Granted, this desire is only properly present and fulfilled when joined to a giftedness to teach and administrate, a godly character, and the confirmation of the church in ordaining such a man (cf. 1 Tim 3:2–7). Without these qualifications, one’s desire should actually be for another to pastor in his stead.
Those things aside, however, what is the nature of the desire to be a pastor?
1 Timothy 3:1 helps us to answer that question: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (ESV).
Using this verse and other passages to shed light upon its meaning, we find some helpful thoughts from the NT about the desire to be a pastor.
It is a gospel desire.
To begin, we see something of the greatness of the desire in the greatness of what is involved—preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We find something of the greatness of the pastor’s desire merely by how Paul introduces his saying: “The saying is trustworthy.” Paul otherwise exclusively uses this phrase to introduce or look back at a memorable statement about the gospel (1 Tim 1:15; 4:9–10; 2 Tim 2:11–13; Titus 3:4–8). Why would Paul use this phrase, then, to introduce something about an overseer? It seems that the function of teaching and preaching the gospel is so intimately tied to the office of overseer that Paul can easily introduce one or the other in the same way. By using this introduction, what is said in Paul’s statement has a ring of the greatness of the gospel.
The greatness of this desire is also shown by the parallelism and climax of 1 Tim 3:1. Paul gives a conditional statement (“If anyone aspires to the office of overseer”) that is followed by a similar-sounding affirmation of the goodness of such a desire (“he desires a noble task”). While “aspires” overlaps with “desires” to some degree, the more noticeable change from “overseer” to “noble task” highlights the greatness of the task. Moreover, though “noble task” is a phrase taken from otherwise simple Greek words (kalos, meaning “good” and ergos, meaning “work”), the cadence and climactic position of this phrase in Paul’s saying helps the reader to see beyond its simplicity. Rather, the overseer’s office is imbued with a grand, gospel goodness. This is why some English translations can’t help but to call this otherwise “good work” something greater and indeed, “a noble task.”
It is a compelling desire.
We also see something of the greatness of the desire in the sense that it is a compelling desire.
The verb “aspires” (oregō) is used elsewhere to speak negatively of a false teacher’s “craving” for money (1 Tim 6:10) and positively of the faithful’s “desire” for a heavenly city (Heb 11:16). In both instances, there is an aspiration for something that drives the whole of one’s life, for better or worse. To aspire to the office of overseer is certainly something for the better and similarly drives the whole of the pastor’s life.
Likewise, the more frequent verb “desires” (epithumeō) has many uses that illustrate the intensity of this desire. This verb can be used to refer to a sinful desire for women, riches, position, or anything in general (Matt 5:28; Acts 20:33; Rom 7:7; 13:9; 1 Cor 10:6; Gal 5:17; James 4:1–2). When in the midst of judgment, unbelievers will desire death (Rev 9:6). The starving prodigal son desired the husks of the pigs (Luke 15:16), and Lazarus desired what would fall from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:21). Used positively, a desire can be for the perseverance of others (Heb 6:11) or a desire to see and understand the fulfillment of God’s Word in Jesus Christ (Matt 13:17; Luke 17:22; 1 Pet 1:12). Christ earnestly desired to eat the Passover with His disciples the night before His death (Matt 22:15).
From the above, we might say that the desire to be a pastor is something of a hunger, a desperation, and, if one was to die tomorrow, it would still be on his list of things to do. The one who has it cannot help but to speak the gospel (cf. Acts 4:20). He will echo Paul and claim, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).
It is an overcoming desire.
This point comes more from concept than it does from the study of words. From multiple texts, we see there is something about this desire that overcomes the difficulties and temptations of pastoral ministry.
The idle, fainthearted, and weak may cause the pastor to groan within (1 Thess 5:14; Heb 13:17). He may have anguish of soul until his spiritual children are mature (Gal 4:19). The pressure of his church may weigh him down from time to time (2 Cor 11:28). His stricter judgment to come may make him hesitant to teach (James 3:1).
Nonetheless, in all of these things, a pastor does not serve at the behest of others but “willingly” of his own volition (1 Pet 5:2). He does not serve for a salary but “eagerly” for an eternal reward (1 Pet 5:2, 4). He does not lead with apathy but “with zeal” to accomplish his goals (Rom 12:8). His character and capacity will carry him through suffering, knowing that the Christ who suffered and strengthens him will one day make things right (1 Tim 3:2–7; Titus 1:5–9; Phil 3:8–10).
I believe that the desire to be a pastor is the greatest desire that a pastor can have. The greatness of this desire comes from its relation to the gospel—the pastor preaches a noble message and thus has a noble task. Looking within, the greatness of this desire is compelling—it cannot be set aside. Moreover, even when things may be at their hardest, the greatness of this desire pushes the pastor on. May God give His pastors an overwhelming desire to persevere in their ministries for the sake of the glorious gospel of Christ!