So much of what is seen of a pastor is a person on a platform who encourages and challenges us every Sunday in church. However, there is so much more to it than that. In truth, the preaching component of being a pastor is relatively small compared to all the other duties, opportunities and responsibilities. If you have an interest in vocational pastoral ministry, I encourage you to explore it thoroughly and dream a big dream as God directs your heart. What follows are some considerations that may help to guide, affirm or perhaps even dissuade you from pastoral ministry.
In This Article:
- Biblical Qualifications of a Pastor
- Fulfilling the Biblical Qualifications of a Pastor With a Theology Degree
Biblical Qualifications of a Pastor
The pastor’s life is one of walking not just daily, but hourly, in the presence of God. It is, to use an old saying, being “Jesus with skin on.” We are not CEOs, but we lead. We are not administrators, but we steward God’s resources with diligence. We are not salespeople, but we passionately proclaim the message of being “reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV).
Our job is to pray and preach. Luke shares in Acts 6 an account of designating leaders in the church to do ministry tasks so the Apostles could devote more attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word. These are our primary jobs as a pastor. Of course, pastors still unclog toilets and may change the oil in the church van at times. But we have a focused priority for the sake of our church. We need to be the active, present and supportive presence of God for those around us.
Too many pastors spend more time keeping up with social media than praying. Our job is to pray, to be with God and to meditate on him, and from this intensity of those deep roots, we have a relevant word from the Lord that will transform a church and a community. Be a person of prayer. Be a person of the Word of God. The Apostle Paul, in all his education throughout his life, brought this point home when he stated, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
The life of a pastor is a life of joyful surrender. It is asking some simple questions daily. Will I serve others or myself? Will I surrender to the plan of God or my own agenda? Will I sacrifice more than anyone else so people will know Jesus Christ more? These may seem like hard questions, but they really are discipleship questions for all followers of Christ; only at a deeper level. If we are to be effective as pastors, our motivations must be weighed clearly.
As a pastor and shepherd, we are called to care for others. We watch over them, protect them, nurse their wounds, instruct them and nurture them in love. Just as a shepherd with his sheep, we are leading our flock someplace specific as we walk with them through life. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep,” (John 10:11, 12). Pastors are not merely hired hands caring for Jesus’ sheep — we take ownership. The church will always lead God’s people, but we lay aside our lives (our goals, our perspectives, our conveniences) for the sake of what is best for those we shepherd.
The Apostle Paul reflected on his life stating, “We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world — right up to this moment,” (1 Corinthians 4:12-13). Now, this is not a negative or sad statement. What a joy it is to lift people up from the pain of this world! We choose to make our inconveniences an offering of worship unto the Lord. Because just as one needs to know their vocational expectations clearly, there is no greater joy than walking through adversity with someone, seeing Jesus change their life and getting to be a part of that transformation.
The personal side of pastoring can be a blessing or a drudgery. At inconvenient times or late nights, the call may come that a person died in your church. You need to be there with that grieving family. You may have a busy week, but have you prioritized time with Jesus and prepared a fresh sermon that will transform lives and not just waste your congregation’s time? Our personal spiritual disciplines are a priority. After all, we have a lot of people looking to us and the strength resulting from our time with the Lord. Have a personal relationship with the Lord first, and be a pastor second. There are many examples of men and women who have confused these. The deepest passion of our soul is to belong to Jesus and the expression of our inner love is to serve our people.
There are many blessings being a pastor. One is that our job is to be with people, and most of this time will be spent outside the office. Golfing, fishing, working out, rebuilding cars, trying new recipes or hiking are just a few ways we invest and show Jesus to others. It is not about the activity; it is about the relationship, so we make sure we are reflecting Jesus even if the golf game is not going so well.
Another blessing is a flexible schedule. Pastoring allowed me to attend every field trip with all three of my children. (That was a lot of field trips!) I also went to all my kids’ concerts and sports events. By investing in my kids, I also had teachers, coaches, principles and even bus drivers visit the church. Meeting and visiting with parents in the same chapter of life broke down barriers and I was no longer looked at as a pastor; I was just another parent trying to figure it all out.
