WATCH DRURY WRITE A BOOK.  – THIS IS A TEMPORARY POST   Writer’s first draft of a book to be published by The Wesleyan Publishing House. as  an introduction to the ministry.  This web-posted copy is an early draft of the manuscript and not intended to be used as a final document.  While the editors will catch  minor errors if you see something significantly wrong or missing drop Keith Drury a note at   © 2003 Keith Drury


The Difference:

Calling and Leading



Does God call a person to youth ministry for their entire life—even for when they are 60 years old?  Does God call people specifically to go to Mongolia? When you are working in a church and everything is going great then another church asks you to come there, how do you know if you should go or stay? Does God call people then later change His mind and let them out of their call?  Can you be called to the ministry then later called out of the ministry and called to start a restaurant?


If you are headed into ministry understanding the difference between a calling and a leading is important to you. Even if you use the terms interchangeably you ought to know they represent two different ideas.  What’s the difference?


My calling is an inner conviction from God confirmed by the church that I am commissioned to lifelong vocational service as an equipping minister for the people of God.”   A leading is God’s guidance as to where specifically I should serve and what exactly I will do to fulfill that calling.  A calling is lifelong and general, a leading is usually temporary and very specific.


For instance a person might say, “I’m called to youth ministry.”  What they really mean is “I’m called to lifetime ministry and right now God is leading me to do youth ministry.”   A pastor might say “God called me to come to this church” when they really mean, “God called me to lifelong ministry and had led me to come to this church.”


God’s calling is life long.  It shouldn’t change through life[1].  My calling is what God's wants me to do with my life, everything else is leading.  A youth minister who becomes a regular senior pastor of a whole church in her 40’s would not be denying her call—just getting a fresh leading from God. 


It is really better to say ‘I’m called to the ministry” then specify what God seems to be leading you to now.  For example:


  • “I’m called to the ministry and God is leading me to work with youth.”


  • “I’m called to the ministry and being led at this point into worship ministries.”


  • “I’m called to the ministry and God is leading me at this point toward overseas missions.”


  • “I’m called to the ministry and feel like God is leading me to work with children.”


  • “I’m called to the ministry and believe God’s leading now is toward local church staff ministries.”


  • “I’m called to the ministry and God had clearly led me to come to this Church and this city.”



The call and ordination is from God and life long and unchanging.  A leading of God often changes through life as you move from place to place and shift focus through life.  While it is actually okay to say "I’m called to youth ministry” when you say it you should recognize you are really not speaking of the life long call but a leading for a time.  To get the feel for how these two terms relate here is an example of how the two might intertwine through life.


Jason went with his youth group to a gigantic youth convention right after Christmas during his junior year of high school.  At the convention a speaker preached about “the call” in one of the main sessions.  He used Isaiah 6 and told how Isaiah was called, then reminded the students that the call seldom is so dramatic, but can be just as certain—like falling in love.  “You can know for sure in your heart that God is calling you into the ministry just as certain as you can know for sure you are in love,” he said.  Jason had thought of the ministry as a life’s career since he was a child, but he had gotten really serious about it recently—since his current youth pastor, Mike had come to the church.  Mike had “mentored” him by making his a sort of assistant to the youth pastor in his junior year. Mike had even said, "You’d make a great youth pastor if God ever calls you to it.”



Jason had been pondering the idea of youth ministry.  But he said, “I would never want to be a regular pastor—like doing funerals and stuff.”  When the convention speaker ended the sermon he said, “If you have been sensing a call from God to the ministry I invite you to come forward to say so.” 


Immediately Jason wanted to go forward.  He didn’t hear a voice or anything, he just felt certain in his heart that this is what he should do with his life—“do something like being a youth pastor.”  Jason stepped into the aisle and went forward to stand on the stage with scores of other young people. After the closing prayer Mike was the first to seek out Jason. “Congratulations! I’ve been thinking that God has His hand on you for ministry.” 


Two years later Jason was a college freshman in a ministerial program while working as a volunteer youth counselor in a nearby large youth ministry.  When Jason became a Junior in college he got a part time job 15 hours a week as a student youth pastor in a church of about 100 people.  They had about a dozen youth.  When he graduated from college the youth group was averaging more than 20 teens each Wednesday evening.


Upon college graduation Jason married Jessica and took a church job in Iowa at a church of about 200 (with a youth group of 30 kids).  Two years later Jason was ordained and his youth group now ran over 50 kids.


Jason sensed the need of more training as time passed.  Besides, his wife Jessica (a music major he had met in college) now felt called to the ministry too and also wanted ministerial training.  So, in the summer Jessica and Jason moved to Kentucky for several years of seminary training.  While in seminary Jason was especially attracted to the notion of discipleship and mentoring.  He had been disappointed with the effects of his youth ministry over the last six years—many of the active youth had graduated from their religion when they graduated from high school and went off to college.  He was convinced that a "deeper discipleship foundation” had to be laid under teen’s lives to have a long term effective ministry.  He often heard in seminary classes, “The test of a youth ministry is not this week’s attendance—but how many are attending church ten years later.”


