Results tagged “Vocation” from Reformation21 Blog

When Preaching is Not Your Thing...


Pastoral ministry is exceedingly difficult; and, anyone would be hard pressed to find a pastor who hasn't entertained the thought of what life would be like if he were to do something else. Loving God, His church, and His people is a vital prerequisite for ever pastor, but if he doesn't love the work of the ministry, he will very quickly lose the hope and motivation necessary to persevere. Pastors without the requisite calling, qualifications and gifting are prime candidates for tragic failures. There are numerous books and articles available to help convince men to enter into or stay in the ministry. But, there is not much out there to help a man discern whether or not it's time to pack it up. Here are a few things to consider when seeking to discern whether or not it's time to move on:

Preaching Matters

As the principle, ordinary means of grace, preaching is supremely important. Honest preachers will admit that we all have good and bad sermons; but, if our spiritual gifts truly are what we assume them to be, we ought to most frequently be providing helpful insight from the Word of God that inspires further study and deeper devotion for our hearers. Everything we do won't be a home run; but, if we don't at least have consistent base hits, perhaps we need to consider whether or not a pulpit ministry is the best fit. In a day when many churches are without a pastor it's easy to overlook serious indicators that a man may not be fit for regular preaching. This is not to say anything of the man's godliness, his pursuit of holiness, his understanding of or love for the Scriptures. It is not even to question a man's zeal for preaching and teaching. However, just as I have a great zeal for being a PGA tour professional golfer, my gifting in that particular area is significantly lacking--to say the least.

Many church leaders are unwilling to tell young men who aspire for ministry that they are simply not gifted. Churches must be more discerning when sending a man to seminary, and seminary professors should also be honest with men as to whether they should consider other areas of service. The assumption is often that saying such things is harsh or overly critical--or, that a man may be a poor preacher or teacher now, but given enough time, he will improve. Perhaps he will make strides, but the best environment to do so is in a homiletics class or filling pulpits as a seminarian, not after he has received a call to stand in the pulpit of his own congregation every Sunday. Sometimes churches assume that because a man is a gifted Sunday school teacher or small group leader that he is qualified to be a preacher. Weekly pulpit ministry is a far different undertaking than teaching a Sunday School class. To suggest otherwise is unfair to both the man and to the congregation he is called to serve. 1 Timothy 3:1 says, "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task," and so long as the man is godly, there's often an unwillingness to consider whether or not his aspirations for ministry are commensurate with being "able to teach" (1 Timothy 3:2). Sometimes it is difficult to tell someone they are not what they assume themselves to be. However, the all-too-common wreckage of a failed ministry is far worse than hurt feelings and a call to serious self-assessment.

Caring for the Body

A man may be a gifted orator in a pulpit, but doesn't possess the necessary gifts to care for God's people in the broader range of pastoral work like counseling and visitation. Very few pastorates are "preaching only" positions, and those that aren't require a man to spend significant amounts of time caring for the body of Christ. Pastors who aren't willing and able to meet with people in the church to provide biblical counsel, to visit them in the hospital, to sit with them as they die, or to rejoice with them when a child is born or a major life milestone is hit likely aren't cut out for pastoral ministry. Again, this is not to say anything negative about the man's godliness or desire, but how God has (and has not) gifted him.

Associate Pastors

Some men may not be gifted preachers, but are skillful Bible study teachers, biblical counselors, and possess excellent organizational skills. Unfortunately, these important gifts are often downplayed--making the role of an associate pastor far less desirable to a man than being in the pulpit each week. Jason Helopoulus has explained that "good assistant pastors are hard to find." Most seminary graduates aren't applying to churches with the express intent of taking on and remaining in an associate role. Many associate pastor positions are thought of as proving grounds and launching pads to eventually replace the senior pastor or be sent off to another ministry in time. But for some men, being an associate pastor is the best way they can serve the church. In reality, many churches would fail miserably without the careful attention to detail and organizational skills that a good associate pastor often provides.

Refusing to Step Away

Every pastor has bad days, weeks, months, and years of ministry and may be tempted to quit The answer is not always that he shouldn't. Some men may have a strong sense that they are, in fact, not qualified for pastoral ministry. Nevertheless, they refuse to quit. One reason why many who should leave the pastorate stay is that a lot of time and money has been invested in helping him get into the pastorate. Besides, many will ask themselves what else they are qualified to do? Churches have entrusted the souls of the people to this man and are depending on him to persevere. Doesn't the church need him? And who hasn't heard that pastoral ministry is unlike any other career because it's a "calling." Once a man has a "calling," how can he walk away from it? Others lock themselves into the pastorate out of fear of others or because they have an unbiblical understanding of the call to ministry.

Do You Think It's Time?

During a particularly difficult season of ministry, a mentor wisely counseled me to never make big decisions when things are at their worst. Sometimes a pastor just needs to press through the fire because the fire is intended by God to make us more like Christ. So before you decide to call it quits, take a few other steps first:

1. Pray, asking God for the wisdom you need. Every pastor should have some sense that God has called him into the ministry; but, we can easily misconstrue a desire or interest for ministry with being appropriately gifted and called by God. More than anything, we need God to make clear to us what we can do to be of best use to His church, even if that means serving in another capacity.

