A Thing of Beauty: The Image of the Vocation of Pastor

Spring Faculty Convocation presented by Golden Gate Seminary Arizona Campus Director David W. Johnson

“If anyone is eager to be a pastor, he desires a beautiful work,” said Dr. David Johnson, quoting Paul in 1 Tim. 3:1, in which Paul used the Greek word kalos to describe the work of pastoral ministry. Johnson, Director of the Arizona Campus of Golden Gate Seminary and Associate Professor of New Testament Studies, spoke at the Seminary’s spring academic convocation. 

He asked his audience of Seminary students, faculty and staff to consider what the Bible says about the vocation of pastor. “The New Testament uses several words to describe pastor, including ‘shepherd,’ ‘pastor,’ ‘overseer,’ ‘bishop’ and ‘elder.’ 

“Certainly one of the most compelling images of the pastor is as shepherd,” said Johnson. “And the image of God as shepherd informs the role of pastor.” He provided several Old Testament verses as examples of how the image is as ancient as the profession of watching over a flock or herd. He also noted how the New Testament identifies Jesus as the messiah fulfilling the image of shepherd. 

“If being a pastor is such a beautiful thing,” Johnson asked his listeners, “why does it seem there are fewer responding to the call to be pastors today and why are so many negative things said about this vocation?” 

Johnson noted evidence through his research that fewer people are choosing to become pastors. He said that the total number of students entering seminary and master of divinity programs has declined recently and fewer are choosing to enter the ministry at this point in time. 

“What can churches, seminaries or denominational structures do to encourage the vocation of pastor?” asked Johnson. He offered four suggestions. 

“First, create understanding of ‘calling’ and ‘vocation’.” Johnson explained that “God’s call includes three distinct aspects: a ‘universal’ call to Christian service for all believers, a ‘general’ call of some believers to ministry leadership, and a ‘specific’ call to a unique ministry assignment or particular ministry position.” 

Second, be honest without being negative. He urged pastors, professors and mentors to help those entering the pastorate through teaching, sharing personal experience and providing useful and needed resources. 

Third, call attention to the benefits. Johnson noted that “when many pastors look back on a life spent in pastoral ministry, they feel a sense of satisfaction that their lives have made a positive difference in the lives of others.” 

The fourth suggestion Johnson offered was to “uphold the biblical images of the vocation of pastor.” He said that “while there is much to be learned from leadership principals of the business world, at times this sends the wrong message to those considering the vocation of pastor.” 

“Let us encourage the brightest and best to respond to this calling to give their lives in the service of the Lord and His church,” Johnson concluded. “And let us pray that God will raise up a great generation of pastors to shepherd His church until He comes!”