Call to Ministry



Isn’t everybody called?


Is there any such thing as a “call” to church vocations—isn’t everyone called?

What is a “minister?”  Is everyone a minister or are only pastors and priests ministers?  Is there any difference between the “ministry” a pastor does visiting a sick person in the hospital and the ministry a factory worker does visiting that same person?   And, what is a “call”?   Does God call only pastors, preachers and missionaries to a vocation and the rest of us are left to do our own thing in life?  Or does God call all Christians to view their vocation as a calling?  What is “the ministry?” And, what is “the call?”  Here are the terms to help us sort this out:


1. “ministry.”

Ministry simply means serving or “waiting” such as a waiting on tables at a restaurant.  Ministry is helping and serving others, thus at its simplest level ministry includes everything one might do to serve another—from waiting tables, to counseling, to a life in politics, to stamping out quarter panels at an automobile plant… all these jobs provide a service and meet needs.  In this sense everybody is a minister, Christians, Moslems, Buddhists and Atheists.  Ministry at its simplest level is serving—meeting others’ needs.  Every person in the world can do it.  Ministry in its most  general sense is simply serving.


2. “Christian ministry.”

Christians often use the term “ministry’ in a more specific way—to  denote service that is itself Christian—either Christian in content or in motivation.  “Christian in content” would mean the actual service is related to helping a person develop a Christian-based life style or values.  “Christian in motivation” relates more to the person serving than the recipient or the content of the service—that is, a service offered out of a Christian motivation—i.e. “this is what Christians do.”  It might include helping a person stranded beside the road, building a Habitat for Humanity house, or even picking up trash on the road in front of one’s home—and doing these things as a Christian duty.   Thus two persons might be involved in identical sort of flood relief services—one a Christian and another an atheist—but for one it is a Christian ministry.   Indeed it is even possible for two Christians to serve beside each other—and only one be doing it out of Christian motivation!   Christian ministry is a service to others rooted in Christian motivation or is Christian in content—it is also sometimes called the “general ministry”.   Christian ministry is service to others that is Christian in content or motivation.


3. “The Ministry.”

Some believers use “Ministry” yet a third way—to describe the work of a pastor or priest in a full time church vocation—i.e. “The Ministry.”  These Christians often capitalize the word Ministry to indicate the profession of “Ministry” (which a few enter) from the general ministry (which all are supposed to enter.)  A pastor or priest is thus in two kinds of ministry: the general ministry to which all Christians are called, and the professional equipping Ministry in which clergy spend their “careers.”   When Ministry is capitalized it often refers to the ordained or professional ministry—pastors or priests.


4. “Equipping Ministry”

Some believers prefer to make this distinction between the general ministry (to which all Christians are sent) from the specific vocational ministry (for which some Christians are set apart) by saying, “All are called to be ministers, but some are set apart to be equippers of the rest of us for our ministry.”  Using Ephesians 4: 11-12, these Christians list the “Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastors and Teachers” as types of “equipping ministers” who are “called” to “equip the saints” (Christians) “for works of ministry” (that is, general ministry).  In this understanding of things, God and the church set apart some Christians (pastors, priests, apostles) to equip the other Christians for their own ministries.  Folk who prefer the term “equipping ministers” sometimes also use the term “coach” or “trainer” for their (paid professional vocational) Ministers in order to keep the focus on the ministry primarily being in the hands of the laity—and the Minister/pastor/coach is supposed to be equipping everybody else for their ministry at work, at home and at church.  Equipping ministry is “full time Christian work” where pastors or priests prepare the laity for general ministry.


5. “The call” (or “life calling”

When “call” is not capitalized it often refers to the “life calling” or general call from God to all people to live a life of service—to leave the world a better place than they found it—more in line with God’s values.  Every Christian has a “life calling” from God (and, it might also be argued every person—not only Christians alone—has a life calling from God—Christian or not).  Your “life calling” answers one of the deepest question of life—why am I here?   A Life Calling is different than career planning, or even vocational choice—it is about what I need to do with my life to accomplish God’s great plan on earth.  Not merely God’s plan for the church, but His intentions for the whole earth.  That is, God is at work both in the church and the world that His Kingdom might come on Earth—making a world where God’s values prevail.  What is your role in cooperating with God to bring this to pass?  This is your “Life calling.”  A life calling will influence your vocational choices, but it is much bigger than your career or job.  Every person—for sure every Christian—has a “Life Calling” from God.  Finding your life calling may be the most important thing you can do, for it is discovering your purpose for living.  My “call” life calling is what God wants me to do with my life—how I fit in with what God intends to do on earth to bring His kingdom to pass.


