How to Grow A Preacher
One of the greatest struggles that some men have to go through in this life is to decide if they're going to go into preaching or not, or go into the ministry. A lot of men go through that difficult moment in their lives where they need to think, do I do this or don't I?
While I was at Oklahoma Christian University, there were many men, young and old, who would come to my office and they'd be talking about one thing, do I go into preaching or do I go off into missions, or do I become an accountant or a teacher or something else? And it was a terrible struggle for them in their lives.
I've long held that the place to grow preachers is not in schools, but in the church. The church is the place where we should nurture and develop future preachers. And that doesn't mean that I don't believe in Christian education, I do. And it doesn't mean that I don't believe in preaching schools, I do. I simply think that the discovery, encouragement and development of a call to ministry should be the responsibility of the church and not a man-made system or organization like a school.
The Call to Ministry
There are two main obstacles for those people who are deciding to go into ministry. The first obstacle is the fact that
1. The church rarely encourages men to go into any form of ministry.
There is no scouting of individuals who have potential and very little organized effort to develop a man into a fully matured minister. You don't think about this a lot until you lose your preacher. One of the reasons for that is that churches don't usually try to nourish and develop future preachers.
In the sports world, you have scouts out there looking for young talent. They're traveling around in high schools looking for potential ballplayers, no matter the sport. They've got an organization to bring those people along in their respective sports, until they can reach the professional level, until they can maximize their potential.
Unfortunately, in the church, a man who wants to go into the ministry is pretty much on his own to get the training he needs. Usually, there's very little incentive provided for him to have a lifetime career because few churches offer long-term security, retirement, or any type of benefits. If you want to go into preaching, you are on your own.
Another problem with this call to ministry is that men are often confused about their calling.
2. They don't know how to determine whether they genuinely have a calling to the ministry.
If they do, they rarely know how to go about entering this field of work. You may think this lesson has a bit of a narrow demographic. It applies to men who are considering entering the ministry, but really it applies to all of us because, in a very real sense, all of us are responsible for finding, nurturing, and developing those people who have a calling to ministry.
The Phases to Ministry
The New Testament identifies three main phases that a man goes through as he enters the ministry.
Phase #1 - The Call
Preaching is not just another career. In normal circumstances, men and women are called into a particular way to their vocation in life. Some people recognize they have certain innate talents and they develop these to maturity, whether it's sports or trades or accounting or numbers or science. You recognize when you're young, or you're doing good in school in a certain area, and you kind of follow that avenue to your eventual career. Sometimes circumstances work together. You're in the right place at the right time. You get the right job, and before you know it, you're there 30 years.
Other people follow family traditions. My father was a doctor so I am a doctor. There are many ways and means that lead us to be what we are and where we are. And all worthy work done in the name of the Lord is blessed by God and is sustained by him.
23Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
- Colossians 3:23-24
So no matter what you do, if you're doing it unto the Lord, your work is blessed. Not only blessed by God, it's sustained by God. It's a holy and good thing if it's done unto Him.
But preaching, however, is not just another vocation. I think it's a special one. I don't mean the men who preach are special. Normally, the men who preach are pretty ordinary people, but the vocation itself is a special one for the following reasons.
1. It deals with the spiritual.
Preaching deals with spiritual things all day long, and not necessarily with physical things, preaching purposes to save souls from eternal death. No other work in the world has as its objectives to get people out of this world into the next world. It puts a human being into the position of uttering God's words and explaining His will and pronouncing God's judgments (I Corinthians 7:11).
In the preacher's hands, the living Word of God is passed on from generation to generation.
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
- II Timothy 2:2
This is a tremendous responsibility. Preachers, therefore, have a particular call distinguishable from that of doctors or lawyers or teachers and so forth, because their vocation deals with eternal matters. Their everyday work consists of handling something much more valuable than earthly treasure.
This is a special vocation, because you're handling a very special thing for a very special objective. The responsibility is to make sure that the Word of God is administered to people in such a way that they will understand and hopefully have eternal life.
