There are a number of denominations that require specific training and certifications to become a pastor. In these cases, the pastor usually works for the denomination and reports directly to them. Other churches are “independent” and will usually choose a pastor by the consent of the congregation or some other local governing body. In this case, the requirements are determined by the body responsible for choosing the pastor. This article will address the general biblical and practical qualifications for becoming a pastor, recognizing that specific churches or denominations may have additional requirements. This article will also assume that the individual who wants to become a pastor is someone who has come to faith in Christ and is growing in faith and daily spiritual life. Becoming a full-time minister is not simply one of many career opportunities that can be chosen based on working conditions, income, job security, etc. Becoming a biblical pastor or minister requires daily reliance upon the Lord and pouring one’s life into others. If done correctly, pastoring is demanding and costly as well as rewarding and fulfilling.
In the past, and perhaps in some circles today, there has been an emphasis on “calling,” meaning that a person must have a special call from God to be a pastor. In one sense this is true. However, it is not necessary for a person to have some special experience in which he was “called” to ministry. If a person wants to be a pastor, he should pursue it: “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). The one desiring to be a pastor has the encouragement that pastoring is a noble task, and he will have the support of those to whom he is currently ministering. If God is in it, God will open more doors for ministry. However, one’s motivation for pursing the ministry should always be God’s glory and the good of others. A person who enters the ministry for money, power, influence, or prestige is seeking the wrong things.
Here are some practical steps you can take to become a pastor or minister:
1. Take advantage of ministry opportunities where you are. The word pastor has as its root the idea of shepherding the flock of God, which would involve feeding them spiritual food and protecting them from spiritual harm, much like a shepherd protects and provides for his sheep. The word minister has at its root the idea of serving or meeting needs. In a general sense, every believer should be a pastor or minister to others at home, school, work, and church. Intentionally ministering to people who cross our paths on a daily basis is excellent training for becoming a full-time minister. Every would-be minister should first take advantage of the ministry opportunities the Lord offers on a daily basis, before seeking more opportunities.
2. Enter fully into the life of a biblically based local church. Most churches have hundreds of things that need to be done and many people with unmet needs. Volunteering in the local church is an excellent way for an individual to try different kinds of ministry and find out what he is good at, what he is gifted at, and what he enjoys doing. It will also give the prospective pastor an opportunity for lots of “on-the-job training.” Anyone who wants to become a full-time minister should have a long history of volunteer and/or part-time ministry in a local church. The experience and accountability that come with such service is invaluable.
3. Become a student of God’s Word. Every Christian should be a student of God’s Word, but, as a pastor, preaching and teaching God’s Word (whether in front of the whole congregation, in a smaller class or Bible study, or one-on-one) is the first priority (see 2 Timothy 4:2). Therefore, the pastor must become an expert in God’s Word.
A brain surgeon must know the human brain and surgical techniques inside and out. A lawyer must study for years and pass the bar exam before being allowed to practice law. An electrician must work under an experienced electrician for years before he is allowed to work on his own. In each of these professions, life, safety, and freedom may be at risk. A pastor deals with something even more important—eternal souls! More than anything else, a pastor must know the content of the Bible and how to properly interpret it. He must then be able to apply the Bible’s teachings and communicate God’s truth in an effective manner.
In many countries, those who want to become a pastor do not have the opportunity for formal education. However, in the United States and the Western world, Bible colleges and seminaries abound. If higher biblical education is available, anyone who wants to become a minister should try to attend an undergraduate Bible college and a solid, Bible-based seminary. Bible colleges and seminaries offer many helpful classes on the practical aspects of ministry (how to do youth ministry, how to conduct weddings and funerals, church administration, etc.), but good preparation for ministry must also include serious, academic courses in Bible and theology. Once in the ministry, a pastor should continue a rigorous study of God’s Word.
In some circles, formal education is downplayed in favor of just “relying on the Spirit.” This can be a mistake. One famous pastor correctly said that, the more you study God’s Word, the more the Spirit has to work with in your ministry. Education is not a substitute for relying on the Spirit, and relying on the Spirit is not a substitute for education. Both are important.
While involved in full-time academic study to prepare for ministry, the student should not neglect steps 1 and 2, above.
4. Meet the biblical qualifications. First Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–8 present the biblical qualifications for pastors (who are also called elders or overseers). These qualifications emphasize spiritual maturity and wisdom in dealing with people and in controlling one’s own behavior. One of the specific qualifications is that pastors/elders/overseers must be men, not women. Of course, there are many other ministry positions that are open to women, including children’s ministry and women’s ministry. Women can also occupy key ministry positions in other Christian organizations.
If the person who desires to become a pastor or minister is preparing through rigorous study of the Word, is biblically qualified and growing in the faith, and is taking all the opportunities that are available through the local church, more opportunities for service will come. These may come through an official job posting from a church that needs to fill a position or in a more organic way as one ministry opportunity leads to another of greater responsibility.