“Can I be a preacher someday, Pastor Ben?” said the smiling little 9-year-old boy across the desk from me. One of my joys every Sunday morning is having some of the young ones come say good morning to me there in my office. They usually want to show me their outfit, new toy, or doll, but on this day, I had one wanting to preach!
The question certainly brought a smile to my face, but inside, my wheels were turning as to how I should answer. I quickly decided on my answer. “Well, there are four things it takes to be a preacher.” I know: leave it to a preacher to enumerate an answer to a 9-year-old! Although what I actually said to him was much simpler, the following is the gist of my answer to him.
So, what does it take to be a preacher? Here’s my answer given in order of importance.
1) The man must have repented and believed on Jesus Christ.
I know that this prerequisite might seem so obvious that it need not be stated, but it’s of utmost importance. First of all, I was talking to a little boy who has yet to be converted. It was my chance to highlight his need for a Savior. But even if I was telling a seminary professor, this point is where I would start. I think this is where we have to start.
You see, the act of Christian preaching is born out of the reality of a living relationship with God the Father through the Son Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit. A man truly has nothing to say unless he knows Jesus through conversion. Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again,” (John 3:7). It’s from his own well of experiencing the new birth which leads to mercy, grace, forgiveness, growth, empowerment, and gifting that the preacher will be moved to proclaim God’s truth.
Therefore, the man seeking to preach must give evidence of conversion. Now for some, they look no further than asking if the man has prayed the prayer and walked the aisle, but there must be a more careful evaluation. If we are truly born again in Christ, we are a new creature (2 Thes 5:17), and if so, there’ll be evidence of this spiritual change. The great American pastor/theologian Jonathan Edwards pointed to these five marks of true conversion (found in Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney’s Jonathan Edwards On True Christianity, 85-94):
- A love for Jesus Christ
- An increased hatred for sin and continual defeat of sinful practices
- A hunger and thirst for the Word of God
- A love for truth and the things of God
- A love for other Believers and the Church
So, the man who might preach should give these evidences, proving well that he has truly repented and believed on Jesus Christ.
2. The man must be above reproach in Christian integrity.
That’s the entire point of 1 Timothy 3:1-7:
- It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
There’s really nothing remarkable about this list. In fact, we should expect these things of every Christian. However, what is remarkable is the combination. Paul says that every one of these things should be present in the preacher/pastor’s life. Many men shine in most of these areas but dim in a few. For the preacher, on the other hand, he is to be above reproach, which means that he is to shine in all of these areas. This, indeed, is a tall order, but God desires a man to preach who will model Christian integrity that is above reproach.
3. The man must study and understand the Word of God.
This prerequisite is best summed up in 2 Timothy 2:15, Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. Of course, most of us know the KJV translation of this verse, Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
The life of a preacher is one of studying the Word of God so that he might share truth with his hearers. Therefore, there should be a hunger for the Word of God in this man’s life. He should love to study the Bible and hear teaching. The preacher should be a student of the Bible above all other Christians. This fact doesn’t mean that a seminary degree is required. Although I believe them to be a positive thing, seminary degrees are still only man-made things. Men of only a 6th grade education can be as greatly used by God as a doctor of theology if he applies himself to learning the Bible. No doubt that a seminary education will certainly help the preacher along, but more than anything else, he must know the Bible in and out.
But along with hunger, there must be understanding. That’s what Paul is pointing to when he talks about “accurately handling” or “rightly dividing” the word of truth. The preacher must be a man holding orthodox Christian beliefs, teaching the truth of the Bible.
It’s for this reason that the practice of an ordination board is of great importance. To be honest, this practice has been largely lost today among our Baptist churches. Most are mere charades scheduled the day of the announced ordination service. I believe this practice to be incredibly detrimental to the man seeking ordination and the church issuing ordination. Ordination boards should certainly be done before it’s announced that the man is going to be ordained. Furthermore, the board should be extensive and testing. Above all, ordination boards should be ready to say, “Brother, we appreciate your desire, but we believe that you just are not ready yet.” The Apostle Paul seemed to be pointing to what I’m saying when talking about preachers in 1 Timothy 5:22, Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. It’s for this very reason that our churches developed the ordination system in the first place. Preachers must study and understand the Word of God.
4. The man must be called.
This reality comes from one source but is discerned or recognized by two different parties. The one source for calling a preacher to preach is God. All preachers are God’s preachers. He’ll let you know if this is His desire for your life. It’ll probably look like what Paul experienced in 1 Corinthians 9:16, For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. So, the source of the preacher’s calling is God.
But this calling is discerned by two different parties. The first party is the preacher himself. Again, like Paul, he’ll have a burden to preach. He’ll personally feel that this is what God wants him to do. But just as important is the fact that the preacher actually wants to do it. When Paul says that he’s under compulsion, he doesn’t mean that he’s preaching against his will. Actually what he means is that his will to preach is so strong that he can’t help but preach. Too many preachers, I think, play up this “I didn’t really want to preach” line. Perhaps they didn’t at first, but at some point, if they are truly called of God, they had better have had a change of heart and now really want to.
It’s okay to want to be a preacher. Some see actually wanting to preach as some sort of sign of ill motive, but remember what Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:1, It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. Again, it’s okay to want to be a preacher. God works His will through our own will. Therefore, the preacher himself must discern God’s calling.
The second party that needs to discern this calling is the faithful believers around the preacher. In other words, I’m talking about his church. They have to decide if the potential preacher is both gifted and qualified to serve in this way. Is there fruit in the church’s life resulting from his ministry? Is there anything troubling in his character which might hinder him? If he has a wife and children, are they in order? Is there consistency in him over time? The church is instrumental in discerning a man’s calling. This truth is especially crucial given the fact that humans often easily believe they are something that they are not. In other words, a man can easily think that he is a great preacher when he is in fact not. Therefore, a church’s confirmation of a preacher’s calling is every bit as important as the preacher’s own desire.
Perhaps you yourself are trying to determine if God is calling you to preach, or perhaps you are preacher who has to help other men determine if God is calling them to preach. I pray that what I’ve laid out here is helpful. Who knows, I may have been used that day by God to help lay the foundation for Him to call that boy to preach someday. Whether God calls him or not, may our churches raise up many men who are capable, and may God send them out proclaiming His truth!