Becoming a Pastor: Tests and Exams

 In confessional Reformed churches, there’s a tried and tested way for men to enter the pastoral ministry.  First and foremost we follow the teachings Scripture, specifically those passages that talk about the qualifications for those who are to lead Christ’s flock as overseers.  For example, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 talks about the character of a man seeking to be an overseer in Christ’s church.  He must be self-controlled, respectable, able to teach, sober, gentle, and a mature Christian (among other things).  Titus 1 gives a similar list, including “holding fast to the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9 NASB).

Because of these and other teachings of Scripture, Reformed churches have given various exams to men entering the pastoral ministry.  It is a high and holy calling, and there are very clear biblical requirements for the ministry, so asking the pastoral candidate questions about his life, testimony, conduct, biblical knowledge, and theological comprehension makes sense.  It is against biblical teaching to have unqualified men lead God’s people as overseers.  We certainly wouldn’t want an unqualified pilot fly a plane we’re on, and we certainly wouldn’t want an unqualified surgeon to operate on us.  Similarly, and biblically speaking, we don’t want an unqualified man to preach, teach, and counsel us.  It can – and has! – had disastrous results.

In the years after the Reformation in Geneva, there was a company of Reformed pastors who would disciple ministerial candidates and give them exams to ensure they were fit for the ministry.  Here are a few notes on this from Scott Manetsch’s book, Calvin’s Company of Pastors.

Candidates who had never before served the Genevan church… were required to undergo a series of rigorous examinations as part of the process of election to evaluate their knowledge of Scripture and doctrine, as well as fitness for ministry.  The theological examination regularly lasted for two hours and was usually conducted by Calvin, Beza, or one of the other theologians from the Academy, who probed the candidate’s doctrinal convictions and knowledge of the biblical text.  …Beginning in 1576, candidates were also required to make a public statement that they believed in ‘the doctrine of the holy prophets and apostles, at it is comprised in the books of the Old and New Testaments’ and taught in the Genevan Catechism.  A second examination explored the candidate’s character, assessing his life and morals against the qualifications set forth by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Finally, candidates were expected to preach one or several trial sermons in the presence of the ministers to demonstrate their exegetical and homiletical skills.

Manetsch goes on to note that after the candidate’s exams, the members of the company of pastors would privately discuss the exams.  If the company voted to pass the candidate, one of the ministers would exhort the candidate and remind him of the duties of the pastoral office and also address any concerns they had with his exams.  The meeting was concluded with prayer on behalf of the candidate entering the ministry.

I believe this is a helpful, biblical, and practical method for a man entering the ministry.  It’s for the good of the church, the purity of doctrine, and the glory of Christ!

For more information on this, see pages 81-88 of Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015