Christ’s church needs ministers. With five or six vacancies in the churches, the PRC needs ministers. We feel that need here at the seminary. The students and professors have been busy supplying pulpits this summer, in August preaching almost sixty out of sixty possibilities. Not all of that is vacation supply. Another pastor is off his pulpit for health reasons. The churches feel the need for pastors.
As classes at seminary begin again this fall, and God calls His people to “maintain” the schools, which includes the seminary (see Lord’s Day 38), the question is important: Who will come to prepare to be preachers?
Then, when some of the vacancies are not created from ministers retiring but from troubles, who would dare prepare for the ministry? The ministry requires much and sometimes ends in sorrow. Who would aspire to the gospel ministry when, if he is watching, he sees that it involves difficulties?
Toil and Sorrow
The ministry is certainly work. Hard work. The many New Testament passages that describe a preacher and his work point out the hardships. A minister must “endure hardness” (hardships), as a good soldier, Paul says to Timothy. The ministry requires time, usually all the time a man has, and then some, so that there is always work undone. Most of the pastors I know work seven days every week. If the Christian life itself is a sacrifice of everything to Jesus Christ, the ministry is so in a special way. It involves the “care” of the church and churches, as Paul puts it in II Corinthians 11, where the word careimplies a kind of anxiety. It requires that a man “spend and be spent” (II Cor. 12:15) for the churches. It is not improper to translate that: “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” When a man serves faithfully, it takes everything he has, and is.
His work in the ministry, a pastor recently told me, sometimes makes studies in seminary look good again, almost leisurely. And our students in the seminary by no means carry a light load.
The work of the ministry in some pastorates may even conclude with less than happy farewells. The PRC is not the only denomination that uses Article 11—and laments that it is used more than one would want. The church papers of other Reformed denominations have spoken of the same. Others do not report it publicly; but it happens.
Who would want to become a pastor, when other occupations may be much more appealing?
A God-Made Man
The answer is that God makes ministers.
No man makes himself a minister. No man simply decides to become a pastor. Indeed, a man makes a decision to enter seminary. A man makes a decision to seek the pastorate. A man makes a decision to seek candidacy at the conclusion of his seminary training. A man makes a decision to accept a call to a congregation. But God has worked these decisions in a man, and in the church who calls him, because God makes ministers. Not man.
There certainly are men who make themselves ministers. The church world is full of self-made ministers. Such men may even make it into faithful denominations. Like the false apostles of early apostolic times, also today there are “deceitful workers” who, by the power of the evil one, “transform themselves” into Reformed ministers (see II Cor. 11:13).
They are very displeasing to the Lord and (grossly to understate it) will not be a blessing to the churches.
But a faithful minister is made such by God. His choices to enter seminary, continue to the end, seek candidacy, and accept a particular call, are all worked in him by the Maker of ministers, Jesus Christ Himself.
A man is made a minister.
Paul puts it that way in Ephesians 3. “Whereof I wasmade a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.” Although the word “made” can sometimes be translated “became,” the other translations are wrong when they put it merely, “whereof I became a minister” or “I became a servant.” The translators of the KJV understood the Greek properly. A man must be made, made into what he is not naturally. Actions are performed upon him to make him a servant of Jesus Christ.
Paul was neither self-appointed nor self-made. Paul was made a minister by another. With the power of grace, God performed a great work to make Paul a gospel-servant.
Both the natural and spiritual gifts Paul had were God-given. His keen intellect to grasp the truth and explain it so the churches understood it, the voice to project the words without sound-systems, the stamina to labor at night as tent-maker so he could work without wages, and the not-to-be-underestimated-ability to travel worldwide in every kind of discomfort and without complaint…were God’s gifts. Even the natural weaknesses in his constitution—whatever they were—that made his appearance and preaching unattractive to some (see II Cor. 10:10 and 11:6) were God-designed.
Far in advance, God planned the parents Paul had (an unbelieving father), the home he was reared in, the schools he attended. Sovereignly, God directed his way among the proud Pharisees, but made sure he had good knowledge of the Scriptures. Jesus Christ Himself even gave Paul his three-year seminary course in the wilderness of Arabia. In an initially unwilling Saul, God created a willingness. By the powerful call of His own voice, God placed him into the apostolic office and made him a missionary to the Gentiles and writer of much of the New Testament Scriptures.
Paul was made a minister.
If a man today becomes a minister—a genuine minister of the gospel—it is because God makes him a minister. The strength to endure four rigorous years of seminary training after four years of university, God gives. God determines the upbringing of each one, perhaps different from that of all others, for his particular task. God creates the desire. God issues the call. God even ordains the weaknesses and lacks in a man’s constitution—so troubling and perhaps embarrassing that he cries out many times to be delivered from them (see II Cor. 12:7, 8).
Whether a man becomes a minister, at bottom, is God’s decision. Whether a man continues in the ministry for life is God’s decision. God makes the minister.
We ministers may never forget this.
A man who understands the origin of his ministry to be in God Himself—whether the man cursed God for the first 20 years of his life, or whether he desired the ministry as long as he can remember—is not a proud man.
A proud minister, especially a proud Reformedminister, is the most conflicted creature there could be. He preaches grace—undeserved favor and blessing. But he lives as though what he has was not given, or perhaps given because he deserved it. If pride is allowed to remain, to reign in the minister’s heart (think Psalter #40: “Let pride never reign in my heart”), he will not only ruin his ministry, but do greatest damage to the church Christ loves.
God makes ministers.
The knowledge of this is crucial for the minister. And for the congregations. And for the seminary student. And for the young man considering making the first call to one of the professors or his pastor: “I think God may be calling me to the ministry; what shall I do next?”
When the work is difficult, the minister reminds himself: God made me a minister. When the congregation wishes their man had more gifts, different gifts, they remember: “God made our minister.” When the young man ponders whether to make that first call, he will remind himself, “As I humbly submit myself to the judgments of my consistory, the seminary professors, the Theological School Committee, and the synod and classis, God will make this plain to me, too.” When the seminary student realizes that little could be more disastrous than becoming a minister without being made a minister, he prays with all fervency, “Oh, Lord, show me Thy will. I beseech Thee, do not al low me to do my will without it being Thy will.” When the Lord reveals to that student that he cannot continue, there is not one ounce of shame. And when the Lord keeps the door open for him, there is no pride.
For the Lord makes ministers.
The churches have vacancies. More than a few.
The Lord willing, the seminary will have nine students this year preparing themselves for this high and holy calling.
Are there other young men whom the Lord will make ministers?
Do the dangers and hardships cause the young man to hesitate to prepare? The aspiring soldier does not allow the news of warfare, injuries, and deaths, to keep him from the recruiter’s office. He knows soldiers are needed.
As to the elders, let them be watchful, cautious, discerning. Encourage the capable young men to consider the ministry. Withhold the letter of recommendation from the proud man. Give frank advice to the students in your congregation. We pray for wisdom and boldness for you.
Please pray for us, and for the students. And pray that God will make more men who say, “Here am I; send me.”