Written by Paul J. Bucknell on March, 16, 2023
God’s Calling to Ministry - John 8:34
Is it necessary to go to Bible School to become a pastor or Bible teacher, or is a (miraculous) call from God enough?
This question addresses how God equips his people to determine whether or not they should be a pastor or teacher. The above question has many ramifications.
First, I’ll introduce the topic of the ‘calling of God’ through Jesus’ perspective in John 8:34 to set a biblical framework for ministry.
“Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 8:34).
• His work
By “His work,” Jesus refers to the Father’s purpose. Jesus was intent on accomplishing God’s work, as shown in the phrases “My food” and “who sent Me.” Jesus wants the facts of how God works and His example to influence how people perceive ministry.
It’s common to separate God’s work, “pastor or Bible teacher,” from the everyday Christian life. It should not be. From God’s perspective, all He calls us to do is holy because it’s “His work.” Jesus sought to know and to do His Father’s will. While some people elevate one kind of work or service above another all are callings from God. It is He who equips and designates us for a life of service. The service differs. The Father has differently appointed us to carry out His work. Jesus had His assignment; we have ours.
Each calling is holy because God sends us to share in His holy work. Though God doesn’t call women to pastor over congregations, He calls their wives to a heavy responsibility to be their husbands’ helpmates. (This is why the husband and wife need to unite their hearts in recognizing and affirming God’s calling.) Serving God is unique and special for each.
• Our food
By “My food” in John 8:34, Jesus means that which daily drives Him. Jesus’ food is His desire to accomplish His Father’s will. It’s a day-by-day conscious effort to focus on what the Father wants. It’s not physical food that He lives for, but doing His Father’s will. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus now strives to make sure this essential aspect of God’s purpose is fulfilled through His people. Calling focuses on one’s primary life purpose, which is necessary for existence.
• Sent me
Later, Jesus would refer to the harvest (i.e., the work) and His disciples’ relationship with the many needy people around them (John 4:35), but let’s think of Jesus’ reference, “Him who sent Me.” Many questions on calling to ministry are related to the issue of sending out. Let me enumerate a few aspects of this “sent me.”
(1) God’s will. God’s purpose for our lives originates in His plan and desires. We are not trying to discover what we like so we can pursue it—this is modern thinking. Instead, we seek to understand God’s plans and desires, learn our part in His purposes, and find His grace and wisdom to do it. Knowing God is a prerequisite to ministry.
(2) God’s communication. We ask, “How did Jesus know that God sent Him?” God has somehow communicated His will and works to Jesus. He does the same for all of His servants. We need to seek God daily to know His will for us. Again, Jesus modeled this well, but He also subjected Himself to this method.
(3) The urgency of clarity. I find this question concerns knowing God’s purpose for our lives. People use the word calling, but this can be greatly misunderstood. The way the Father sends us differs. Later, I’ll speak on the inner and outer directives when mentioning the calling for pastoring and teaching. Just as God variously healed people, so He directs individuals differently, assuring them as needed. How God etches this understanding becomes a sign of confirming the Lord’s ministry for him. This is sometimes, like Paul, very significant but at other times almost not seen. Only God knows what challenges will arise due to our ministry. Knowing God sent us helps us depend on Him and gives us endurance. As Paul said, sometimes the finances will be very low (Phil 4:12-13)!
(4) Equipped for His works. The Father equipped Jesus for the work. It probably included some form of schooling where He learned and memorized God’s Word. We cannot predefine the need or means to acquire this since God, through history, variously teaches His people and prophets. Learning more of God’s Word at Bible College or wherever is advantageous but hardly necessary. God is much more concerned with training the heart and character (1 Tim 3:1-13), but storing God’s Word in your heart remains critical. “You are strong because the Word of God abides in you” (1 John 2:14).
Ministry is all about God, not us. He has called us to join Him in His great works. We, like Jesus, will find all sorts of challenges for us to experience, but they also are opportunities to draw close to our Father and watch for His solutions and grace. This causes our hearts, in the end, to delight in His wonderful ways.
Reflections on Ministry Training
Attending Bible college does not dictate God’s calling for a person. In other words, because I went to Bible college, God wants me to….” That would be an erroneous conclusion. We start with “God wants me…” (sent me). Don’t confuse Bible training with a calling. We often think we are ready before He does!
Practically, it helps to have advanced training in God’s Word to match highly educated positions as required by our society, but clearly, much training is overkill. Many programs are more concerned with making money and fitting in with government expectations rather than equipping men for service.