2. Talk to your wife and elders--they should be the most honest with you. These are the people God has called to help you navigate the difficult waters of ministry and life. And, if your elders are the kind of men that God wants them to be, they will lovingly, graciously, and honestly assess your gifts with you to help you determine whether or not you're doing the right thing. Perhaps you're better suited to being an associate pastor or serving in another ministry within the church.

3. Make sure you're not walking away just because it's tough. So you'll never be Charles Spurgeon in the pulpit--there was only one. But, just because preaching each week is a difficult task, and just because counseling sessions don't always go how you hope, and just because people leave the church and say nasty things to you on the way out doesn't mean your gifts are lacking. The ministries into which God has called his men to serve will be fraught with difficulties. After all, the people we pastor are a lot like us--sinful, broken, and in need of a lot of forgiveness and grace. Additionally, there will be many challenges without because of the world and the devil. When Paul wanted to give Timothy an illustration for ministry, he drew one from the arena of warfare (1 Tim. 6:12) because of the harship that he would have to endure. 

4. Try to discern whether or not you are merely depressed and need a break. Find a biblical counselor you can trust and let them help you walk through what you're thinking. In the end, you may find that your problem isn't ministry, but something else that you haven't taken the time to think about. You make simply need time off or a vacation to help you get realligned. Even Charles Spurgeon would have to go to the seaside for extended periods on account of health and energy deficiencies (for more on Spurgeon's afflcitions, read Zack Eswine's book, Spurgeon's Sorrows). 

If you've done these things and still have a sense that it's time to step away, do so in a gentle, patient and wise manner before God and His people. No matter how obvious it may be to others that it may be time for you to move on, inevitably there will be some who are surprised and some who are hurt by the decision. Though you cannot live to please everyone, you can labor to help them understand why stepping aside is not only good for you but for the entire church. Whenever possible, seek to be a blessing to the man who steps into the pulpit after you. In doing so, perhaps you'll find that God uses your humility to bring about a great harvest in the season ahead.

The following comes from an article posted by Dr. Dan Doriani. Dan's new column at Place for Truth draws from his experience as both a professor and a pastor. This column is titled "Faith at Work," because, as Dan puts it, "we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is never alone." The Reformers knew that the Gospel demands a response; Dan helps us revisit that truth today, particularly as it relates to the our roles in the workplace.  

The leader of a major campus ministry recently said "If forty people approach a campus minister with an objection to Christianity, one worries about Bart Ehrman and his attacks on the authority and reliability of Scripture. The other thirty-nine have moral questions: Why does the Bible have a repressive sex ethic? Why is it silent about abuse of power? Why do evangelical churches support politicians who tolerate racism and misogyny? Why do so many pastors say "God wants you to be rich" and get rich pushing that message? In short, they ask, "Can I look to the church for moral direction?"     

The Reformation era had similar questions and they fueled a desire for reform in an era when the church was society's dominant institution. Priests were everywhere and their flaws were clear. For example, Zurich had a population of 5,000 people and about 400 priests - over 20% of the adult male population. They lived beside the people, who saw that most of them had concubines and illegitimate children. At the time, popes like Alexander VI and Julius I had acknowledged children.

We rightly assent to the doctrinal elements of the Reformation, but it began as a moral movement and retained a moral flavor... 

Read the rest of Dan's article over at Place for Truth today!


The details of the story are fairly well known: Noah's descendants, still within Noah's lifetime (by Calvin's reckoning), pooled their various talents and employed their common tongue towards the end of building a really big tower. God, unimpressed by their design, confused their common tongue and chased them away, "driving them hither and thither like the members of a lacerated body."

Their crime, judging by its punishment, was grievous. But what exactly was it? Calvin denies that building a big tower was (or is) a sinful thing per se: "to erect a citadel was not in itself so great a crime." Calvin also denies that building a big tower was their ultimate goal. Their ultimate goal was "to raise an eternal monument to themselves, which might endure throughout all the ages." Their sin, in other words, was one of "headstrong pride, joined with contempt of God." They refused to employ their God-given talents for God's glory. They sought, rather, their own glory, and indeed, ultimately hoped that future generations would revere them as gods in light of their accomplishments. Such, indeed, "is the perpetual infatuation of the world; to neglect heaven" -- even, ironically, when trying to build a tower that reaches there -- "and to seek immortality on earth."

Calvin's reckoning of these men's exact sin, based largely on their own stated desire to "make a name" for themselves (Gen. 11.4), raises the moral bar for all of us. He reminds us that morality is rarely reducible to the rightness or wrongness of specific, concrete acts. Morality takes measure of motivation. If building a big tower were the crime committed by these men, we'd know how not to be like them; namely, by not building big towers ourselves. But since, in fact, "headstrong pride" and a self-idolatrous desire for glory were their sins, we have to ask ourselves whether or not we're guilty of the very same sins in whatever tasks we pursue. Arrogance and the desire for human praise can, of course, find expression in any number of human endeavors, from pushing a pencil to pumping petrol to preaching a sermon. Avoiding the crime of these men, then, is not so easy a thing as steering clear of skyscraper construction courses at the local college, it's a matter of regularly and honestly examining our hearts and asking ourselves why exactly we do the things that we do.

To put the matter another way, Calvin recognizes that there are two ways to build a tower. One is by rightly employing the gifts we've been by God; the other is by wrongly employing the gifts we've been given by God. Calvin, it should be remembered, thinks very highly of the abilities that human beings have been given by God, and the things they can and do accomplish through the exercise of those abilities. Indeed, he identifies human abilities in "matters of policy and economy, all mechanical arts and liberal studies" as gifts (dona) from God's Spirit, and warns us against despising such gifts, and the fruits they bear, in others (even, or especially, in the unregenerate), thereby despising the Giver of the gifts (cf. Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.2.13-16).

Proper employment of the gifts we've been given is a matter of putting them to use in fulfillment of God's mandates to work and worship, enjoying the exercise of them (as all gifts should be enjoyed), and setting our sights on God's glory (rather than our own) in the same. Noah's descendants might, in other words, have pooled their talents in brick-building, not to mention their obvious abilities in architectural design and construction, to "raise an eternal monument... which might endure through all the ages" to God, just as they might and should have employed their "community of language" towards proper "consent in [true] religion." And, not to be overlooked, they might have experienced considerable joy in the task--such is part of God's creative design for human work.

Instead they employed their gifts and their "community of language" to "excite war against God." In short, they built a tower the wrong way. God's punishment was appropriate to their crime. "The division of tongues" was "divinely inflicted upon men, because they impiously conspired against God."

Yet, true to divine form, the punishment of men revealed in Gen. 11 becomes a platform for the exercise and pageantry of divine grace. Diversity of tongues proves a platform, first of all, for the exercise of common grace. "In the midst of punishment, and of the most dreadful proofs of Divine anger against the pride of men, the admirable goodness of God is rendered conspicuous, because the nations hold mutual communication among themselves, though in different languages." In other words, the ability among human beings to learn foreign languages, and so to overcome the barrier between different peoples established by language, is evidence of God's persistent good-will towards his human creatures.

Diversity of tongues proves a platform, more significantly, for the exercise of saving grace. "[God] has proclaimed one gospel, in all languages, through the whole world, and has endued the Apostles with the gift of tongues. Whence it has come to pass, that they who before were miserably divided, have coalesced in the unity of the faith." The Gospel triumphs over man's sin and its consequences, uniting in Christ and his Kingdom those who have been linguistically and culturally divorced from one another. At Pentecost, where Christ's disciples proclaim their Lord in one language and our heard in others by the foreigners they address, the ultimate impotence and eventual ruin of Babel -- that is, of man's pride and its consequences -- is put powerfully on display.

We who have been made recipients of the grace that turns Babel on its head -- the grace that unites folk from every tribe, nation, and language into a single people and puts them in God's presence to praise and enjoy him forever (Rev. 7.9) -- have all the more reason (namely, gratitude) to build towers for our remaining days on earth in the right way, employing the gifts we've been given for the glory of the One who gave them and our own greater joy.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

Books and business

A few days ago a brother in the church which I serve asked me for book recommendations for Christians in business. Having only two or three volumes at my disposal, I wrote out to a few fellow-pastors and other friends seeking their counsels.

What follows is a consolidated list of responses. I wish particularly to thank David Murray of HeadHeartHand, who kindly provided me with a catalogue of links he has compiled over time addressing matters of business or vocation (included at the bottom of the book list). I should make clear that several respondents made plain that book mentions or links did not constitute unqualified endorsements (noted below at one or two points), a point which I would echo, and everything here should - as ever - be read with discernment and care. However, I trust that it might prove useful to others, and so I offer it in that hope.

I also thought you might appreciate the following counsel, passed on through one man:
"I would simply tell any Christian entrepreneur to go for all providence will afford with two major texts bolstering your front and rear: Mark 4:19 (". . . and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful") and Proverbs 23:4-5 ("Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven").
And now, that book list . . .

And the Murray links . . .


When you understand it properly, the doctrine of vocation--"doing everything for God's glory"--is not a platitude or an outdated notion. This principle that we vaguely apply to our lives and our work is actually the key to Christian ethics, to influencing our culture for Christ, and to infusing our ordinary, everyday lives with the presence of God. For when we realize that the "mundane" activities that consume most of our time are "God's hiding places," our perspective changes.

Culture expert Gene Veith unpacks the biblical, Reformation teaching about the doctrine of vocation, emphasizing not what we should specifically do with our time or what careers we are called to, but what God does in and through our callings--even within the home. In each task He has given us--in our workplaces and families, our churches and society--God Himself is at work. Veith guides you to discover God's purpose and calling in those seemingly ordinary areas by providing you with a spiritual framework for thinking about such issues and for acting upon them with a changed perspective.

Hearing it on "Knowing the Truth" with the Alliance's friend, Pastor Kevin Boling