Some years back, I attended a gathering of pastors from a variety of different churches in a local community. As I surveyed the crowd, I was deeply disturbed by the sad way the office of pastor was represented. I saw everything under the sun: ripped jeans, flip flops, untucked shirts, tattoos, and even a pastor with a mohawk. My colleague reached over and whispered, “what does it even mean to be a pastor anymore?” It was very disturbing. An office that should be held in high esteem by those who are privileged to serve in this capacity is being thrown to the dogs. The whole experience inspired me to try to help Christians see the warning signs of a man who has not been truly called by God to the office.
1. No Formal Theological Training: We have a whole generation of churchgoers not asking or caring as to whether their pastors have been properly trained. Anyone who says that he feels called to do ministry, does it. We wouldn’t, of course, just do this in any other calling. I would be negligent at best if I sent my sick loved one to a self-proclaimed medical doctor who said that he felt called but who skipped medical school and the MCAT. But this hasn’t stopped us today in Christ’s church. As long as the pastor feels lead, has a big heart, and can motivate the people, he is given the title of pastor.
Here are a series of questions you should ask your pastor:
- From which reputable seminary did you receive your Masters of Divinity Degree?
- Which faithful church body confirmed your internal calling?
- When were you ordained to the office and hands laid upon you?
- Did you learn the Word of God in the original languages? If the pastor took some classes from some Bible college, or other religious university, and skirted the hard work of obtaining a Divinitatis Magistrvm (Masters of Divinity), why would you expect him to labor faithfully every week in the Word to rightly divide the truth to the glory of God and the profit of your soul?
2. No Creed: What your pastor believes is crucial to the well-being of your soul. I Tim. 4:16 commands a pastor to take heed to himself and to the doctrine, for in doing this he will save both himself and those who hear him. So what is your pastor’s doctrine? Since no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation, to which historical and collective expression of what Scripture teaches has he promised to honor? This is why Protestants produced creeds and confessions. The Holy Spirit has worked powerfully in Christians who have gone before us. If a pastor has no desire to formally commit himself to some expression of the historic Christian faith, he is making a strong statement that the truth is irrelevant to what he is doing. In that case, run.
3. No Preaching: Is your pastor committed to preach the Word as it is in truth, the Word of God. How central is the Word to what he is doing? Does he confront sin? Is there a proper balance of the law and the gospel in his preaching? Or, are you getting sermon series like the following: Living on Empty? Going Off-Roading With God, Church Is a Verb, Like is a Marathon, etc. If the Word is being used like a giant fortune cookie from which the pastor pulls a few verses to support his topic, that is exactly the kind of ear-tickling the apostle warned against (see 2 Tim. 4:1-5). The assumption is being made today that the most Spirit-filled churches are led by pastors who can best determine for the people what they need. In this way the pastor thinks he is being relevant to a post-modern culture, when in reality he is only pandering to the wants of assumed seekers. If your pastor is refusing to preach through the Word of God, he is a false shepherd. God gave us books and stories for a reason.
4. No Holiness: Pastors are called to set an example of godliness in all aspects of their lives. How does your pastor look and act? Does his life demonstrate that he is concerned about your soul? Does he strive to push you heavenward as a pilgrim here on earth? Or is he virtually indistinguishable from the world? I am wearied of seeing forty to fifty year old pastors’ dress and act like teenagers. This strange, what I call incarnational hipsterism, has overrun the church with worldliness. Age denial is one thing, but it’s quite another to live out that denial in an artificial and insincere manner as a pretext of doing ministry in a relevant way. Our love as pastors should be without hypocrisy, that is, without masks.
5. No Ecclesiology: How important are the three marks of a faithful church to your pastor: 1) the pure preaching of the gospel, 2) the right administration of the sacraments, 3) and church discipline? The greatest evidence of whether your pastor is called by God will be witnessed in his convictions about the doctrine of the church. Does he care enough to discipline wayward members? Is he more concerned about what the church looks like than its holiness and catholicity? Is he more concerned about being relational rather than theological, subjective rather than objective? Does he avoid all polemics and defense of the truth? Does the fruit of his work show that he has been successful is creating a niche event for a particular age group? What do the demographics of his ministry really demonstrate? And finally, does he care more about making the worship service a program, a show, rather than feeding the sheep with the Word, and nurturing them in their struggles against sin?
Being assured that your pastor is called by God is crucial to the well-being of your soul. Hopefully, some of the above questions will help you determine if indeed you are sitting under a faithful minister of the Lord Jesus Christ.