How can I become a pastor?Before you seek out the office of pastor, make sure you are qualified biblically and spiritually, and spend time in prayer, seeking God's counsel and revelation. Tell others, like your current pastor, about your desire, and invite them into the journey with you. James wrote, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). On the other hand, Paul wrote, "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task" (1 Timothy 3:1). If you have a growing desire to be a leader of God's people and a teacher of His Word, you indeed aspire to a noble task.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul outlines a very specific set of qualifications for pastors and elders ("overseers"), saying, "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the, into a snare of the devil" (1 Timothy 3:1–7). A similar set of qualifications is given in Titus 1:5–9. Peter also gives instructions to pastors: "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:1–4). The role of pastor or elder is a weighty responsibility that should be carried out in submission to the Lord and with genuine love for His truth and His people. It is a servant role meant for the upbuilding of the church (Ephesians 4:11–16).
Your heart being in line with these scriptural qualifications and motivations for pastors is the first step in becoming a pastor. It is also important to confirm this is the direction in which God is leading you. Seek Him in prayer. Ask others who know you well whether the role of pastor seems to fit well with your spiritual and natural gifts. Consider the ways you are already doing ministry and how those relate to the role of pastor.
You should be connected to a good Bible teaching church that places an emphasis on the Word of God as the foundation of their teachings. A pastor is a teacher, and in order to be a good teacher, you need to be a good student first. There is no substitute for God's Word (Hebrews 4:12), and anyone who desires to be a pastor should have a growing love for Scripture and its truths. A biblically sound church that places an emphasis on teaching His Word will provide a great foundation for you to learn and grow spiritually and theologically.
You cannot be a teacher of God's Word if you are not a student of God's Word. Immerse yourself in Scripture on your own. Find opportunities to talk about it with others, whether at a weekly Bible study or with your family at home. The more time you spend in God's Word, the more time you are spending with God. You should be prepared at all times to discuss God's Word, ready to teach, preach, and defend the faith. Second Timothy 4:2–4 says, "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."
Be intimately familiar with all of Scripture—Old and New Testaments. Second Timothy 3:16–17 tells us, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." One who aspires to be a pastor must revere God's Word, becoming a life-long student of Scripture in order to teach it accurately. Learn God's Word and love God's Word. Not only will this help you know God and follow Him, it will prepare you to teach God's Word accurately, passionately, and faithfully, always being reminded of James's words in James 3:1.
Be active in ministry in your local church regardless of any official title. All believers should be contributing to their local church. If you want to become a pastor, it is especially important to understand how the local church works and to actively love and serve the people of the local church. Pastors fill the role of earthly shepherd, so they need to know the people and understand how to shepherd them with care. Participating in ministry opportunities in your church now, before you become a pastor, will help you understand the various needs of the local church. It will also give you a greater appreciation for the time, effort, and sacrifice that lay leaders make in the church and thus better ability to lead and serve them well. Ministry experience can also give you an opportunity to exercise your gifts and for God to refine them. Too, it can give you the opportunity to be mentored by other pastors and leaders. And, of course, it will practically serve the people of your current church. Find what God has placed before you in the present before being too concerned about what He has in store for the future.
Formal education is also important for most pastors. There are countries around the world where there are no opportunities for formal educational training. In such places, the pastor is often the most mature among the Christians, and their training comes from experience and the revelation of God through the Holy Spirit. They also often have access to educational resources online or through various missions organizations. If you live in a country without formal seminaries, avail yourself of as many sound educational opportunities as possible. In the United States and other countries, there are ample opportunities for higher education specifically related to the role of pastor. If you are called to be a pastor, you would be well served by pursuing an undergraduate degree in biblical or Christian studies and obtaining a graduate degree through a biblically-solid seminary. Many churches will require pastors to have a seminary degree. Seminaries often provide much practical preparatory help for the role of pastor, including study of the Bible, study of proper interpretation of the Bible, study of theological issues, study of homiletics (how to deliver a sermon), study of pastoral counseling, and study of other practical issues related to running a church or other Christian ministry. Additionally, the professors and other students you meet in seminary can be an excellent community of support when you are serving as a local pastor.
As stated earlier, if you are called to pastoral ministry, you must meet the qualifications as outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. Pastors must be spiritually mature, self-controlled, and selfless. Their character should be defined by the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22–23. As you look at these qualifications and characteristics, remember that you were once separated from God like the rest of humanity (Ephesians 2:1–10). If you believe you are being called to pastoral ministry, do not look at your past and consider yourself unqualified. The qualifications for overseers are present qualifications. If your current behavior and lifestyle is not in keeping with these qualifications, then you are not ready to be a pastor. That does not mean you will never be ready; take steps to intentionally participate in God's work of sanctification in your heart (Philippians 2:12–13). Meet with your current pastor and ask him to mentor you and hold you accountable. Remember, too, that pastors continually undergo pruning and sanctification just like other believers. Every pastor should be regularly examining his heart and submitting himself to the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. He should also be surrounded by others who pray for him and help hold him accountable. Pastors are not perfect nor should they serve in a vacuum. However, they are held to a high standard and should be diligently following the Lord. This will require humility, intentionality, boldness, and community.
If you are interested in becoming a pastor, bring your desire before the Lord in prayer. Continue to develop your knowledge and love of Scripture. Continue to love others in your local church well and serve them. Also, talk with your current pastor. Likely he can walk alongside you and help direct you as you pursue the role of pastor.
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