general? Is it the ownership of several freshly pressed suits and ties? Is it pieces of paper with a signed by someone most people wouldn’t recognize? Is it the personal collection of books filled to the brim with other people’s personal opinions of Christ and the church? Is it in masterful trickery of the tongue upon tickled ears? Have we ever really asked ourselves the question, “what qualifies us for ministry?” What plumb line, or bar are we measured against that allows us the privilege of open ministry (both corporate and individual)? Or on a personal level, what qualifies us to openly display the gospel to the unbeliever?
My desire is to know what the scriptures say on this matter, of qualification. Ever in my searching I have yet to find the verses commanding the attendance of and accredited university for 4 to 7 years. Nor do I find the doctrine of, the issuance of golden sealed papers to be rewarded for the regurgitation of cold information. No, in my ventures across the scripture I have found something, yes something somewhere which hints, no, declares the qualities of true leaders and servants. Now I am not discrediting the usefulness of proper education, I’m speaking as one who earned a Bachelor of Theology with highest honors (the Canadian equivalent to summa cum laude.)
However, that bachelors may be recognized by the people around me and those reading, watching and listening to my words but in God’s eyes it’s not a permit to be part of the ministry. That bachelors did not force God to place a call of ministry on my life and neither did that degree replace or cancel out 16 years of informal self-study and previous ministry experience. To be honest my years of personal experience and previous studies made getting my bachelors much easier and allowed me to complete it in record time.
I’m a huge advocate for learning the scriptures, theology, hermeneutics, doctrine and the like but possessing information, books or degrees does not equal a call to the ministry. There are a great many people who have attended Bible Colleges and Universities who were not called into ministry. On the other hand there are many who are called and are active in the ministry who have never been to school at all. Perhaps I am just jaded about this subject because I have been on both sides of the fence. I have been called and active in ministry without a degree (including teaching people with Bible school degrees) and now I have a degree and am still living out my calling.
I feel that people treat me “better” now than before, but my heart has not changed. I remember one encounter with a church I used to attend in Winnipeg, I was having a deep theological conversation with a man who was an elder in the church and a high-ranking member of the denomination. At one point he asked me where I went to school and how I became so insightful for my age. I told him that I didn’t actually have a degree and he looked at me turned his back and walked away and refused to talk with me any longer. (I should probably mention that at this time I was also the church’s volunteer youth pastor.)
Paying an institution thousands of dollars and writing theses and book reports did not stir up or validate a call on my life. Rather it merely encourages people to trust me more as I live out that calling, because honestly would you rather buy a book written by some guy from Canada called Cam, or from Cameron D. Conway B.Th? We must go beyond the sights and sounds of paper and ink and begin to look at the qualities of the heart, the experience of trials, testimonies unwavering faith and a devotion to build the Kingdom as the true signs of a call to ministry in a person. The education which comes later (either formal, through discipleship or self-taught) then acts as a foundation to maintain a person in ministry. It provides the scaffolding for a heart to witness the gospel to the world. We must always remember that a heart will always cry out louder than an idea, our heart motivates us and leads us to God while knowledge and information ensure that we are correctly sharing the truths of the gospel.
How many times have we had information presented to us that was either not believed by the person speaking, flat out incorrect or focuses on the wrong things. I’ve seen fiery evangelists who have known next to nothing about the scriptures or discipleship and I have seen experts on the scriptures who have never lifted a finger to spread the gospel. We need both, we need a heart of fire and mind of raw fuel to sustain those flames and give them purpose.
Paul was an apostle in the truest sense; he built churches, raised up disciples, and provided the framework for churches to flourish without his direct supervision. Later in his life Paul approached the twilight of his mortal journey wrote to his spiritual sons Timothy and Titus what the true heart of a leader must look like. It is a message I fear is often overlooked throughout the church. It is not a message that has to do with externals but matters of the heart. Now I ask you to gaze upon yourself in a mirror as you read the words of Paul and see his qualifications for ministry.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 “1 The saying is true and irrefutable: If any man [eagerly] seeks the office of bishop (superintendent, overseer), he desires an excellent task (work). 2 Now a bishop (superintendent, overseer) must give no grounds for accusation but must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, circumspect and temperate and self-controlled; [he must be] sensible and well behaved and dignified and lead an orderly (disciplined) life; [he must be] hospitable [showing love for and being a friend to the believers, especially strangers or foreigners, and be] a capable and qualified teacher, 3 Not given to wine, not combative but gentle and considerate, not quarrelsome but forbearing and peaceable, and not a lover of money [insatiable for wealth and ready to obtain it by questionable means]. 4 He must rule his own household well, keeping his children under control, with true dignity, commanding their respect in every way and keeping them respectful. 5 For if a man does not know how to rule his own household, how is he to take care of the church of God? 6 He must not be a new convert, or he may [develop a beclouded and stupid state of mind] as the result of pride [be blinded by conceit, and] fall into the condemnation that the devil [once] did. 7 Furthermore, he must have a good reputation and be well thought of by those outside [the church], lest he become involved in slander and incur reproach and fall into the devil’s trap.” (AMPC, emphasis mine)
This is not merely a bullet point thesis of a Christian leader, this should be the calling card of everyone in the church. This entire list is grounded upon matters of the heart and is directed towards those that have been called by God and can prove their character to not just those inside the church but to those outside as well (1 Timothy 3:7). The fruits of our inner soul is to be one third of our ministry foundation along with knowledge of the scriptures and a living encounter with Jesus. That foundation is not built upon puffed up poster boards of self-righteousness, empty actions, clever words or selfish motives. The eyes of God see far beyond the masks we wear to our very core being and nature. Thankfully in His grace He sent Holy Spirit to recreate our core in His image and likeness.
