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Called to preach

November 2003 | by Don Fortner

Preaching at one of our Bible conferences several years ago, Pastor Scot Richardson made a profound statement about preaching. He said, ‘Preaching is getting a message from God’s heart to my heart and delivering it to your heart. Anything else is just filling in time’.

What a profound, insightful and needful statement! The Lord God promised to give his church pastors after his own heart, who would feed his people with knowledge and with understanding (Jeremiah 3:15).

He commands his prophets, ‘Speak ye comfortably to’ — to the heart of — ‘my people’ (Isaiah 40:2).

That is the responsibility of a gospel preacher every time he speaks to eternity-bound men and women in the name of Christ.

But it is a task no man can accomplish. The only way a mere man can speak the things of God to the heart of another is if God himself is pleased to speak through him.

Called to the ministry?

How does a man know if he is called of God to preach the gospel? How does God put a man into the ministry? I have been asked those two questions many times by many men.

I gave up the notion of telling others what God’s will is for them, a long time ago. And because the Scriptures give no precise answers to these questions, I cannot answer them with certainty.

In the Old Testament, prophets were called immediately by God himself, by a direct, unmistakable revelation — witness Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

In the New Testament, the Apostles were called directly by Christ. The first seventy preachers were sent out by the Master’s direct command. Other pastors and elders were chosen and ordained by the Apostles.

Today we do not have such advantages, and the Scriptures give us no clear instructions in the matter.

They tell us the kind of man a pastor must be, and what a pastor’s responsibilities are. But they do not specifically tell us how God puts a man into the ministry, or how a man may know that he is called of God to preach the gospel.

My answers

So my answers to those questions are just that — my answers. They arise from my understanding of the Scriptures and the observation of experience. But this is my best perception.

1. If God puts a man into the ministry he first puts grace into his heart. No man is called by God to preach the gospel who does not know the gospel, both doctrinally and experimentally.

2. Before God puts a man into the work of the ministry he proves him as a faithful servant in his church — ‘not a novice’ (1 Timothy 3:6)!

No man will be faithful as a pastor who is not faithful before becoming a pastor. A man who puts other things before the worship of Christ, the cause of Christ, and the church of Christ, will do no better because someone gives him some ordination papers.

He may be more regular in outward attendance and in things seen and approved by men, but he will be the same, self-serving man he was before.

3. If the Lord God puts a man into the ministry he gives him his message (Isaiah 40): ‘All flesh is grass!’ ‘Behold, your God!’ Redemption accomplished! Salvation free! Christ crucified, risen and enthroned!

Apt to teach

4. If God puts a man into the ministry he gives him the gifts necessary for the work. He makes him ‘apt to teach’. Called men are gifted with an understanding of the Scriptures and the ability to communicate their message clearly to others.

5. If God puts a man into the ministry he gives him a place to preach. As one old preacher put it years ago: ‘God never made a possum without a persimmon tree; and he never made a preacher without a pulpit’. No man has been called into the ministry who is not in the ministry.

6. If God puts a man into the ministry he gives him a hearing. God’s preachers never have to look far for a place to preach or for people to hear them.

When a man is sent of God, he is sent to a people who want to hear his message: ‘Now therefore are we all here present before God to hear all things that are commanded thee of God’ (Acts 10:33).

God’s servants look to him to open doors before them — and wait for him to do so. They do not make a way for themselves. ‘A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men’ (Proverbs 18:16).

7. When God puts a man into the ministry he gives him the support of his fellow-labourers in the gospel. God’s prophets see eye to eye with regard to the gospel (Isaiah 52:8) and labour together as one in the cause of Christ.

8. A man put into the ministry by God knows ‘both how to be abased, and … how to abound’. He is ‘instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need’. Yet God supplies ‘all his need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:12-19).

Preaching from the heart

When I hear a man preach, I want to hear a man preach from his heart. When I preach, I want to preach from my heart. Let no one mistake my meaning.

I do not suggest or imply that doctrine is secondary. It is not. Gospel doctrine is vital. But the gospel must be preached from the heart, passionately.

Two hundred years ago John Rusk wrote, ‘I want an experimental preacher, one who, when he has had one meal, is tried how he shall get the next; one who is tormented with devils fit to tear him limb from limb; one who feels hell inside himself and every corruption in his nature stirred up to oppose God’s work; one who feels so weak that every day he gets over he views it as next to a miracle’.

Made a minister

Paul said, ‘I was made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power’ (Ephesians 3:7).

God had called him to preach the gospel. He knew it. He was humbled by it. He rejoiced in it. And he trembled because of it.

Only God himself can make a man a preacher. That man who is called of God to preach the gospel has a direct commission and call from Christ, and it is unmistakably clear.

He knows that he has been sent by God. Any man who is called of God to this great work takes the work seriously and earnestly, seeking a message from Christ as he stands to speak for Christ.

Such men preach with urgency because they have experienced in their hearts the message they preach. They carry in their souls ‘the burden of the word of the Lord’.

They preach with urgency because they know for whom they speak — and because they know the serious consequences of their message.