Self-Appointed Preachers - Another Black Eye for the Christian Faith

"What are you doing February 10?"

He could barely contain himself. My son-in-law, George had just passed his ordination trials and wondered if I could preach at his ordination service. Now this is a big deal. He'd been through five years of seminary, several years as an assistant pastor in Tennessee. He'd just landed his first solo gig at a church in Beeville, Texas.

Of course, I'm delighted for him and will make every effort to be there on February 10. But there's something else that pleases me too. George might have followed an all too common practice of appointing himself to the Christian ministry, but didn't. The scenario goes something like this.

A person "feels called", presumably by God, to a particular ministry. It could be to start a church in a remote area, or not. Some will start a church in the shadow of another, 'cause the other isn't good enough. Often the ministry is some specialized outreach to a needy segment of the population. So the person announces that he is called. Out go his letters to friends and family and every distant acquaintance asking for prayer and for money. He is sincere. He is energetic. He is winsome. Dollars begin to roll in. God must be in it. After a few years, other opportunities for ministry are detected. More letters go out. More money comes in. The outreach expands. Along the way our friend has picked up a title to give him some legitimacy: Reverend, Apostle, Bishop. He's become powerful. People do his bidding and show him special favors. All in the name of the Lord's work.

But is it the Lord's work? Who's to say it was the Lord who called him? How do we know that he's legit? Maybe he's just pursuing his own desires for power and authority and wealth. The church or "outreach ministry" is his fiefdom.

Who are the first to see through the charade? A world of would-be followers of Christ. Their hearts ache. They need to know God and find forgiveness and restoration in the gospel of Christ. But they're smart enough to avoid feeding the self-serving ambitions of fraudulent preachers.

How to know!

Back in the day when ships followed beacons into port, an experienced captain knew to line up the blinking lights so that they appeared to the eye as one. As long as that was the case the ship was safely centered in the channel. If the beacons got out of line he'd run aground.

So it is with detecting God's call to the ministry. There are four beacons that must be kept in line for a person to be assured that it is God who is calling. The first is an internal desire to do so. Paul wrote to Timothy, his younger understudy, "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." (I Timothy 1:1) So that's the first, but only the first, step. To know whether or not the desire is God given you'll want to get the next three lights in line.

The second light is possession of the requisite graces and gifts. By graces I mean a character marked by the fruit of the Spirit. These, of course, should be true of every Christian, but more-so in one who aspires to leadership. That fruit is listed in Galatians 5:22,23. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law." Surely, if one is to lead others to Christ, he must demonstrate growth in Christlike character. Notice I said "growth" not "perfection." Along with the grace our would-be preacher must have the necessary gifts. A person may desire to serve the Lord and be obviously Christlike but if he's tongue-tied in public, can't carry on a conversation, or doesn't know how to string thoughts together so that they make sense... I doubt he's called by God. Both the graces and the gifts will be discovered and honed over time while in seminary, Bible School or some other training program and while serving an internship or two. If our candidate has chosen a faithful school and surrounds himself with godly people, he'll be picking up signals that he's got the graces and gifts or not.

The third light is a discernible invitation from others to come serve them. Usually this takes the form of a congregation voting to call a particular candidate to serve it as pastor. When this is done above board with due deliberation and prayer an objective measure is provided by which to judge the legitimacy of a call. Absent a congregational vote look for some group of people on the site of the ministry who will welcome you to serve among them. If no congregation or other group of folks indicate a desire to have the candidate come serve them, I'd question whether or not his call is from God.

The final beacon is the endorsement by those who are already in the field of service. That's what an ordination signals. Men already proven to be called by God now lay their hands on the newbie acknowledging their recognition of his call. That's the step my son-in-law will take on February 10.

That's complicated!

Yes, it is an arduous journey with its share of pitfalls and distractions. Should it be otherwise? Don't physicians, engineers and attorneys go through a similar process? How much more should those who deal with the soul and affect eternal well-being.

But there is another side. Many churches and organizations are Christian in name only. They have adopted a politically correct agenda, jettisoned foundational truths of the Bible and followed their own lights. It's not surprising that sincere candidates for ministry have been rebuffed by such organizations for being outside the acceptable theological and political persuasions. Is it any wonder that some are tempted to ignore the beacons that lead to the assurance of God's call.

I wrote "many", not "all." There is a growing number of faithful Christian churches and ministries of most every denominational label. These will encourage young candidates for the gospel ministry to follow the steps I've outlined.

If you're a layman, don't hesitate to ask for a preacher's cred pack. If he's legit he'll happily show it to you and admire your due diligence.

And finally

I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted to quit the ministry. I've served three churches and over forty three years I've garnered my share of hostility from folks who didn't like me and well-intentioned opposition from those who said they liked me, but just didn't think I was a good enough pastor.

So what keeps a guy going under such pressure? Certainly it wasn't my strength. It was the conviction that to leave would be a betrayal of a call received from a Lord who gave his life to save me.

From a pastor's point of view that alone is reason to make sure that a call is legitimate. There are godly ways for a church to rid itself of an unwanted pastor, but pressure from a few self-appointed watchdogs is not one of them. Unless a pastor is certain of his call, he's likely to be at the mercy of some well-intentioned but overreaching members.

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Comments - I'm listening 18 comments

liftandsoar profile image

liftandsoar 4 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Not only have not blocked it. I responded to it.

celafoe profile image

celafoe 4 years ago from Planet earth. between the oceans

whats the problem, can't refute what I say so you block it. Typical "pastor"

liftandsoar profile image

liftandsoar 4 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

celafoe OK, what do you believe is unscriptural in what I wrote. I applaud your desire to exercise the berean practice of testing what they heard against the Scriptures. But I don't read of any rants such as yours. If, in fact you are a follower of Christ, you'll be concerned about exhibiting His grace even toward those with whom you disagree. Remember there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of non-Christians reading our exchange.

celafoe profile image

celafoe 4 years ago from Planet earth. between the oceans

What utter uselessness. Typical pastoral foolishness, cover each other rather than do as scripture tells us to do. A Godly leader covers no mans error. A true Godly leader will do as he is commanded to do and will judge all that is presented in the name of God , whether it be of God or not. He will judge according to scripture. and it is not scriptural he will expose the error. If it was done in private he will privately try to correct. If done in public he will expose publicly.

That is part of Christianity is slipping because there is so much done in the name of God that is not of God and people see the hypocrisy because there is little or no accountability to the Word of God.

A real Christian does not allow this to stand, but will expose it.

We are all (Christians) called to be as the Bereans . That means we are to be led by the scripture no

liftandsoar profile image

liftandsoar 4 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Good to hear from you, Pastor Brad. I appreciate your perspective. First a few clarifications. I wasn't laying down the law. I was stating what I regard to be a wise principle that guards against too casual an entry into the ministry. There are too many self-proclaimed spokesmen for God out there giving contradictory message to an already confused world. Further, I acknowledged the fact that many so called Chrstian church and organization have denied God's Word and have adopted their own agenda. This makes understandable the pressure to bypass the last three steps. Understandable but not necessarily wise. Didn't I hear a preacher talk about wisdom Sunday morning?

With regard to the callings of biblical figures such as Moses and Paul and all the others, they are in a different category altogether. In those days, God spoke to his people by a variety of means. Even used a donkey, with a particularly obstreporous character. But we live with a closed canon of Scripture. We don't expect God to speak to us directly. He's given us his Word and a faithful ministry by which to be instructed and then expect us to use our heads, ie, be wise. There will always be exception to the four beacons I suggest. But I think all four have biblical precedent. Barnabas was sent to Antioch by the church in Jerusalem. Later Barnabas and Saul were ordained by the people in Antioch to for their first missionary trip. It was the Holy Spirit who instructed the people, nevertheless it's significant that there was a human agency involved. The principles behind what I suggest is that of humility and mutual submission. Different church communities will work those out in their own way, but the principle is clearly rooted in Scripture.

liftandsoar profile image

liftandsoar 4 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

So what else do you feel strongly about, celafoe? Actually I could list a half dozen seminaries right off the top of my head that are faithful to the Scriptures. Sure, they will differ on various secondary issues, but all teach the Scriptures and exalt Christ. Beside, I didn't say a man must go to seminary. I mentioned "seminary, Bible school or some other training program." The point is that an aspiring pastor should desire to receive training in obedience to II Timothy 2:15. "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."

celafoe profile image

celafoe 4 years ago from Planet earth. between the oceans

90% garbage and unscriptural. Name one seminary that actually teaches scriptural truth without their own peculiar beliefs/ideas like this above

Pastor Brad profile image

Pastor Brad 4 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

As promised, I have returned to place my thoughts to peer-reviewed analysis ... an analyzed analysis, as it were.