2. The call is from God
If my father was a tradesman and I become a tradesman, the call is for my father to continue in his footsteps. But preaching is from God, and this is probably the most difficult of questions since a lot of people are thinking of, or a lot of people who think of going into preaching already are have wondered if they indeed have been called by God to do their work or if it was just one of their own ideas.
I believe in the New Testament there is a plan for growing preachers and the first prerequisite of that plan is the call to this work by God.
No patriarch, no prophet, no priest, no judge, no king in the Bible chose to be what he became in God's service. Every one of them were chosen by God in some way. God spoke to Noah and God spoke to Moses, and God had Aaron anointed by someone else. And the Spirit came upon the judges and the kings and the prophets. And God was the one who initiated or called the special servants into his service.
In the New Testament, the apostles and the deacons and the missionaries and the evangelists and the elders were all selected. No one ever stood up and said, I'm going to be an elder. No deacon ever stood up and said, I decide today that I'm going to be a deacon. Every single individual in the New Testament was appointed by someone. The elders were chosen by the evangelists when there were no elders, and the evangelists were appointed by the elders when the elders were in place and the apostles sanctioned the selection of the deacons. In every situation, someone was chosen by someone who had already been chosen.
Even Jesus himself was chosen by God for His redemptive work. In I Peter 2:6, Peter says that the stone was laid and it was chosen, it was elect by God. And so preachers are called by God to do a divine work on His behalf.
I believe this is so because it has been God's method from the very beginning. Our challenge is to recognize the call when it comes and decide that we will respond to it.
Now it's possible to refuse this call. I mean, Judas refused it and didn't believe. Demas was with Paul for a time, and then we find out that he had abandoned Paul.
for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
- II Timothy 4:10
So God is the one who does the call. Why? Because that's been his message throughout the Old and New Testament.
The Nature of the Call
One big problem, of course, is what is the nature of this call? I mean, what is it like? Well, I can tell you what it's not like.
The call is not a dream or a vision:
I was walking down the street and the branches of the trees were shining and the sunshine and the sunshine was bright. And I saw a cross in the maple tree, and I thought that was my call.
The call is not a choice based on ability, like:
Hey, I'm a pretty good public speaker. I think I'm going to preach.
The call is not a tradition, like:
My father was a preacher. My grandfather was a preacher. I'll be a preacher now.
It's not even high personal or moral or ethical standard, like:
All this is this guy is just a goody two shoes. You might as well go into preaching.
Many people have gone into preaching ministry, ministry or missions motivated by these types of reasons, and they've either become discouraged or ineffective because when faced with the hardness of people's hearts or faced with the crushing indifference that people have in this world towards the gospel.
These reasons are not enough to keep you in the ministry.
After you've preached to the same people for 400 times in a row and some of them continued to do the very same things that you've preached your heart out for, trust me on this one, having a dream or a vision or a self-proclaimed ministry isn't the thing that keeps you in preaching.
Elements that Point to a Legitimate Calling
There are some more basic biblical reasons to determine what a call is, a couple of them as follows:
1. A Zeal for God's Word
There's a legitimate reason to go in, got into the ministry, a zeal for God's word, not just excitement or enthusiasm. I don't mean if a guy can get up on stage and get all excited, that means he should go and preach. It's not what I mean. I mean unconditional devotion to the Word of God.
But if I say, "I will not remember Him
Or speak anymore in His name,"
Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
And I am weary of holding it in,
And I cannot endure it.
- Jeremiah 20:9
In other words, I've got to preach. I try to do other things, but I've got to preach.
Or like Stephen, the Deacon who spoke out even when his life was in danger, or Paul who said, for I am under compulsion, for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel (I Corinthians 9:16) or Timothy, who knew the word from an early age. These people and others had a zeal for God's word that compelled them to serve God as prophets and proclaimers. It was something they had to do.
It's not well, I couldn't find a job in my normal job. So hey, I thought I'd go into preaching. That's not the way it works. The way it works is I've got a life, but I can't seem to get away from this idea that I've got to let this thing go and go into this other life.