For example, seminaries and Bible schools don’t often train us to listen to our Father but instead to depend on our rational skills! We learn the wrong things and then spend time messing up peoples’ lives before we learn the correct way! Certificates, degrees, and robes often confuse us rather than properly direct us. However, having said this, I greatly appreciate the years I had to study. He used these studies as a teacher to sharpen my skills, broaden my awareness, learn from others, and gain love for His Word.
Still, many churches require official Bible training before considering a man for the pastorate, though more churches are willing to consider proven service as a qualification. This is mainly because many older leaders, already serving in the church, feel called into full-time ministry. Their character and gifting are proven.
I object to the way churches evaluate a person by degrees and certificates. First, does this mean God doesn’t call those without wealth and opportunity? What kind of disciples did Jesus choose? Jesus didn’t select disciples that graduated from His day’s advanced educational programs. Quite the opposite! The heart is more important than our studies because God is a great Teacher!
But having said this, many governments will not accept ‘missionaries’ unless they have advanced training in the fields of study they seek. Some societies are so wrapped up in the packaging of advanced education that they have stripped godly character from their consideration.
The Calling of God
Every Christian has a calling to follow Jesus wherever He leads (Eph 4:1). However, the Bible also sets forth how God equips and assigns certain body members to various positions.
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).
God “gave.” This calling has both inner and outer aspects—both essential. The neglect of one brings peril to a congregation.
The ‘inner’ calling describes a believer’s desire for ministry and gifting when handling God’s Word. Our gifts and drive largely shape this inner conviction. Our gifting, however, is not to be confused with natural talent, for God often chooses to display His power by working in weak and frail creatures. This is often supplemented by inward conviction.
The congregation and leaders affirm the ‘outer’ calling through a man’s gift, character, and calling (1 Timothy 3:1-7). We could include here, as Paul mentions, that the congregation—not the Bible College—affirms that he is a godly man, rightly caring for his family and tempered by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The best situation is for a congregation to train its leaders and send them out, maybe with Bible College training. Our pastor attended seminary, primarily by extension, but still participated in the ministry. Although this extended his studies time, He could easily step into the full-time pastorate because the congregation could see his gifts and person. The elders, confirmed by the congregation, confirmed his inner conviction and outer giftings. They have been working with him for years!
Other considerations for ministerial calling
The gifts and opportunities determine calling. Equipping for ministry, such as Jesus’ thirty years, can be disproportionate to the length of service. John the Baptist trained for many years but had a shortened ministry. Paul went to Pharisee training, but most did not. Everyone differs.
Ministry training includes a broader God-initiated schedule, including family upbringing, parents’ training, education, class, and other shaping factors. When we focus on the critical need to shape our hearts and the length of time to do it, we better understand that Bible school/seminary has great limitations to fostering a godly leader when they are busy with other schooling matters—reading, writing papers, and the sort. (This does not mean they are not concerned with this but that they limit their focus.)
God’s people must focus on accomplishing God’s purpose for their lives, whether in Christian leadership or not. If we are to take on shepherding or teaching roles, we want those around us to confirm God’s calling for us by observing our life choices and spiritual gifts. If our home church does not recognize our gifts and value our ministry, why should we pursue it? On the other hand, if the church wants you to pastor, what holds you back?
Sometimes, being a pastor and teacher is connected to a salaried position. This makes it easy for the candidate but can also be a stumbling block. People, then, seek such positions and higher degrees due to the salary rather than focus on what God wants. Dollar signs lead them rather than God’s purposes.
For Further Reading
I’ve written two short books on calling and training for ministry. One amplifies the inner and outer qualifications. The other helps the pastor recognize and train qualified men within his congregation. Take your Next Step into Ministry and Training Leaders for Ministry.
Study Questions For God’s Calling
- What are all Christians called to? How do you know?
- What are three advantages of studying at a Bible college or seminary?
- Why do churches often think their pastors should study at Bible college/seminary?
- What are two lessons to learn from John 8:34?
- What does the inner confirmation of a ministry calling refer to?
- What does the outer confirmation refer to?
- Why are both inner and outer confirmations essential to mark the hand of God on a person?
- Do you think graduating from a Bible college/seminary makes a person qualified for pastoring? Explain.
- What is heart training? Why does God put such value on this?
- Pick three Old and New Testaments characters and study how God prepared them for service.
- Is God calling you to a pastor/teaching position? List present or missing inner and outer confirmations.
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