Pastors Must be Called and Sent by God
Having an increase of 3,000 or 5,000 new believers in one single day was quite common during the Early Church Period. The cause for such a dramatic growth was not only the work of the Holy Spirit, but also the messages of the apostles. Unlike the false prophets in the Old Testament whom God "did not send...or command," and who did not "furnish this people [the Israelites] the slightest benefit" (Jer. 23:32)-the apostles were sent by God and had the presence of God. The messages they preached pierced people's hearts, causing them to worship God and proclaim that God was truly among them (ref. 1 Cor. 14:25).
In recent years, I have had ample opportunity to preach to different Chinese churches at home as well as abroad. Through these occasions of involved contact and observation, the one conclusion that can be drawn for the stagnation in many churches is: Their pastors have yet to learn the art of preaching in a way that can satisfy the spiritual needs of their congregations.
Not too long ago, when I was preaching at a Chinese church on the East coast, the leaders of that church commented, "If our pastor can preach a sermon with substance only once every three months, we will be content!" Can a pastor who is incapable of such preaching and such feeding be called and sent by God? The answer, unfortunately, is obvious.
Years ago, a professor of Systematic Theology from a seminary on the West coast made this remark: "I think teaching and preaching are exactly the same!" I could not disagree more. Teaching and preaching belong to two totally different categories. As a seminary professor, he could not even differentiate between teaching and preaching. Can his students preach then? Again, the answer is a clear "No."
Standing at the pulpit, many seminary graduates of today can only give a lecture, but not preach a message. A pastor who does not know how to preach is likened to a chef who does not know how to cook! It is simply a fantasy to think that a restaurant with an unskilled chef will have a booming business.
A pastor has to be sent by God and be gifted in preaching before a church can have any growth. Otherwise, that pastor may need to consider another livelihood, so as to avoid deceiving himself, misleading others and, later, being judged by God.
A Pastor's Qualification
The qualification of a pastor, in fact, does not depend on whether he has a Master of Divinity degree or a Doctorate of Theology, nor does it matter whether he is trained as an apprentice or trained at a seminary. Rather, it is paramount that he has God's calling and gifts. The Bible says,
How shall they preach unless they are sent? (Rom. 10:15)
The personnel for the kingdom of heaven are not volunteers (ref . Matt. 8:19), but an elite task force selected and called by God Himself! If on top of God's calling and gifts, a pastor also has seminarian training, then, of course, that would be superb. It would be like a beautiful peony being decorated with jade green leaves, each bringing out the beauty of the other.
The desolation in the Church of the last days is not due to the lack of pastors, but an abundance of pastors who serve without God's sending. Since they are not sent by God, how can. they expect God to be responsible for them and provide them with His message? Not only is God not responsible, but He may also be against them (Jer. 23:30-31).
A Pastor's Foremost Task
The foremost task of a pastor is not visitation, but the distribution of spiritual nourishment to his congregation. It should be given at the proper time and according to their capacities, so as to sustain their spiritual needs. In addition to preaching on fifty-two Lord's days, there are other small meetings as well. A pastor therefore should have at least a hundred messages prepared each year for any contingency. If he does not have continuous provisions from God, the mere "canteen of water" collected from the seminary will soon run dry, and he will have no more messages to preach. His only choice is either repeating the same message again and again, or moving on to another church. Pastors who are truly sent by God should have an inexhaustible well of living water that they can draw from. Jeremiah has said, "They [God's lovingkindnesses and compassions] are new every morning'' (Lam. 3:23). Praise the Lord!
Because of famous chefs and delicious food, many five-star restaurants in America are always packed, regardless of their remoteness. The same is true for a church. If a pastor receives his message from God every Lord's day, the sermon he preaches will make a significant difference. It will reveal the innermost secrets of the unbelievers so that, with humility, they will fall on their knees to worship God. It will also renew the minds of the believers so that gradually they will have the likeness of their Creator. Such a church will naturally grow, day by day.
Among all pastoral duties, the most difficult and most important task is to know, without doubt, the message God intends for him to preach each Lord's day. Sometimes, with God's blessing, the message may come on Monday, and then that week will be the most enjoyable week. But sometimes, even by Thursday, the message to be preached is still unclear. H the latter is the case, then the pastor should fast and pray fervently before God on Friday. Our spiritual awareness is often unblocked as soon as we start fasting and praying, and the message God intends will become crystal clear. This is speaking from my personal experience. Dear co workers in Christ, please give it a try!
A Pastor's Remedy
To those pastors who are uncertain of God's calling, I sincerely suggest the following as a remedy. Our Lord Jesus said, "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers..." (Matt. 9:38). This verse teaches us to pray to God if we want Him to send out workers.
The church I first pastored (in 1933) was a small one whose congregation constantly fought against one another. Following Sunday service each Lord's day, the two parties would pound on the table fighting and accusing one another as a matter of course. After pastoring them for half a year and seeing no improvement in sight, I started to doubt if I was called and sent by God. I began fasting and praying to God earnestly. One day, in a vision, I saw an angel summon me to an examination. After the examination, this angel told me, "You have passed. God has called you to preach to the world, that they may be convicted concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment." From that moment onward, not only have my sermons been empowered by the Holy Spirit, touching those who listen, but God Himself has also been in charge of all situations, solving every problem that arises.
Our God is a faithful God! He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. Dear co workers in Christ, if you are uncertain of God's calling, please try fasting and praying to Him directly. He will answer you and guide your way according to His plan.
A Pastor's Deserved Honor
A pastor's own conviction of God's calling is of course essential to the growth of a church, but the congregation's love and prayer for their pastor are of equal significance. I often tell the brothers and sisters of my church, "If you don't pray for me, then, please don't blame me for not being able to preach a good sermon!"
In the past, pastors in mainland China were called "the gentlemen in-charge." To put it bluntly, the title meant "janitors." Pastors received no love, no respect and no encouragement from their congregation, but constant demands for harder work with little pay. The congregation seemed to be saying, ''We want a fine horse that does not eat hay!"
A congregation that disrespects God's servant also disrespects God. How can they expect to have God's presence and have church growth when they are not reverent towards God? On the other hand, when a congregation and its pastor love one another and pray earnestly for one another, then the Almighty God Himself will certainly be with them. It is absolutely impossible for a church that has God's presence not to have growth.