The Call to Preach
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was convinced that the work of preaching was not a profession which one decided to take up. His position was, 'A preacher is not a Christian who decides to preach, he does not just decide to do it. It is God who commands preaching, it is God who sends out preachers.' 1This conviction was not unique to the Doctor. Referring to the ministerial office, John Flavel says, 'What daring presumption it is to intrude ourselves into so great and weighty an employment without any call or warrant of Christ.' 2
Similarly, C. H. Spurgeon declares:
No man may intrude into the sheepfold as an under-shepherd; he must have an eye to the Chief Shepherd, and wait His beck and command. Or ever a man stands forth as God's ambassador, he must wait for the call from above; and if he does not so, but rushes into the sacred office, the Lord will say to him and others like him, 'I sent them not, neither commanded them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD.' Jer. 23:32.3
Again he says, It is a fearful calamity to a man to miss his calling and, to the church upon whom he imposes himself, his mistake involves an affliction of the most grievous kind.4
Dr Lloyd-Jones rejected what is called, 'lay preaching'. He was insistent that not all Christians were called to preach. Turning to Acts 8:4-5, he argued that all Christians are responsible to make the Word known, to evangelize. But only those called, as was Philip, are to preach. He goes on to say, 'What "the people" who went everywhere did was, as someone has suggested it might be translated, "to gossip" the Word, to talk about it in conversation. Philip on the other hand did something different; he was "heralding" the gospel. This is strictly what is meant by preaching in the sense that I have been using it.' 5
What Constitutes a Call to Preach?
Lloyd-Jones mentions a number of factors which, when taken together, would assure a person of his call by God to preach. He asks the question, 'What is a preacher?' and goes on to answer that a preacher is a Christian like every other Christian. That is basic and an absolute essential. But such a man is something more than that; there is something further, and this is where the whole question of a call comes in.6
Amongst the things which 'the Doctor' mentions as those which would lead a man to consider the call to preach is:
a consciousness within one's own spirit, an awareness of a kind of pressure being brought to bear upon one's spirit ... then that your mind is directed to the whole question of preaching ... This is something that happens to you; it is God dealing with you, and God acting upon you by His Spirit; it is something you become aware of rather than what you do. It is thrust upon you, it is presented to you and almost forced upon you constantly in this way.7
To some this sense of call may come suddenly and immediately. But with others it is something which gradually develops over time until it becomes, 'The most dominant force in their lives.'  8Commenting on Dr Lloyd-Jones' own call to the ministry his wife, Mrs Bethan Lloyd-Jones, has written, 'In 1925 he had almost come to think that he had been mistaken about his call to the ministry, and he plunged back into his research and medical work. But in 1926 the call returned with power and insistence that he could not resist – nor did he want to.' 9
Lloyd-Jones also mentions the important influences of others in the determination of a call to preach. People who are spiritually minded (and I would suggest those such as a pastor, an elder, or a member of the church where you are in fellowship), having observed you, suggest to you that you may be a person who is being called to preach the gospel. In this context, Andrew Fuller has written, 'Whether we are "apt to teach" is a question on which we ought not to decide ourselves: those are the best judges who have heard us, and been taught by us.' 10Although C. H. Spurgeon agrees, he at the same time says that the opinion of others as to whether one is called to preach or not ought not to be thought of as the final court of appeal. There may be well-meaning and God-fearing Christians who are mistaken in the opinions they express, as Spurgeon himself knew by experience.11
The Doctor also mentioned the necessity of having a concern for others, an interest in them, a realization of their lost condition, and a desire to do something about this. We read of our blessed Lord that when He saw 'the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd' (Matt. 9:36). Jesus then commanded His disciples to pray 'the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest' (Matt. 9:38). The very next chapter shows us that Jesus, having called his twelve disciples, empowered them and sent them out to minister to the people. Let it never be said of any pastor that he is unconcerned about the people over whom he is made a shepherd. Pastors must get to know their people, and this is not possible if they are unwilling to spend time with them.
Psalm 23 shows us that our heavenly Shepherd (who is our supreme example) is ever present with his sheep through the various experiences of life which they encounter. A man called to the ministry will manifest a concern for people before ever he is set apart as a minister of the word.
Lloyd-Jones also mentions 'a sense of constraint. It means that you have the feeling that you can do nothing else.' 12At this point the Doctor counsels anyone to stay out of the ministry if he can, and he argues that only a man called to preach, one who senses that he can do no other, should enter the ministry. I am reminded here of the story of T. W. Medhurst, one of the first students of the Pastors' College founded by Spurgeon. Mr Spurgeon tells us:
When Medhurst began to preach in the street, some of the very precise friends, who were at the time members of New Park Street, were greatly shocked at his want of education, so they complained to me about it, and said I ought to stop him, for, if I did not, disgrace would be brought upon the cause. Accordingly I had a talk with the earnest young brother, and, while he did not deny that his English was imperfect, and that he might have made a mistake in other respects, yet said, 'I must preach, sir; and I shall preach unless you cut off my head.' I went to our friends, and told them what he had said, and they took it in all seriousness. 'Oh!' they exclaimed, 'you can't cut off Mr. Medhurst's head, so you must let him go on preaching.' I quite agreed with them, and I added, 'As our young brother is evidently bent on serving the Lord with his might, I must do what I can to get him an education that will fit him for the ministry.' 13
Dr Lloyd-Jones adds that a man called to preach will have a sense of diffidence, a sense of unworthiness, a sense of inadequacy. The greater the preacher the more hesitant he has been to preach. He argues that a man who feels that he is competent and can do this easily, and who therefore rushes to preach without any sense of fear or trembling or any hesitation whatsoever, is a man who is proclaiming that he has never been called to be a preacher.14The Rev. Paul Cook, preaching in January 1988 at the induction of a pastor in the county of Leicester, England, stated in the course of his sermon, 'One mark of a truly called preacher is that he fears the pulpit. He does not enter it with a hop, a skip and a jump, thinking that he is well fitted to be there.' 15
Finally, Lloyd-Jones says that a man's personal call to preach should be checked and confirmed by the church. He reasons from Romans 10:13-15 that preachers are 'sent'. The church needs to look for those qualities and qualifications that would indicate to her that such and such a man has been called to preach. She must then, in recognition of that call, set that man apart for the gospel ministry. I would add that this might include the provision of books and even assistance toward some formal training. In the early years of my own ministry I benefited much from the Banner of Truth Book Fund. I would encourage churches and Christians friends to support this fund which provides excellent books to needy pastors and theological students.
Qualifications to Preach
It is interesting that in this matter of a man's qualifications to preach the Doctor makes no mention of theological degrees. When he helped establish the London Theological Seminary he made it clear that the seminary was not interested in awarding diplomas and degrees.16While a man would benefit from formal theological training, he believed, the mere earning of a degree does not mean that such a man has been called to preach. The entirety of Dr. Lloyd-Jones' thinking rested upon his conviction that preachers are born, not merely made. His position was that you could never teach a man to be a preacher if he is not already one. He went on to state that if a man was a born preacher you could help him a little – but not much.
Dr Lloyd-Jones did not reject the necessity for study and preparation for the ministry. Quite the opposite is true. He stated that a man must have general training, general knowledge, and experience of life. In the area of special training there must be knowledge of the Scriptures, systematic theology, an understanding of the original languages in which the Scriptures were written so that a man might be accurate in his exegesis, church history and homiletics. He encouraged those preparing for the ministry to read the sermons of Spurgeon, Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. He also recommended the sermons of Samuel Davies whom he regarded as one of the greatest preachers of the United States. He concludes with these words:
The chief thing is the love of God, the love of souls, the knowledge of the truth, and the Holy Spirit within you. These are the things that make a preacher. If he has the love of God in his heart, and if he has love for God; if he has the love for the souls of men, and a concern about them; if he knows the truth of the Scriptures; and has the Spirit of God within him, that man will preach. That is the big thing. 17
This matter of a man's call to be a preacher and therefore a minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is of vital importance for any man considering the Christian ministry. The Christian ministry can be at times quite discouraging, and one may be tempted to quit and to find some other line of work. At such times it is that sense, that conviction that one has been called by God to preach that will enable a servant of the Lord, with the help of God, to keep on keeping on. I close with those well known words of Dr Lloyd-Jones, 'To me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.' May the Lord be pleased to raise up a new generation of men who share this same conviction, and to him alone belongs the glory.