Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Derek Thomas on Pastoral Calling

Dr. Thomas speaking at the GPTS 2014 Spring Theology Conference
Dr. Derek Thomas, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia S.C. and an occasional speaker at Greenville Seminary events, says it's not the job of seminaries to sort out who is called to the ministry, but such callings should be verified and affirmed by the church before a man enters ministerial training. Greenville Seminary wholeheartedly agrees.

The comments came in an interview with Dr. Thomas in the August 2014 issue of Tabletalk, the devotional magazine of Ligonier Ministries. In the interview, he also discussed some pitfalls for young pastors. Here is an excerpt:

TT: What is the greatest temptation that young pastors face in gospel ministry, and how can they stand against it?

DT: To think too highly of themselves. The ministry is a place of enormous temptation to pride. It doesn’t make any difference as to the style of church (historic or hipster-urban church plant)—young ministers often stand in a place where words and opinions sway the hearts and affections of people. This can make the most stable person giddy. Paul knew this issue when he warned Timothy about elders: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). How can one avoid issues of spiritual pride in a culture of entitlement? I am tempted to say, “Marry a girl who loves you enough to be honest enough to tell you what you need to hear,” but if current Facebook entries by pastors’ wives are to be believed, this may not be the solution. But accountability is paramount—whether with a good friend, or something more formally established with or by the session.

TT: If a man told you that he feels called to ministry and he asked you how he should pursue this calling, what would you tell him? 

DT: I find today that many young men feel called to “ministry” but not to a traditional view of a “minister.” This issue needs to be addressed carefully. Assuming the call is to preaching and pastoring, I would tell him that the subjective call is one thing and the objective another. He needs to go to the church with this sense of call. Depending upon the ecclesiology, he should go to the pastor(s), who in turn will ensure that the elders endorse this call. There is a view that the seminary will sort out candidates and reveal who is and who is not called. This is a false belief. Usually, I tell a young man to find an opportunity to speak (a Bible study, perhaps) and then ask him to record it and evaluate it so that we can talk about it later.