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Am I Called to Ministry? – Bobby Jamieson

Home » Am I Called to Ministry? – Bobby Jamieson

 

Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Jamieson about the call to ministry.

Topics of conversation include:

  • How the qualification passages should inform and guide self-reflection
  • The importance of both internal and external calling
  • Ways the church can encourage and facilitate raising up the next generation of pastors
  • The role of seminaries in pursuing pastoral ministry
  • Advice for those wrestling with a desire for ministry who haven’t felt a clear calling

Dr. Bobby Jamieson is an associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is the author of several books, including Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God (Crossway, 2013), Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Church Membership (B&H Academic, 2015), and The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring (Crossway, 2021).

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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.

Brian Arnold (00:17):

I was in college when I first felt called into ministry. I remember leaning back in my chair in a conference room of the Powell building at Eastern Kentucky University, and I was in the Campus Crusade for Christ Bible study when the thought struck me—”my Bible study leader gets paid to teach people the Bible.” And that’s what I wanted to do. I had a craving to know God, to know his Word, and to study theology, and then to teach and preach the Bible and serve people in ministry. But I still didn’t have a straight line from that moment into vocational ministry. I continued to wrestle with whether or not I was called. And so I attended a Campus Crusade winter conference, and visited a breakout session on whether or not I should go to seminary. And after that, I still wasn’t sure. So I went up to the professor, who was leading that time, and asked him if he thought I should go.

Brian Arnold (01:00):

And he said, you clearly have a desire to go to seminary and to serve the church—so, go. The worst case scenario is you’re going to get a master’s degree in theology and then serve your church faithfully as an elder, a deacon or Sunday school teacher. And so, from that moment on, I was committed to getting trained. And from there I went on to be a pastor, and then I now have the opportunity to train pastors. But I know a lot of young men and women, and even older men and women, who agonize over whether or not God has called them into ministry. People get paralyzed by this question, but this shouldn’t be the case. So to help us today with the idea of going into ministry, we have Dr. Bobby Jamieson, associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. Dr. Jamieson received his PhD from the University of Cambridge, and is the author of a number of books, including Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God, Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Church Membership, and for our time together today, The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring. Bobby, welcome to the show.

Bobby Jamieson (02:02):

Good to be with you.

Brian Arnold (02:04):

So we always ask a big question of our guests, and today that question is this—am I called to ministry? But you say that might be the wrong question to start with. So how do you like to frame this?

Bobby Jamieson (02:16):

Yeah, that’s exactly right. I would prefer to frame the question—and this is how I argue in the book—in terms of aspiring to the office of elder. And then beyond that, wanting to do it full time. Kind of a two-part issue instead of one. One reason I talk about aspiring to the office of elder is that that’s explicitly biblical language. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 3, verse 1—”if anyone aspires to the work of an overseer, he desires a noble task.” That word overseer is interchangeable with what the New Testament elsewhere calls an elder or a pastor. So three words for one office, one role—elder, overseer, pastor. And I start with aspiration, because desire is often what people mean when they’re asking, “am I called?” They’re talking about a kind of constraining desire, an overwhelming desire.

Bobby Jamieson (03:10):

And the Bible uses that language of desire. But then what it does, is it puts these qualifications in front of it. Here’s a specific office of being the shepherd, being one of the shepherds, teachers, spiritual examples for the church. And here’s some objective qualifications. So right away, if you have a desire for the work, here is Scripture telling you what it looks like to measure up, and whether you’d be qualified for that work. That’s in 1 Timothy chapter 3, and Titus chapter 1. And in that sense, there’s an explicit biblical office here called elder, or overseer, or pastor. And then another thing we see in the New Testament is that not all those who are elders do it full-time. It’s a really important decision, right? Do you continue teaching high school math, or do you go, you know, pack up, move to seminary, go and try to become a pastor full-time? It’s a very important question. But not every pastor actually does it full-time for his job. So I try to separate those two things.

Brian Arnold (04:05):

Do you think one of the reasons why people shy away from that kind of biblical language of 1 Timothy 3, “aspiring to it,” that sounds too ambitious? And so we see people who, especially in celebrity pastor culture, seeming to have an ambition to grow a brand or a ministry, and so it’s kind of a humbler way to come into it—of saying, “well, God has called me to do this,” rather than “I have aspirations to do this?”

