Applications come into The Master’s Seminary nearly every day. For each of us who have the privilege to review these, every file that comes across the desk represents much more than paper in a manila folder. These files represent a diverse assortment of men from around the world, coming to TMS from different backgrounds, with specific stories, proclaiming distinct testimonies, possessing unique skills. Yet for all their variety, every one of these men share a commonality superseding their differences: they all believe that they are men of God called by God to do the work of God.
Men in the process of seminary application often have the same question: “As I respond to the call of God in my life to preach the gospel, what can I do now to be faithful to my calling while preparing for full time ministry?” There are a number of practical principles that Scripture provides in answer to this question.
Guard your Calling
The very first thing you must do with your calling is to guard it. The Apostle Paul certainly understood the urgency of this when he set the example for every preacher in 1 Cor. 9:27. In this text Paul says, "I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air, but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest, after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified." Because a life disqualified is a calling discarded, the gravity of the task requires a certain sobriety of life. The call to preach the gospel is among the most precious privileges granted by God to men.
Faithfulness to your calling must be who you are today
We all understand that it is wise to lock up your valuables. We put fences around our property and deadbolts on our precious possessions in order to protect them. The call to ministry is a precious possession worth guarding. It is for this reason
that Paul instructs Timothy in I Tim. 4:16, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching."
Don’t worry about how to use your calling until you have first ensured that you are adequately protecting that calling by living a life that is above reproach.
Depend upon your Calling
As men come through seminary, each one of them has a different story for how the Lord gets them through. Each has a unique narrative of the Lord’s provision in the midst of difficulty during their time as a student. But the difficulties are persistently
present because preparation for ministry is hard. When those difficulties do come, it will be the awareness of the calling of God upon your life in appointing you to this work that will be a key (in addition to your faith and love for Christ) to your continued efforts.
If you are convinced that God has called you into His service, then you must be faithful to the task he has placed before you. Imagine the horror of Isaiah hearing the call of God to proclaim the truth and then choosing to walk away into the Judean desert the first time he ran into difficulty. Imagine the tragedy it would have been if Timothy had pulled “a Demas,” and instead of exercising “the spiritual gift within” him (I Tim. 4:14), he chose instead to “love this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). If God has appointed you to the work, who are you to turn away when He brings trials into your life for the perfection of your faith?
A dependence upon this call gives you the ability to move forward even when faced with difficulty. In Luke 9:62, Jesus instructed His disciples in the same way, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” There is comfort in knowing that God has called you to a task. Depend upon that calling to stay the course even when it seems obscured.
Exercise your Calling
A third action you can take while you wait is to exercise your calling right where you are. You don’t need a prestigious position or a fancy title in order to be faithful with the gift that has been given to you. Paul makes this point to Timothy when he says, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you” (1 Tim. 4:12-14). Paul’s admonition to Timothy was to get down to work and prove himself to be an example of the faith, not when he’d grown up, but on that very day.
Be faithful with what God has put before you today. When God providentially places a task in front of you, be faithful to it as unto Him, no matter how menial that duty may seem. In order to become a man of God, you must first be a man of God. Seminary is not a salvific experience where you are changed and made into something that you once were not. Either you are a pastor or you’re not. Additional training is not suddenly going to make you into a faithful servant. Faithfulness to your calling must be who you are today.
Jesus vividly drives this point home in Luke 16:10-11 when he tells the parable of the wise steward who is faithful to use well the resources entrusted to him. At the end of the parable, Jesus gives the point, which applies to every person preparing for a life of ministry, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is also
unrighteous in much. Therefore, if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust true riches to you.” If you have not been faithful to use your giftedness today for the glory of the Lord, why would He entrust greater responsibility to you in the future? Be faithful to exercise your calling today.
Prepare for your Calling
Finally, you must also be faithful to prepare for your calling. As you actively make plans for a lifetime of faithfulness, the work of preparation will either cause your desire to decrease (demonstrating that you’re not called to it) or it will be further enflamed (demonstrating that you must obey the direction of the Lord in your life). If the Lord is setting you apart for the work of preaching His gospel, then you must be prepared to effectively undertake that work. This requires that the man of God be educated in theology, pastoral ministry, and acquire the necessary exegetical skills in order to faithfully handle the word of God. For the vast majority of men, this means the pursuit of formal training through seminary education. This is simply the clearest and most expedited path for the acquisition of the necessary skills and material.
Paul gave Timothy no small command when he said, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Such presentation for approval requires the adequate
handling of the Scriptures. There is no more serious undertaking than this. A serious calling to a serious task ought to be met with serious education. For this reason, if you’re evaluating your call, get busy acquiring the tools necessary in order to be most effective as you set about the task of becoming an approved workman.
This preparation is critical because as James tells us, “let not many of you become teachers…knowing that as such we will
incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). If the bar is set high by our Lord, then we should insist upon the bar being raised for the education we receive for the task set before us. As you look to future ministry, begin today the process of preparing for the work that God has placed before you!