Beyond investing in people, there are some clear biblical qualifications. Although not exhaustive, Titus is a good standard by which to measure qualifications, and things you may need to address can be as follows:
“An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless — not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” — Titus 1:6-9
If this is a vocational and ministry pursuit, meditate on this and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you in your own life and practice.
So, returning to the title, how does one become a pastor? There must be an internal voice and affirmation in the heart that truly makes us want to do this more than anything else in the world. It is not a vocation as much as it is a calling. When this seed in our hearts germinates, we need a trajectory to develop the professional side.
You should already be serving in a church. Otherwise, find another place to serve others. Any place is a good place to start — the harder the better. Speak to your pastor about pursuing the ministry. As you begin to develop this path of life, you should be looking to a Bible College or seminary. An academic institution is the place to define and refine your calling, your theology and your specific ministry passion, and to cultivate both academic and spiritual disciplines that will be daily practices for the rest of your life. If you are part of a church network or denomination, explore their process, requirements and qualifications. If you are wanting to go into a specific denomination, consult someone in leadership to assist you.
The best thing you can do through all of this — and the greatest learning you will receive — is to serve, serve, serve. Give of yourself and humble yourself to be a learner and to follow Christ’s direction in all its unique twists and turns along the path you will pursue.
As you are looking for ministry positions, there are many options. You may serve a church as a lead or staff pastor. Your interests may take you to be a military, hospital, sports, police/fire department or even corporate chaplain. You may serve in a parachurch ministry and do supportive help. Or the Lord may speak to you about investing your life as a missionary either locally or globally. The beauty of being a pastor is that you always have a job to do. You just need to see the needs in front of you.
On more than one occasion, I have heard seasoned and well-meaning pastors say, “ministry would be great if there were no people.” What a sad statement from someone who has forgotten what the call of ministry is all about! First, it is not about us or how we feel. When we misplace that early passion to change the world for Jesus as we dedicate our lives to building the kingdom, we settle into a cynical outlook at the brokenness of people.
Jesus dealt with this many times and his response is clear: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” (Matthew 9:36). He later clarified his passion for people even when his message was rejected: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing,” (Matthew 23:37).
Jesus showed the dedicated love and compassion that sent him to the cross for the sins of these same people. Oh, that we could reflect just a fragment of that commitment as pastors! It is not just the masses to which we are called; it is to unique people with specific needs, complex personal stories and people reaching out to us from their darkest valleys of life. Pastoring produces some relationships that we may carry our whole lives. For others it will be just one small chapter in which we are afforded the privilege of being a visible representation of Christ. Whichever they are, we address the weight of the needs of the soul as we effectively shepherd them into wholeness in Christ.
Please understand, it is not just humanity at large, but specific broken people, hurting people, hungry people, misguided people. And yes, the Lord always provides many people who provide support to encourage us along the way.
If you feel the inner tug in your heart toward pastoral ministry, test the water, begin the process and pray. God will direct your life and will place confirmation and affirmation along the way to guide you. It is not an easy path, nor is it an easy life, but no life of value and significance is ever easy.
However, after more than 30 years of doing this, I have never felt that I wasted a day and have never regretted this calling, even in difficult situations. God walks with his ministers in profound, unique and specific ways. If you feel this is a calling in your heart, let’s walk this path together as fellow ministers!
Fulfilling the Biblical Qualifications of a Pastor With a Theology Degree
Earning a degree in theology can prepare you to serve others by growing your knowledge of theology and teaching you how to minister to others and faithfully serve God, whether it is as a member of the clergy or as part of a worship team. With a theology degree, you’ll learn how to communicate effectively in a church or small group setting and understand the Bible and influential followers of Christ.
Do these qualifications for a pastoral position interest you? GCU can help you kick-start your path to ministry with its theology and ministry programs, offered by the College of Theology. To speak to someone about next steps to explore the possibility of becoming a pastor, fill out the form on this page.
Approved by faculty for the College of Theology on March 7, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.