Capability - The Second Signpost


Have you every seen someone attempt something they aren't capable of accomplishing? On one hand, you feel a sense of nobility in the effort they put forward to carry out whatever task they've put themselves out to accomplish. On the other hand, it's uncomfortable and troubling to watch someone flounder, fail and become frustrated with themselves over the toil of their labor. They just aren't in the right fit for their work. Of course, I'm talking about me attempting to do handy-man work around the house. It's embarrassing.

This is the plight I feel that many guys put themselves in when don't pay attention to the second signpost of calling, capability. Newton rightly addresses this aspect of calling when he says that, "Besides this affectionate desire and readiness to preach, there must in due season appear some competent sufficiency as to gifts, knowledge, and utterance."1 Essentially a guy has to be able to do the work of the ministry. His calling cannot be confirmed just because he wants to be in ministry. Calling for ministry is built upon a competency for ministry.

This competency however, isn't just about being able to act or perform the work of the ministry. There are a few different aspects of a man's competency that demonstrate his calling.

1. Character Competency

Paul's lists of qualifications for a man who is to be an elder of a church in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are mostly related to a man's character. Is he a godly man? Does he conduct himself in a way that is in step with the gospel? Is he respectable? Hospitable? Stable-minded? Self-controlled? Faithful to his wife? Not a drunkard? Essentially the character competencies of a man called to ministry are that he would be "above reproach" or as one scholar states,

An [elder] must be of such a spotless character that no one can lay hold upon anything in his life which would be of such a nature as to cast reproach upon the cause of the Lord Jesus.2

Let me be as clear as I can on this point. If you do not possess the character to be an elder, you are not called to the ministry. Character trumps desire, skill, gifting, affirmation, opportunity, urgency, all of it. If you are not a man who is above reproach in your character you are not fit to lead the church and are not called, at this time, for pastoral ministry. 

2. Skill Competency

A second area of competency is that of skill-set. By this I mean, does an individual possess the abilities to shepherd the flock of God well? Can he preach a Biblically faithful, culturally relevant message to the flock? Can he rightly handle the Word of God? Can he administrate and lead people well? Does he know the Scriptures? Can he pray? Is he able to marry, bury and baptize? Can he share the faith clearly and with zeal? Is he skilled at leading?

This second area, by and large, can be trained and it can be learned. I believe that this is where the seminary becomes so helpful to the local church in training men to do the work of the ministry. For some reason today we eschew formal education and training. If a guy has nothing better to do it seems like ministry is the first place he tries to do it. Now, I'm not saying that seminary degrees are a must, however I do want to know if a man has put in the long, hard hours of developing his skill in ministry. Many pastors could serve their churches better by taking solid courses and workshops on preaching. Men who would seek to teach and preach the Bible need to have the seat time with the Bible to do so. You wouldn't let a guy remove your appendix without proper training, so why do we let men who aren't skilled and trained for ministry lead?

Not every type of pastoral ministry is the same, and not every time requires the same skill set as the others. As I have worked in both established churches and church plants I see the worlds of difference that exist between what it takes to pastor and shepherd a church that has been in existence for quite a while and what it takes to start-up something new and fresh. Often men confuse church planting gifts and pastoring gifts as one in the same thing. They are not. Guys that aren't skilled in raising up new and fresh things shouldn't attempt to church plant. It's foolish and I am afraid will likely do damage to the man and his family for all the time they spend laboring at it when his skill set could be used elsewhere more effectively. Let me repeat, just because you want to do it doesn't mean you're skilled to do it.

3. Gifting

I want to be careful here because, while Ephesians 4 does specify a "pastor-teacher" gifting, I'm not convinced that Paul is talking about the overarching concept of spiritual gifts in that passage as much as he is talking about the people Christ has given as gifts to pioneer, establish, and advance the church. Even the recent advancement of tri-perspectival theology has helped the discussion, but I want to be very careful in identifying any one of the three dimensions of that framework as the "pastoral gifting."

I do believe that there are certain gifts that lend themselves more towards competency in the ministry. Certainly, a man must be able to teach. I think some level of spiritual gifting in this area is helpful and important. Another gifting is the gifting of leadership. If a man cannot lead anyone he won't be an effective pastor. Apart from those two the make-up of a pastor varies from person to person all ordained and gifted by God. At the very least there must be an evident manifestation of spiritual gifts that are conducive to competently leading and shepherding the local church.

Competency is Key, But Not Everything

Being competent or able to full your ministry is essential to calling. It's not everything, but it is a huge part of understanding a calling to ministry. If a man does not possess the exemplary character of an elder, he isn't called. If he cannot effective carry out the duties of the ministry, he is not called. If he does not have a spiritual aptitude for the ministry, he is not called.

These are difficult areas to assess, mainly because we like to inflate our view of ourselves, specifically in relationship to these characteristics. We cannot fudge on taking these areas of competency seriously. Too much is at stake to try and enter the ministry and not possess the wherewithal to accomplish the task before us.

Some Questions for Discovery

  1. Does your character reflect that of a man called to the office of elder? Does your wife agree with your assessment? Do other men who know you?
  2. Are you able to perform the functions and duties of the pastoral ministry? How do you know?
  3. Can you lead people? Who is following you right now that you would point to as followers?
  4. What are your spiritual gifts? Are they in keeping with gifts for pastoral ministry? Who has affirmed your gifts?
  1. John Newton and Richard Cecil, The Works of John Newton, vol. 2 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 45.
  2. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 1 Ti 3:2.