We are called to be children of wisdom, holiness and Christ-likeness no matter our age (in the flesh or in the spirit). We are called to be diligent within our own home before we attempt to gain authority within the translucent walls of the church. We are forbidden to covet what is not our own and we are commanded to teach with humility and honestly the mysteries of God. We are called to be holy, not for the rewards or to maintain a public show, but because it is the desire of God’s heart.
What Applies To Ministry Applies To All
We can also look to the epistle to Titus and one again see Paul repeat and reaffirmed his view on those who are qualified for ministry.
Titus 1:7-9 7 For a bishop (overseer, local leader, pastor) must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. (NKJV)
This is the heart of all those who carry the banner of servant, helper, teacher, pastor, evangelist, prophet and apostle. It is not merely the collecting of knowledge, though we are not to be ignorant or ill-informed. But our personal conduct and love will shine brighter than any thesis or quote ever will. We are to be wise as serpents and as gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16). For within us is wisdom, knowledge and understanding revealed by the Holy Spirit. Revelation which goes far beyond anything found in books, CD’s, blogs, podcasts, or videos because it is from the spirit of the living God within. Yet these words of mine fail to compare with the words of Paul.
Titus 2:7-8 “7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, 8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.”
Have we forgotten that we cannot have the gifts of the spirit spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12 until we have learned to walk in the fruit of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22-24? We cannot have one without the other, one cannot be a helper without love, a teacher without faithfulness, a pastor without longsuffering, or an evangelist without peace. No prophet is without self-control, and one cannot be an apostle without kindness. Always remember that the fruit is the “horse” which pulls the cart of “gifts”. I cannot refrain from repeating the notion that these truths are not exclusively for those in ministry but for all within the Body of Christ.
Those who reject this truth will never qualify for ministry in God’s eyes and will forever remain vessels of dishonor at the masters table. Yet for those who wish to attain honor at the table must live the life spoke of by Paul to Timothy
2 Timothy 2:20-26 “20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. 21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, [h]sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (NKJV)
A Pattern Of Commission Combined With Servanthood And Relationship
When we search the scriptures we begin to see a pattern emerge of those whom God chose for ministry roles (leaders, prophets and so on). In most of these cases a call or a commission was first given, then the life of that person would be then marked by servanthood and continual relationship with God. A relationship which included an abundance of time learning God’s nature through the scriptures and revelation.
We see that Jeremiah wasn’t called because he went to the right school, but rather through the sovereignty of God. Moses wasn’t commissioned because he excelled in his Egyptian homeschooling but because God saw a heart which could carry the burden of the nation. Isaiah didn’t have a Doctor of Divinity but saw the throne and God’s glory. Elisha didn’t become Elijah’s servant because he impressed the school of the prophets during their summer internship program. Joshua didn’t emerge from a great military academy, Ezekiel didn’t receive his visions because he scored better than his fellow Levites in standardized testing. John didn’t witness the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ because of faithful tithing, and on and on we go.
What we do see is that when God commissions a person, it is the person’s responsibility to act upon that commission. To get up and go where God has commanded them to go, to live a life according to God’s standards and to make it so the words and voice of God were more familiar than their own voices. The things we associate with a person receiving a call to ministry are in reality the things people are supposed to do after they are called, commissioned or released into ministry. Education is good, oversight is good, certification is good but all of those things cannot transform a person into a pastor, prophet, teacher, evangelist or apostle. All they can do is reinforce the platform which God has appointed them to and to bring comfort to those that the person in ministry will guide, teach, encourage, disciple, train, and equip.
Paul was perhaps one of the most educated writers of the Bible but that information was irrelevant until his encounter with Jesus. Paul went to the best rabbinical school of the day and sat under the most respected teacher in Jerusalem but that didn’t produce a call to ministry or a revelation of who Jesus is. Even after the encounter on the road to Damascus Paul spent another decade back in Tarsus preparing for his launch into ministry. Paul had an experience, a commission and the knowledge to not only be in the ministry but to have success. He had the heart, mind and feet of one called by Jesus to not just witness to the message of the cross but to build the church as well. But even he needed letters form the Jerusalem Church and the accompaniment of Barnabas in those early missionary journeys to give people reasons trust him and to listen to his words.
Ministry is For All
In a frail attempt to craft a conclusion I ask that you examine your own hearts and ask God if you are lacking in any area, or if there is any place in you life that He is excluded. Then ask if there is any place where He may use you as a vessel of honor to enlarge the boundaries of His kingdom. For it is not by gilded golden paper that you are called, but by His spirit. For “many are called yet few are chosen” are the immortal words of our King. The revelation of this mystery is this, that those who are chosen are merely the ones who appear when called. They are the ones who hear the call to preach, teach, encourage, pray, prophecy, disciple, write, create, support and evangelize.
To receive the call to the ministry is only the first step you must then take those steps into that new land where your life reflects that of Christ. Don’t limit this truth to thinking that I’m not called to full time ministry, these words apply to all of us because at our heart every Christian is a minister. We are all called to preach, teach and disciple so our lives, intentions, faith and time should reflect the words Jesus commanded in the great commission.
In closing may we never forget these words:
Titus 3:2-7 “2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (NKJV)
To go deeper in your journey with Christ check out my new book Understanding Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Christian beliefs which is now on sale. Available in paperback (Canada or USA) and eBook! Get your copy today and discover not just your purpose but learn how you can build the Kingdom of God here on the Earth.
Do You Qualify For Ministry? Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.