Bobby Jamieson (04:28):

Yeah, I certainly…I think you’re right. That that is a common kind of reflex or instinct. It sounds more pious. You know, “why, I think I got this from God. This is God telling me to do this. I didn’t choose this.” And you do have some famous instances in church history of pastors kind of being pressed into service. Although…like, you know, Farel basically condemning Calvin if he doesn’t go to Geneva, or Augustine being appointed by force as pastor in Hippo. But I don’t think those are exactly models for us to follow. And I think actually that instinct has it a little bit backwards. Because I think that to aspire to something is to say, “I desire to do that.” If it’s a good thing to desire, then it’s a good thing to desire it, right? If being a pastor is about helping people grow spiritually, helping people become more like Christ, as Paul puts it, “presenting every person complete in Christ.”

Bobby Jamieson (05:15):

Well, that is a good thing to desire. Of course there could be proud motives for wanting to be in charge, of wrong desires of wanting to build a name for yourself. But Paul himself says it’s a good thing to desire. So I hear what you’re saying about that instinct, but I think actually, to talk about aspiring is more humble, or arguably we might not have time to argue it all the way out, but I think it’s arguably more humble in the sense that you’re saying, “there’s this really good thing I want. I don’t know if I measure up, I don’t know if I’m qualified, but I am going to sort of get on a pathway toward trying to do more of it and trying to grow into it.”

Brian Arnold (05:48):

So let’s dive in there, because if somebody comes to you—and you run the internship program at Capitol Hill, is that right?

Bobby Jamieson (05:54):

Yep. That’s right.

Brian Arnold (05:54):

Which is a tremendous program. If anybody’s listening, and they’re wondering, kind of a step to take, even before seminary, I highly recommend that program. I have a lot of friends who’ve gone through it, and it’s a tremendous gift to the church. So they come and they say, you know, “Dr. Jamieson, I feel like I’m aspiring to ministry. Do you think I could be an elder at a church?” How do you begin to counsel somebody, using 1 Timothy 3, even, to answer that question?

Bobby Jamieson (06:21):

Yeah. That’s a great question. I actually did this pretty recently with a member in my own church. And he was, you know, sharing some of that kind of desire with me. And we literally just walked through some of those qualifications, step-by-step. And I…actually, what I encouraged him to do, was meditate on them, pray through them, jot down some notes. Talk to me about where you feel like, upon reflection and prayer, you know, do you think you’re measuring up to these things? Do you think there’s any that you really need to grow in? Do you think there’s any, maybe you just flat out aren’t qualified in? And we had a very fruitful conversation. The brother was very humble. He came to me with all kinds of reflections, and he himself said to me, “you know what—I think here’s some ways I’m disqualified, and that I really need to work on before I would think seriously about a kind of vocational decision.”

Bobby Jamieson (07:03):

So yeah, I think some basic self-examination in light of those passages is helpful. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t, you know…I think it’s…again, it’s a good desire. It’s a desire for a noble thing. So I’d also want to ask, what makes you want to do that? What is appealing to you about that? And kind of, what’s your track record so far of helping other people come to understand God’s Word, helping them grow more like Christ? Let’s talk about what’s appealing to you, and kind of what you’ve experienced so far.

Brian Arnold (07:30):

Yeah, that’s a great exercise to have people do. To really force them, with the Holy Spirit, to ask those questions. Okay, I aspire to this—is it just because I want to preach on Sunday mornings? But it might be surprising to people who aren’t that familiar with 1 Timothy 3, that there’s only one real, kind of, if you will, marketable piece of the elder qualifications—the ability to teach. I think if we thought of Paul writing this today, it’d be—how good are you at marketing? How many Twitter followers do you have? Are you good at positioning yourself? And that’s not how Paul describes the position of an elder at all. In fact, the gifting of teaching is really the only kind of qualification that is not character-related. So, you know, how do you help people think, going into ministry, about that? And then, thinking about churches and job descriptions? Because job descriptions nowadays for churches sound more like CEO requirements, and less about shepherding with the right character and the ability to teach.

Bobby Jamieson (08:31):

It’s a good…there’s a couple of questions there, right? I mean, I think one thing I would want to do is help a brother see that modeling Christlikeness, and leading people to become more Christ-like as you show them what it looks like yourself, this is fundamental to ministry. You know, preaching and teaching and leading publicly is certainly a key part of it. But if you don’t have that basic Christ-like character, you simply can’t do what a pastor does. And regardless of what a church is looking for on your resume, or regardless of what can sort of launch somebody into evangelicalism stardom, let’s just look to Scripture for our cues on what you should be cultivating. And I think sort of burrowing your life deep into the life of a local church, especially one that has godly qualified elders.