6. “The Call”

When “Call” is capitalized it usually refers to a more specific kind of call—the  “Call to full time Christian work” as a pastor, minister or priest—the equipping Ministry.  As outlined above, all people have a “general call” or “life calling”—something God has called them to do in life.  For the professional minister or priest that life calling is often referred to as “a call to full time Christian work.”  It is not higher or better than other callings—but has always been praised in the church as a special call from God. This double use of the terms call and calling can cause confusion among people who often think only pastors or missionaries are called.  Indeed the terms “call” and “vocation” were originally limited only to the priesthood or professional ministry.  But this is changing as the church grows in its understanding of the ministry of all believers, not just the professional priests and pastors.  Out of all Christians with a life calling, God calls some to the equipping ministry—to church vocations where they spend their full time equipping the laity for ministry.  “The call” often refers to the life calling a Minister or priest receives from God—calling them into the professional equipping ministry as a life’s work.


7. “Clergy”

Usually made up of ordained ministers, the clergy is the profession of equipping ministers. 


8. “Ordained Ministry”

Ordination is the rite where the church sets apart a man or woman for a lifetime of the equipping ministry—as pastor or priest or some other ordained professional ministry.  In most churches it is a solemn rite done only after many years of preparation, examination and service as a pastor or priest.  After this the candidate usually must express a certainty that God has called them to a lifetime of equipping ministry.  Ordination is irrevocable for most churches—“once a priest always a priest.”  Ordination grants the recipient authority for life, though the license to practice as a minister may be withdrawn for matters of discipline, the actual ordination is not revoked.  Ordination is a serious matter and should not be pursued for light or temporary reasons like getting some sort of tax benefit.  For Roman Catholics it is considered a sacrament.   For many denominations only ordained ministers may perform marriages or preside over the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Ordination is the process by which the church sets apart a priest or minister for life. 


9. Non-Ordained Ministry

There are numerous opportunities in the church for “full time ministry” that do not require ordination.  Many of these “jobs” may be filled by either an ordained or an un-ordained person.  The title usually reflects the ordination status of the person.  These jobs are usually staff positions.  For instance an ordained person working with teens (or someone on the “ordination track”) would be called a “Youth Pastor.”   A person doing the same work not seeking ordination—would be called a “Youth Director.”  Same with worship:  An ordained person is usually called a “Minister of worship” while the non-ordained staff person might be called “worship leader.”  Non-ordained Ministry includes full time church vocations (usually staff positions) where a person serves as a professional minister but does not pursue ordination.  Non-ordained ministry usually involves staff positions in a church.


10. “Lay ministry”

Since everybody is called to the general ministry as a Christian, churches use “lay ministry” two ways:  For some it means the regular service that every Christian offers (most often related to ministry through the church, though not always).  Others use “lay ministry” for non-ordained ministry (like a full time youth worker at a church).  For instance in a Catholic monastery there are often two kinds of ministers—ordained priest-monks and lay monks.  In evangelical churches lay ministry almost always means the volunteer ministry of the attendees—usually the ministry they do through the church (like teaching Sunday school or working with youth).   Lay ministry is the ministry done by the laity.


11. “Laity”

The “laity” is a collective term for all non-Ordained Christians.  It is used less often in modern American churches because it seems to define people as second-class citizens in the church, raising the ordained minister above them.  However, no better term has emerged and taken hold to date, so we are stuck with “laity” for the time being.  The laity are the non-ordained people in a church.


12. “Vocation”

The term comes from the Latin vocatio summons and vocare, to call.   Vocation was originally used in the 15th century for the call into the priesthood or a religious order.  Originally only those in religious work had a “vocation” or calling – everyone else simply had a job to make a living.  Gradually vocation came to be broadened to include all people and came to mean the work in which a person is regularly employed.  A related term career also emerged in the 15th century from the Latin carraria or road to denote the over all journey one might take through their life’s work.  In recent times, Christians earnest on helping the laity see all of life, including their job or employment as a calling, have again emphasized the use of vocation among all Christians—that is every Christian has a “life calling” (“vocation”) from God and should pursue their work “as unto the Lord. (1 Cor. 10:31, Col 3:17, 23)


So, are you called or Called?   To the ministry or Ministry?  To general ministry or equipping ministry?  As ;lay or ordained?   What would you add to this list to make it clearer?


So what do you think?

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October, 2001. Revision suggestions invited. May be duplicated for free distribution provided these lines are included.

Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury --