Our church is currently in the process of revising its policies with regard to how it works with young men and women who approach the elders with their desire to serve in some capacity of vocational Christian ministry. I was asked to begin assembling some biblical principles to guide our discussions. We, of course, are not starting from scratch and many of the principles had already been born out in guidance given by our eldership in the past. I want to acknowledge the work of Antônio Mendes Gonçales, Abmael Araújo Dias Filho, Edson Espósito, David J. Merkh Sr, David J. Merkh Jr and others for their valuable contributions then and now. From that work already done in the past, we have looked again to Scripture to consider those essential principles which orient our practice.
In this article I want to share the principles we have identified with a specific view toward pastoral formation. As you will see, some points are clearly biblical principles and others are practical implications of biblical principles, or even what may be called wisdom in light of biblical principles. Obviously, the fist category has more absolute authority and the latter may be held less tightly. This is still very much a work in process, so please feel free to share your thoughts.
The Pastorate is Just One of Many Possibilities for Vocational Ministry
It must first be recognized that eldership and pastoral ministry is just one possible avenue of vocational Christian service. In a context that places great intentionality on pastoral formation, we must be careful not to neglect other areas of service or those church-members who invest their lives in other spheres of Kingdom labor.
- The church should have the constant desire and prayer that God set apart and send out laborers for the Lord’s harvest. (Matthew 9:36-38)
- Eldership is an important sphere of labor in the Lord’s harvest, however there are other spheres of ministry service. The church must be prepared to identify and guide all those who are qualified to give their lives to harvest work. (1 Corinthians 12:11, 27-31; Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Peter 4:10-11)
- God sovereignly sets apart and enables people for the work of the ministry in a variety of areas of service. (Acts 13:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Peter 4:10-11)
- Beyond eldership, men and women can support the work of Gospel expansion through ministries of service, evangelism and discipleship (Acts 6:3; Romans 16:1-16; 1 Peter 4:8-11). In order to serve, a person must demonstrate qualifications with regard to Christian maturity and the effective work of the Gospel by the Holy Spirit in areas of character, competency and public testimony, primarily lived out in the home. (Acts 6:3; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; 5:10)
- Every believer should invest their lives for the growth and expansion of the Kingdom of God, and ought to have an attitude of submission to God’s Word and to the spiritual leadership of the church as they speak and live in a manner consistent with the Word. Therefore, it seems natural and beneficial that each Christian’s life ministry should seek some level of blessing from the eldership, without that implying that it is an official ministry of the local church or that it will be the recipient of financial support. (Ephesians 4:12-13; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:5)
The Intentional and Proactive Process of Identifying and Preparing Future Pastors
Too often we view a call to ministry in a very personalized and subjective way, which leads the church to simply sit back and wait for someone to “sense a call.” There is, of course, always a subjective and personal element to how God sovereignly sets apart men for eldership. However, the Bible argues in favor of an active role for the elders and the church in the identification and preparation of men for this type of ministry.
With regard to identification:
- He who desires to serve as an elder, desires a noble task. Men should be encouraged to consider serving as elders and to express such a desire should it exist. (1 Timothy 3:1)
- The Bible gives a list of unnegotiable qualifications for eldership, which represent observable evidences of the effective work of the Gospel in the life of a mature Christian man, in areas of character, competency and public testimony, primarily lived out in the home. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)
- The church must bear witness to the good testimony of those who aspire to eldership. (Acts 16:2; 1 Timothy 3:1-7)
- Those who serve as elders do so voluntarily, not under compulsion according to the desire given them by God. (1 Timothy 3:1; 1 Peter 5:3-4)
- The church, and especially its eldership, has the responsibility of identifying “faithful men” who demonstrate biblical qualifications for eldership in order that they may be further instructed in sound doctrine and prepared for the work of pastoral ministry. (2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 3:1-10; 4:11-16)
With regard to guidance:
- Guidance for a man who expresses the desire for pastoral ministry should be viewed as part of a larger discipleship process in his life. Regardless of the guidance given to the person (“yes” or “no”), it must be understood as an opportunity for further growth in the likeness of Jesus and usefulness for the Kingdom. (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 8:28-29)
- It is not loving to “lead men on”, giving false hope or failing to offer clear guidance for the moment in which they find themselves. (Ephesians 4:25)
- It is not consistent with the Gospel to permanently disqualify candidates who may in the future be qualified for eldership, given growth in certain areas. However, it must be acknowledged that certain sins carry consequences that may disqualify men for eldership even after they have repented and been restored. (Ephesians 4:29-32; 2 Timothy 2:20-21; 4:11)
With regard to formation:
- While the biblical qualifications for eldership are non-negotiable, a young minister will continue to learn and grow in his ministry. (1 Timothy 4:15-16)
- A biblical model of pastoral formation should include being mentored by more experienced elders and practical ministry apprenticeship (Acts 16:3; Philippians 2:22; 1 Timothy 4:15-16; 2 Timothy 2:2). This resembles Jesus’ practice with his disciples. (Mark 3:13-19). Paul referred to his pastoral apprentices as “sons in the Faith” (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4).
- A qualified minister possesses a demonstrable history of faithfulness in dealing with various social, professional, domestic and ecclesiastic responsibilities. (Philippians 2:22; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)
- The process of identifying and preparing elders demands adequate time to get to know the person and see them in action in a diverse set of ministerial and interpersonal situations, prior to conferring upon them the role and incumbent authority of eldership. (1 Timothy 5:22).