Bobby Jamieson (09:17):

And especially one where those elders themselves are really trying to raise up other elders and even pastors for other churches. I would just say, do whatever you can to get yourself into a church like that. And try to sort of live and minister there in such a way that they can get to know you. They can give you inputs. They can give you some honest feedback that might confirm and even speed up what you’re doing, and give you a real confidence in pursuing ministry. Or could possibly slow you down. Not to say, “never do this,” but to say, “hey, look—here’s some things we’d really want to see you working on before you took any real drastic decisions, like quitting your job or going to seminary.” And, you know, it’s, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem in terms of trying to get hired by a church. Part of a pastor’s job is to teach the church what his job is. And so I would just say—yeah, sometimes there can be difficult experiences in terms of what churches are looking for in a pastor, that they might think is their own interest, but actually isn’t their best spiritual interest. I’ll just say, trust the Lord. Don’t get too wrapped up in any one opportunity. Be honest, have integrity as you’re candidating. And yeah, trust him to lead you, if there’s sheep who he would ordain for you to be their shepherd.

Brian Arnold (10:22):

I think it’s helpful to think about the local church and the responsibility that they play in the raising up of the next generation of pastors. For me, you know, the old language, perhaps, that was being used at the time, was the internal call and the external call. So do you feel like God has tapped you on the shoulder and called you to preach? I remember C.H. Spurgeon’s famous quote being trotted out often—that if you could do anything else in the world, don’t go into ministry. And I wrestled with that. Because I thought—there’s a lot of things I think I could be interested in that aren’t ministry. And that took me a while to wrestle through. And then the external call of having people in my church say, “Brian, we think you have gifts that would be used by the Lord really well in ministry.” So how do you see that church kind of responsibility of raising up that generation, discipling them, mentoring them, and even saying to young men in the congregation—we think you could be a great pastor?

Bobby Jamieson (11:18):

That’s a great question. And I’ve been blessed to be part of multiple churches that do a really good job in this. And it’ll look different, depending on the church’s resources, location, a church’s needs, but I think a few spiritual ingredients. One would just be a basic concern for the Great Commission, to send out people who can help make disciples in other places. And recognizing that raising up pastors who can go serve other churches is part of that Great Commission. It’s part of how your church can overflow into the progress of the gospel elsewhere. And so I think churches having…one very practical thing would be learning to listen to and appreciate other less experienced preachers and teachers. Kind of giving them, you know…humoring them and even benefiting from them having a chance to grow in the pulpit.

Bobby Jamieson (12:07):

So in our church, our Sunday evening service features a short devotional, and that has a lot of less experienced preachers. We also use our 9:30 Sunday school hour, it’s often a kind of pair of teachers, maybe one or two who are more experienced and one who’s brand new. So I think churches—and this is largely kind of in the pastor’s domain to think about how to do this—would be creating opportunities for young men to get experience teaching, and then get that feedback from the congregation as they’re doing it. But yeah, I think for a congregation itself to have a sense of ownership, of—we can actually help contribute to the advance of the gospel by being part of the process of this kind of organic raising up of leaders. So I do think there is a kind of family responsibility there. That a spirit of generosity and of patience, and of willingness to invest in other people’s ministry. You know, not sort of only getting, you know, the best from the senior guy, but being willing to sit under a variety of teachers is a big part of that culture in a church.

Brian Arnold (13:06):

Well, that’s part of my story. So in 2004, I was 21 years old and had my first opportunity to preach. It was one of those things, you spend like three or four months in preparation, reading through the text and a bunch of books, and it ends up being like 20 minutes long. And my pastor, who was Adam Dooley at the time, videotaped it, because he was away, and then when he came back, he sat down with me and we went through the video tape. And I’m walking up to the pulpit in the video and he pauses it and he says, “how rough do you want me to be on this?” I said, “oh, bring it.” And he’s like, “here’s what you’re doing wrong already.” As I was walking towards the pulpit. And it took about an hour and a half to get through that 20 minute sermon. But it was invaluable for me in learning the craft of preaching, and having this pastor, that I look up to a lot, really take the time to mentor me in those ways. And so I hope pastors listening right now, you see the responsibility you have. We do see a season of ministry where a lot of people are leaving pastoral ministry, and the harvest field is ripe right now, as society is in kind of a free-fall in some areas. They need, we need, the church needs, healthy pastors. And so it’s a pastor’s role, in many ways, to help bring up that next generation of leaders.

