by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
The bible says that “plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). God has plans for each of our lives. But it takes wise, godly advisers to help future ministers discern and fulfill these plans. Pastors, elders, and other leaders of local churches — You can be those wise counselors that will help your people find and fulfill God’s callings upon their lives.
Acts 13:1-3 names five local church leaders in the Antioch church. In verse 2 we see the Holy Spirit’s call of two of them, Barnabas and Saul (later named Paul), to go forth in apostolic ministry (see Acts 14:4, 14). In Acts 13:3 we see those same local church leaders (including Saul and Barnabas) fasting and praying before sending the two men forth to their God-given ministries. An important fact to be seen here is that a calling even as important as apostleship was a matter that was discerned, judged, prayed about, and implemented entirely within the local church at Antioch.
Likewise in your local congregations, pastors, elders, and other church leaders can help your people identify and enter into their God-given ministries. A big part of this process is vocational counseling (from the Latin infinitive “vocare” = to call). For many years I was the vocational counselor to the men in our church's bible college. In a context of prayer and looking to the Lord for wisdom, the vocational counselor should help the counselees discern three very important things: (1) their calling from the Lord; (2) the timing for being sent out to pursue that calling; and (3) the geographical place of the calling. Note: you do not have to be a professionally trained counselor to help your people identify their callings. All those in church leadership who are filled with the Spirit, well versed in the Scriptures, and sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit are well qualified to counsel those who are seeking to discern and prepare for their ministries.
A Christian’s ministry calling is consistent with the specific “grace of God given” to him or her. The counselor’s job is, very simply, to help your people perceive correctly the God-given ministry grace in their lives.
Let me share a remarkable story of how my own calling to be a bible teacher became evident to me and to my pastor. In 1971 I was a young Christian, and my pastor invited me to share my testimony on his TV show, “Life in the Son of God,” in Anchorage, Alaska. As the pastor stepped back on camera to close the show, he asked me, “Jim, has the Lord been speaking to you about your calling?” I replied that, yes, He had been speaking to my heart about a ministry of bible teaching. The pastor replied that, as he had been sitting off camera watching me share my testimony, the Holy Spirit had clearly spoken to his heart about me becoming just that — a bible teacher. This was all happening unrehearsed and on camera. After the TV show, he and I went to lunch together and he began counseling me about the call of God. And a little over three years later, I was ordained in that church, by the laying on of hands of the church's elders, into the Ephesians 4:11 ministry of bible teacher. In those three intervening years, my pastor and his associate pastor had had much input into my life in preparing me for my calling. And this was all done within the context of the local church. I was not sent away somewhere else for training.
1 Peter 4:11 (KJV) tells us to minister “…as of the ability which God giveth.” An important goal of vocational counseling in the church is to help the counselee to determine exactly what are his God-given abilities. In my role as the vocational counselor to the church men, I often suggested to them that they make a list of their (1) abilities and (2) lack of abilities. This can be very revealing. Then the counselor, as he gets to know the counselee better, can help him “…to rate his ability with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3, Amplified).
I must emphasize here that 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9 are two lists of characteristics that must be found in those aspiring to church leadership. The counselor should be careful to assess the ministry candidate to make sure that he is not notably failing in any of these required qualifications for those in ministry. As the old saying wisely declares, we are looking for ministers who have both “character and charisma.” Too often reproach has come upon Christian ministry because someone with lots of what appears to be charismatic giftedness is put into ministry, only to fail later in the area of godly character. It is vitally important that the pastor or other vocational counselor discern carefully that the ministry candidate is a person of godly character according to the apostle Paul’s lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
And pray much for those you are counseling. Ask God for wisdom and guidance. Since a person’s calling comes from God, we need the Holy Spirit’s revelation and insight to see the candidate’s calling from God’s perspective.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV) says that there is “…a time to every purpose under the heaven.” God has plans and purposes for our lives and our ministries. And He has a timing for it all.
1 Timothy 3:6 (KJV) says that a spiritual leader must be “…not a novice…” Don’t push a man into his ministry prematurely. In my experience, the majority of men who miss God’s timing for the call on their lives miss it on the early side, rather than being too late. There is an understandable natural desire to be about the Lord’s work. But the right timing is very important. Recall that Jesus was 30 years old when he began His public ministry. Mark 1:14-15 (KJV) documents His first public preaching — …Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Interesting…there was a “time” even for the Son of God to begin His ministry, thereby reaffirming how vitally important it is that we discern God’s precise timing for being launched into our God-given callings.
Let’s look at the examples of the apostles Peter and Paul. Peter was a Jew from Galilee in Israel. He had grown up in the languages and culture of Israel. And his ministry remained primarily in the nation of Israel. Paul was a Jew also. But he was a Greek-speaking, highly-educated Roman citizen from Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia.
We see in the Book of Acts that both Peter’s and Paul’s ministries were predominantly in places where they were “at home” — Peter primarily in his native Israel, and Paul mostly to the Roman provinces north and west of Israel, and eventually to Greece and Rome. Both these men had very effective ministries where they were familiar with the languages and the cultures. In fact, Paul himself was a natural-born citizen of the Roman Empire.
That of course does not mean that we can only minister in familiar places. The commission to those early disciples was: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” History records the apostle Thomas taking the Gospel as far as India, a nation previously unfamiliar to him. There are many other similar stories both in ancient times and modern days of God’s people taking the Gospel to foreign lands, learning the languages and culture, and effectively reaching people for Jesus Christ.
However, twenty centuries of church history have passed. And we have seen that the apostolic pattern of Peter and Paul is generally the most successful one — that is, ministering in areas where you know the culture and speak the heart language of the people. That motivates me to make a heartfelt appeal to church leaders in the nations of the world: to pastors, teachers, elders, evangelists, other church leaders, and all Christians living in India, China, Russia, Ethiopia, Poland, Brazil, Chile, and every nation I say: You can reach your people for Jesus! You speak their language, and everyone loves to hear the Gospel in their own “heart language.” You know the local cultures and ideas and ways of thinking and acting. You are probably known by and already have a credibility among many of the people of your village, city, or region. You can train ministers right there in your church. You can assemble and send forth church-planting teams to win your nation to the Lord Jesus Christ!
As I have already mentioned, (click the next link), it is not difficult to start a bible school in your church. If you feel that you need additional help in training and sending teams to plant churches, I recommend to you the outstanding ministry-training curriculum of the International School of Ministry (ISOM). This excellent, Spirit-filled, biblically based video teaching as of 2015 had more than 17,000 schools in more than 75 languages and 146 nations of the world. For free information on how this video teaching might be a blessing to your ministry training efforts, please click ISOM. [Full disclosure: I receive no financial benefit from ISOM]
We have now completed Part Three, “Counseling of Future Ministers in the Local Church.” Please continue on by clicking the next topic, Part Four below, in our series on Church Planting by Teams.
Part One — An Overview of Church Planting
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©2016, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.