Those are the people that come to me and they say, how do I know I should go to preaching or missions? I ask them, is there a struggle going on in your heart? Do you think about it and you're trying to knock it away. If yes, then you better listen to that. If you can be an accountant or a salesman or a teacher or whatever you do in quiet conscience and have no struggle, then don't worry about it. Just keep on doing your thing.
2. A Burden for Lost Souls
15And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:15-16
This verse isn't a call to ministry it's just the marching orders for the entire church as you're going throughout the world, preach the gospel. No, the call to ministry is in Romans. The entire world is lost without Jesus Christ. That's the point of Romans.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
- Romans 3:23
That's the call to ministry. If you can sit there and realize that every single human being in this world is lost eternally without Christ, and do nothing about it. You don't have a call to the ministry. But if that knowledge weighs on your heart, burns your soul that you've got to do something, then maybe you need to be paying attention.
3. A Response of Gratitude
You are so grateful that God has saved you that you need to turn around and do it for someone else. David had that feeling in Psalm 32 after God had forgiven him for his sin with Bathsheba. The thing he wanted to do was to tell other people how great and how merciful God was.
So a call then is the first phase that one experiences in the development of a ministry. A person recognizes that he has a call when one or a combination of these factors that I've just talked about are seen working together to draw a man, to leave everything and go into ministry.
Elders, preachers and teachers primary responsibility in encouraging someone to go into the ministry is to recognize these things happening in a man's life. Look for that gratitude, or zeal for the word, look for a burden for lost souls. We need to be able to see that happening in a person's soul and encourage them.
Phase #2 - Consecration
A call doesn't automatically qualify one to preach. I mean, a call is the signal that one must separate himself for a special purpose in carrying out God's will. A call is like a wake up call. The bell rings. You paying attention? God, are you talking to me? Are you trying to tell me something? That's the call.
- Nehemiah prepared by going to the king for supplies.
- David spent years preparing to reign.
- The apostles were trained by Jesus.
- Paul was trained under Barnabas.
- Timothy and Titus were trained by Paul.
The call is the beginning, it's not the end. The consecration is the purposeful preparation to carry out one's vocation. And here is where a specific program of training comes in. The local congregation should be sensitive and always on the lookout for those people within it who have the call and purposefully provide opportunity.
What kind of opportunities? Well, a type of training, whatever it is, a preaching school or tutoring or discipleship or scholarship to a college and so on and so forth. When I went into preaching as an adult person in my thirties, I had to pay everything on my own. I couldn't get a scholarship. If I could dribble a ball, I could get full scholarship but if I was becoming a minister to go out and save souls, I couldn't get a nickel. And that's still true today.
Finding and providing for the training of preachers is the responsibility of the church, not schools. They're responsible. University is second to the church, not first. And so the question we should ask ourselves is:
What is our program for recognizing and training preachers?
Do we even have one we should be cultivating in this church? We should be cultivating men within our congregation to add to our staff as we grow.
I see it all the time. I can't understand how a church can grow to have a thousand people in it and not have one single person that they could add from their own flock to ministered to them. How does that work? That you get a thousand people and you got to go recruit a minister from 200 miles away? Why did we miss the boat? How could we have 500 men in a church? And not one of those men have been developed or cultivated or trained to rise up and lead. How do you get to that point?
That's not the New Testament church. That's not the biblical church. The biblical church looks for and finds and trains and nourishes and grows its own missionaries, its own preachers. And I know you're saying. Yeah, well, we hired you from 200 miles away. Yeah, that's true. But if I have something to say about it, you won't ever do that again.
I'll tell you that sitting in these pews is my replacement. Sitting in this pew is our future youth minister, education minister and missionary and elder and deacon. If I have anything to do with it, we won't hire anybody from out of this church. That's the New Testament system. Churches shouldn't have to depend on far away places to find ministers to minister to itself. And neither should preachers have to depend on second careers.
I believe that hedging our bets with extra courses in real estate management or computer science, just in case it doesn't work out, is an insult to God and a demonstration of questionable motives. Preachers should separate themselves to service and prepare for this as a life's work with as much training in their field as they can possibly get.