Bobby Jamieson (14:21):

Well, and it’s just music to my ears to hear you, as a seminary president, saying that. Because I think you have it exactly right. The church’s role is fundamental, and especially pastors. They’re the ones doing it. They’re the ones who have the sort of time and ability and the experience to be able to, you know, see somebody who has this desire, and give them a chance, you know? I’ve frequently…if we have a first time preacher on a Sunday night, I will often have that brother into my office on a Friday afternoon. He’ll deliver the sermon to me and maybe one other staff member. So we can even hear it beforehand, and give him some feedback, and help him, you know, improve it in some ways. And hopefully that also gives him some more confidence, too, walking into the Sunday night sermon. And then we have a time to review everything that happens on a Sunday. We do it Sunday night, and typically in our senior pastor’s study, and anybody who participated—praying, leading, reading, teaching—can come and get feedback. And so there’s just kind of a positive feedback loop, that hopefully is helping brothers grow in humility. But hopefully it’s also helping everybody grow in their ability to preach, teach, and lead. And lead publicly. So I do think pastors have an enormous opportunity here to raise up other pastors.

Brian Arnold (15:24):

I love that you’re doing that. I think that’s a great kind of incubator for getting these next generation of pastors ready. And yes, from my seat as a seminary president, I tell people constantly—Jesus Christ died for the church. The church is God’s mission for the world. Seminaries, we’re a para-church organization. Our singular role is just to come alongside churches, to help strengthen them. But to recognize we’re not the mission for the world. I love the role that we get to play. So in your estimation, from your side of the fence, how do you see, as you’re training up young ministers through your program at your church, what is the role of seminaries even for them?

Bobby Jamieson (16:06):

That’s a great question. Yeah. I mean, certainly in most circumstances, if a man is, you know, has a good reason to be pursuing pastoral ministry…in most circumstances, we think it’s helpful and prudent for him to get a seminary degree. That could be in-person, which in some ways is a much better experience of, you know, meeting professors face-to-face and having the kind of focused time with other students. That’s what I myself did. I was having a very fruitful season training here at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, but I moved to seminary at Southern in Louisville to have that kind of full in-person immersion. So we do think it’s very helpful in terms of building up a kind of toolkit that helps you interpret the Bible with greater confidence and skill, that helps you put together the big picture of theology with greater precision and understanding.

Bobby Jamieson (16:49):

So especially for the kind of engine-under-the-hood that will feed into your preaching and teaching, seminary is very valuable to get that kind of intensive, you know, two or three or four years of focus on learning those theological tools. So yeah, we will very often recommend brothers to move to seminary. We support, to the tune of basically full tuition, we support maybe eight or 10 typically, seminary students at a time out of our church’s budget. And we keep in touch with them and pray for them. And of course, some of them decide to do seminary online and kind of stay part of our own local churches ecosystem. And from time to time we’ve been able to do a bit of seminary teaching in our own local church. So yeah, we do think it has a valuable role.

Bobby Jamieson (17:30):

It’s just that in too many Christian’s minds, they kind of view it as—it’s like being a lawyer or a doctor or engineer. Well, if you want to do this, you go to the school, they give you the degree and, poof, you’re ready. Which ministry just does not work like that. Seminaries are valuable, but it’s so much more of a narrow niche. What you’re learning by being in the church is so much more fundamental. And especially learning just how to do spiritual good to others, how to shepherd others. And especially preaching and teaching—when it’s really, you know, members of your own church that you’re face-to-face with, this is a whole different experience than a kind of sterile environment of a seminary classroom preaching class. And again, those can still be valuable. You can still learn. But in a sense, the training the church does is more fundamental, more all-encompassing for shaping your character, for one thing. And also your competence as a leader in the local church.