I do believe that God works uniquely with each of His uniquely created children according to how He has gifted and "wired" them for service (1 Cor 12, Rom 12). In this working, Christ gives to His Bride certain "called out" (if I can use that term) individuals to equip her for service: "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." (Eph 4.11-12)

However, I do not see, as we tend to use, define, and rely upon, this "call" to vocational ministry within the confines of Scripture. Now, if I can speak out of both sides of my mouth, I will readily admit that I feel, believe, and have been affirmed and confirmed in my calling to vocational ministry. At the risk of sounding completely schizophrenic in my reasoning, allow me to explain:

I think there are theological constructs that we can develop that inform our definition of calling: the qualifications for leaders within Christ's church outlined, amount other places, in the pastoral epistles; evidence of a faithful Christian walk that emulates Paul's charge in 1 Cor 11.1 to "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ;" the wealth of biblical data for how God literally called to his designated leaders throughout the history of the Old & New Testaments; and other valuable insights. I believe these constructs are necessary, good, and of great utility for our local congregations, especially in helping to test the spirits (1 John) and to be on the watch for wolves who seek to destroy the flock (Acts 20). It is under these auspices that I can readily declare that I am called to vocational ministry.

In your discussion, my friend, I wholeheartedly endorse your first two steps. It is the latter two with which I struggle a bit.

I believe the problem, and why I felt the compulsion to share these thoughts - not as a rebuke, but as a catalyst for discussion - is that this "process" that we have created is foreign to the corpus of Scripture, at least in a mandatory fashion. I believe if a congregation wishes to utilize the four (or five, or six, ...) step process you have outlined, they are free to do so, and it could even be a great execution of wisdom. I do not believe, however, that it is the only way for a man to be called to the pastoral ministry.

I know of Godly, deeply biblically-rooted men who have never gone to seminary ... and who, in my estimation, would benefit little from what most of our seminaries offer even if they went. If they were "called," should they be subjected to our modern, westernized expression of Scriptural training? We would have had Apostles, early church leaders, and Church Fathers who were disqualified from the ministry if this were a true "requirement" for pastoral ministry ... in fact, Jesus Himself may have been disqualified. And I say this as a pastor who graduated from a respectable, Bible-teaching seminary.

I do not believe that Paul (or any of the other Apostles) waited for a congregational vote to assume either their apostolic roles or their pastoral ones. There are times that God sends without the affirmation of those around you or from those to whom you are going. (Consider the account in Acts 21.11-14, where Paul was urged not to go to Jerusalem, but he continued despite the "wisdom and counsel" of those he was with.) Now, I understand that apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic , and pastoral roles differ, but I think that our penchant and bias is to make those differences more categorical and absolute than the Bible does. I see that there are times when God's leaders respond to His leading to go to a new ministry (usually to start a new one) apart from "a discernible invitation from others to come serve them" ... those who don't know Christ, who have not faithfully been taught God's Word, probably don't know the need(s) that they have.

And as for ordination ... I have found that the processes I have been privy to are, well ... lacking. In my association of churches, it is a twofold process, including an 8 hour written examination (mine - approx 55 pages) and an oral exam (3.5 hours) for what we call "licensure" followed at least a year later by a second oral exam for our "ordination" where the theology of licensure is put to the test for practical ministry situations. Sounds pretty good, right? But what I have found is that is tends to serve as a bully-pulpit for some more "experienced" men to take a stand on issues that are not dogma or necessarily doctrine of the church and grill the "inexperienced" to see if they pass muster. All in all, it seems to miss the point of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians) and true discipleship of young men into the ministry. A second difficulty is that for these exams, the men examining the candidate do not know him ... they are critiquing cold theology. Anyone can memorize facts. Anyone can recite theological textbook definitions. A true "ordaining" to the ministry, as I see it biblically, would happen within a local church, as men of God discipled younger men in the faith, training them in theology, teaching them to guard their life and doctrine closely, walking with them though true discipleship, not simply evaluating them in an academic exercise.