You never see a doctor going to medical school, taking courses in, welding on the side just in case. Do you know why do we have preachers, taking courses in real estate on the side just in case they get booted out by the church?
teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Matthew 28:20
Is that a promise that he is making?
17The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
- I Timothy 5:17-18
This is a promise that the church will respect and will support and will care for those who go who leave everything and go into the ministry. That the church will provide for the needs of its ministers and that the Lord will be with them always, that's a promise of the Holy Spirit.
And so you have the call to go to ministry determined by several factors. You have a period of consecration where a man puts himself aside and gets training and tutoring and disciple by those who know how to minister.
Phase #3 - Commendation
The church confirms the call and the consecration with commendation. Every life experience has a rite of passage that signifies a change from one state to another state. If you graduate, you get a diploma, and there is a ceremony. An oath of office, for example, is simply that rite of passage that says you go from a private citizen to becoming a public official with the authority and responsibility of a public official.
Rites of passages are important because they signify a change. There's also a moment when one ceases to be formally trained and is officially sent to do the work for which he was called. I don't care what you call it. There is disagreement in the church on this topic. You can call it ordination. You can call a recommendation. I like to call it commendation. You are commended to the work.
The New Testament demonstrates that this is a significant moment when the church formally recognizes, confirms and approves of a man's call and his training, whether it's through a public prayer or the laying on of the hands or a public announcement, there needs to be a moment when a man is formally recognized and considered as a preacher of God's word.
Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.
- I Timothy 4:14
Timothy was formally recognized by the laying on of the hands of the elders. The first thing I said to the elders when we agreed on the work that I would do here was on the Sunday that we begin, we want the elders to come forward and commend me to the service here.
There was a time where I was just visiting and working part time, and then there's a moment where I made the commitment and you made the commitment that together we would work together. And that commitment was sealed through the prayer and the laying on the hands of the elders. Why do we do that? Because the Bible says so. That's why it means something. Only because the Bible says so. Not the eloquence of the prayer or the age or the wisdom of the elders. It means something because the Bible says it means something. Whatever we bind on Earth is bound in heaven (Matthew 16:19). And so the commendation must be significant.
Only the church has the right to commend a preacher or a missionary into service. So preachers, therefore, are those who are born into Christ by the preaching the gospel. They're called into the ministry, by God. They're carefully nurtured within the body of Christ. And then they are commissioned to serve by those who have authority to do so within the church.
If you think I am making this up, or imposing my idea on the Bible. Look at the life of Paul the Apostle. He was miraculously called but he had all those other elements, too.
- He had zeal for God.
- He had a burden for the loss.
- He had a vision of God's will.
- He was grateful for his own salvation.
- He had a legitimate call.
- He was consecrated.
- He was trained in the Scriptures as a Pharisee.
- He spent a time in Tarsus and in the desert.
- He was with Barnabas collecting money for the for the famine.
- He was being trained.
- He was commended (Acts 13:1-3) by the church, by the laying on of the hands, commended Paul to the service of of mission work.
He didn't do this without the authority of the elders and the leaders in the church.
So what's the point?
Elders, teachers and preachers need to become more sensitive to the fact that within your church, some men may have the call. Some of you men sitting there in the audience this is really making sense to you. Some of you may have the call. The key is to understand if it's according to the spirit or to the flesh.
The leaders of your congregation need to make concrete provisions to nurture and encourage you to preach. They need to recognize who has the call and find ways to train, nurture and bring them to the point where they can begin to minister.
And finally, the church needs to make a significant confirmation of a man's call and publicly commend him to service when he's ready each day.
The Spirit of God is calling us also to go either into preaching, missions or some other ministry, but also is calling all of us perhaps to begin to serve in a particular way that you didn't before. Maybe that's the call.
Maybe that's what the spirit is whispering to you, that it's time perhaps to begin serving. Perhaps the spirit is calling you to give up a particular sin that you've defiantly held on to despite a guilty conscience. Maybe that's the call.
Maybe the call is to confess Jesus Christ, and at last accept the idea that you must be baptized in order for your sins to be forgiven.
Whatever it is, if you feel God is calling you in some way, then we encourage you to respond to Him.