Brian Arnold (18:23):

Yeah, at the risk of giving a little infomercial here really quickly—you know at Phoenix seminary that’s one of the things that we have identified as one of the challenges of seminary education. It is, to use the word that you use, I use it all the time, it’s a sterile environment. You’re taking people out of the trenches of ministry. You’re bringing them into a classroom and having them preach, having them learn about hospital visits or funerals, weddings, practical ministry that does not happen really in the walls of the seminary. It’s happening in our local churches. And so we’re really excited about a program that we’re doing, where students are earning up to 18 hours of their MDiv in local churches with pastors. To really understand that shepherding role that Christ has called them to. And bridging that gap between the seminary and the church, that has been too wide for too long.

Bobby Jamieson (19:08):

Yeah, I agree. 100%. And I’m glad for the way you guys are doing that. On the flip side, we also have some guys get seminary credit for our internship as well. So there’s kind of a partnership going in that direction.

Brian Arnold (19:19):

Well, and I love it. I mean, the more that seminaries and churches can partner together, whether it’s our seminary or another seminary. My goodness, the role of theological education in our world today can not be overestimated. It is so critical that we’re putting pastors in these churches that have the right theological depth. Like you said, the engine-underneath-the-hood, so that they can have fruitful longevity in ministry. I know for myself, when I took my pastorate in Western Kentucky, my very first day on the job, I had a deacon who said, “my dad’s kidneys are failing, my wife just got diagnosed with breast cancer, and my daughter’s best friend committed suicide.” And I’m thinking—man, there is no honeymoon in ministry. Here we go. We’re going to get started. And I was preaching through Philippians, and you get that passage in Philippians 2, where Christ emptied himself, what we call kenosis.

Brian Arnold (20:09):

And I didn’t have time to wrestle through my Christology. I had to have that settled from all the coursework I’d done in seminary, so that I could minister to that family. Just bought me time in my ministry. So yeah, aspiring. Let’s go back to that as we’re kind of winding down. What advice would you be giving to people today, listening to this podcast, who have wrestled with this. And they want that kind of finger from the sky, touching them on the shoulder, a Samuel moment—”you are called to ministry.” And they want to do ministry, but they haven’t maybe felt that experience yet. What would you say to them?

Bobby Jamieson (20:43):

Yeah, I think the first thing I would say is, I don’t see any place in Scripture where that is set up as a requirement for being qualified to enter full-time ministry. So I’d kind of want to relieve that burden on their conscience to some degree. I think that might be well-intentioned, but sort of imported from common experience, that’s not actually laid out as a mandate in Scripture. Certainly, an informed desire for the work is required. So again, Paul saying—if anyone aspires to the work. Also 1 Peter chapter 5, saying that an elder has to serve willingly, but not under compulsion. So when I’m saying you don’t have to have a finger tapping you from heaven, I’m not saying that desire is not important. But I think what I would say is—pray, examine yourself in light of Scripture, open up those desires to people who are qualified to speak into them, and who can see your life in kind of a three-dimensional, 360 degree view kind of way.

Bobby Jamieson (21:37):

And if you don’t have people like that, I would say—pray for them. You know, pray for more opportunities to serve in your own local church, pray for ways that you can get more involved that would sort of demonstrate, develop, and confirm, and test gifts and qualifications for ministry. So yeah, it’s certainly important to have a clear and sober desire for any type of pastoral work, but I would kind of point you outward to the life of the local church, point you outward to other counselors who can speak into your life. And I’d just encourage you also that none of the time that the Lord uses in your life is wasted. So the ways that he’s going to grow you through those seasons of uncertainty, the ways that he’s going to grow you through sort of subjecting those desires to some object of evaluation and affirmation, that’s all part of how he’s conforming you to the character of Christ. And he’s more fundamentally concerned with that, than with what your job is. So I would just also encourage you to try to keep those things in perspective. Of course, it’s a momentous decision whether to, you know, try to pursue becoming a pastor, whether you ultimately accept the call to be a pastor. But far more important is your contentment in Christ and conformity to Christ.

Brian Arnold (22:46):

Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Bobby. I really do appreciate you taking the time to do this. If you’re listening and you’re wondering—am I called to ministry? Or rather—do I aspire to ministry? And if you do, do others see that gifting in your life, and does your life exemplify the characteristics of 1 Timothy 3? Well, if so, go get trained and get into the harvest field. This is a ripe season for ministry, and I would recommend to you Bobby’s new book, The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring. Again, Dr. Jamieson, thank you so much for being with us today.

Bobby Jamieson (23:22):

Thanks for having me, Brian,

Outro (23:24):

Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at ps.edu.

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