Great care, great prayer, great reservation must be taken by any man before he pursues the vocational ministry and before any local congregation calls a vocational minister, but I think we need to make sure that we are not imposing requirements on the process that are not mandated be Scripture. If there is a biblically qualified man who has not gone to seminary, he need not be written off. If a new church plant has started in our community by some young buck that didn't ask permission before setting up shop, he doesn't automatically qualify as a heretic or divisive brother or an unqualified and dangerous teacher. If a certain man has not sat before elected officials, bishops, or regal holders of denominational theology and received their papal blessing and confirmation to the calling (that may have been affirmed in countless other ways), it does not mean that we must straightaway disqualify him from the pastorate until he tows the line.

Please hear the gracious heart with which I am attempting to write ... my only hope is to draw us closer to the One who has bought us and redeemed and (in the church-wide sense) called us into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I greatly desire that we raise up a new generation of passionate, Biblically-grounded and -equipped men to Preach the Word and lead God's people to the ends that He desires. And, LiftAndSoar, I am grateful for your wisdom ... I eagerly await your interactions, my friend. May we both be better able to serve our great God as a result of our discussions!

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Heb 10.23-25)

liftandsoar profile image

liftandsoar 4 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Good to hear from you down under, BlossomSB. Indeed, no question about Wesley being called!

BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

Wesley went out before he was sent - and went back home again, too. It was only when the Holy Spirit moved in his life that God was able to use him - and how! Searching the heart for signs from God is a good way of finding out if it really is a call. I pray that your son-in-law's ordination will be a special event and that his life will be dedicated to God and bear much fruit.

liftandsoar profile image

liftandsoar 4 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Lady Summerset, thank you for your comment. Glad to have you stop by!

Lady Summerset profile image

Lady Summerset 4 years ago from Willingboro, New Jersey

This is a very interesting hub. I've often run into this. People who have gone "out" before being "sent." Not understanding the power of discipleship, discipline, and duty. Christ set the example of tutoring and experience.

liftandsoar profile image

liftandsoar 4 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Good points, bBerean . The most important being the discerment provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Should have mentioned it, but I wouldn't consider it a beacon in that His influence is assumed all through the process. I should have made that clear. I also assume faithful seminaries, instructors and mentors all along the way. Absent those, of course, there will be those who appear to be legitimate but have denied their Lord. While I distrust the liberalism ingrained in many religious institutions, I also distrust what appears to me to be arrogant individualism among those who eschew submission to their peers. Again assuming those peers are faithful servants of God. Thanks for your gentle corrective.

bBerean profile image

bBerean 4 years ago

I enjoy your hubs, but felt compelled to comment on this one. I primarily agree with the first 3 steps. Although you do mention the fruits of the Spirit, I saw nothing of the most important point; spiritual discernment through guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Make the fourth beacon be that you are in agreement with the teachings of the bible, rather than approval of men, and you would have me all the way. Most false religions have seminaries, and their teachings and endorsement do not constitute validation of a calling. Neither do the support of seminaries from denominations who are as you say, "Christian in name only", full of doctrines of men which twist and distort scripture for their own purposes. A good seminary may be helpful, and if you want to employed by a denomination, will undoubtedly be mandatory, but it is not necessary to understand or teach God's Word. "You need not that any man teach you". You need to study and learn. Even if you find a source that wins your trust, when taking instruction, listen to what is taught, then go to scriptures to see if it is true, as the Bereans did. How do you know what is true? Only through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, since the things of the spirit are spiritually discerned. That last step, making sure you learn through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that whatever you are taught matches what the bible teaches, is critical. Otherwise, with just the first three steps, or even all four you've laid out, most of the teachers from major, organized, false religions would be legitimized. Endorsements by false teachers within a false religion are not proof of God's calling.

liftandsoar profile image

liftandsoar 4 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

David, what offended you? Not sure what I wrote that could be construed as judgmental.

david 4 years ago

being a pastor should be the first to not judge.

liftandsoar profile image

liftandsoar 4 years ago from Richmond, VA Author

Looking forward to hearing more from you. I've added the last capsule since you read this. Take a look.

Pastor Brad profile image

Pastor Brad 4 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

Interesting ... I shall have to comment further at a later juncture. Thanks for sharing, my friend!

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