Jason’s interest in discipleship nudged him into courses related to mentoring, discipleship and Christian Education.  He began developing a fervor for discipleship like he once had for general teen ministries.  He still was focused on teens, but his real passion was the discipleship of teens.


In the spring of his senior year at seminary Jason and Jessica developed their resumes together.  They hoped to work together on staff in one church. During mid March a senior pastor from Michigan visited campus to interview students and Jason and Jessica showed up for an interview together.   Everything just seemed to “click.”  They immediately sensed a mission fit with this pastor’s vision and values. And, there were two jobs open at the church!  One position was Minister of Worship (Jessica’s specialty) and the other one Minister of Networking and Discipleship that was Jason’s dream job.  After an April visit to the church and interview with the board they were hired for both jobs and moved to Michigan.


Jason and Jessica loved the church and their work in Michigan.  They both worked hard and both discipleship and worship efforts and the church blossomed.  While in Michigan Jason and Jessica had all three of their children—two boys and a girl.  They wanted to stay in this church the rest of their lives—the people were great and the church was exciting.


But that was not to be.  When Jason was 36 years old his senior pastor was elected to become Michigan’s District Superintendent for his denomination.   That left Jason and Jessica in limbo.  Would the new pastor want them to stay or want someone else?  Several of the board members suggested Jason consider being the senior pastor—but he said, “I don’t think so—I’m really a better staff pastor.”  Time passed and a search committee was named to seek a new senior pastor.  Jason and Jessica were “guaranteed another year no matter who we get.”  The committee could not seem to find a new senior pastor everyone could agree on.  Finally, in August three boards members showed up at Jason’s home one evening.  “We represent the whole board who has decided we want you to be interim pastor for this next year—while we search for a new pastor.”  Jason was not sure—he really liked working for another pastor and not being the lead pastor, but he promised to pray about it.


In prayer Jason felt compelled by God to say yes.  Not because he wanted to do this, but because it seemed like God was asking him to do it.  He agreed and did both jobs for that year—discipleship/networking and senior pastor—supervising himself as one of the staff members (and supervising his wife Jessica too).  He preached more than he was used to preaching though Jessica shared half the preaching load that year.  Jason took on other duties of a senior pastor that were strange to him at first, but he did his best.  The church responded, in fact they grew both spiritually and numerically for the next eight months. 


It was April 15th—Jason would always remember that because his taxes were not done when they came to his office that day.  It as the entire search committee, though his appointment book had only listed the chair of the search committee.  They came into his office and announced,  “We are here because we are unanimous in believing that you are the pastor God wants for our church—and we want you to pray about being the permanent senior pastor here.”  It almost took Jason’s breath away.  He was surprised and shocked—he had only been looking forward to their getting a new pastor so he could return to his full time work in networking and discipleship. But he agreed to pray again about it. 


It took more than a day of prayer.  It was two weeks before Jason felt peace about it—and he sensed in his heart (and Jessica confirmed it) that this indeed was what god wanted him to do next.  Jason became the senior pastor three weeks later with a unanimous vote of the entire congregation—a unanimous vote had never happened in that church before.


Jason built that church for the next 11 years and attracted a staff of other ministers who loved working for him.  Jessica continued to be the church’s worship minister, though when it grew too large to manage they also hired another worship director to work with the details. New people found Christ and the church became known in town as a collection of solid Christians of good character.  Jason’s ministry as senior pastor always seemed to have two marks: a youth orientation   (the teens always sat in the first four rows and loved his preaching) and the church had a strong discipleship emphasis in all the programs and his preaching, both emphases having been developed in his early years of ministry. 


Jason had felt “over his head” when he became senior pastor, so he signed up to work part time on a Doctor of Ministry degree from the same Kentucky seminary where he had graduated earlier.  It took him several years to complete the degree, working periodically in the mornings and once a year for a several week “residency.” He never planned on becoming a college professor or anything, he just said, “I’ve got fourteen attorneys, nine doctors, three principles, a school superintendent, and six college professors in my congregation—I need to be as trained as I can be.”


Jason was 47 years old when the head of the ministry department at a Christian College in a neighboring state called him to ask if he would consider joining the faculty to train future ministers in the practical areas.  “You are the perfect candidate to teach our practical courses: you have youth experience, discipleship experience, and you’ve been a senior pastor.”  Jason was flattered by the invitation.  He loved his church and now loved to preach.  His church had grown to more than a thousand people and they often said his “teaching-preaching” was exactly what they needed to help them grow spiritually.  Jason prayed about the prospect.  Jessica said, “Can you make the switch from preaching to more than a thousand people of all ages to teaching 30 twenty year olds?”    Jason thought he could, but continued to pray.  He just couldn’t get clear guidance on this one.


The opportunity put Jason in such a tailspin that he could hardly concentrate on his ministry.  Finally, in frustration, he picked up the telephone and called Mike his old youth pastor from high school.  Mike was now senior pastor of a medium size church at the other end of Michigan.  “Can I drive over and spend the afternoon with you in prayer?”  “You bet!” responded Mike.


During a long afternoon of "prayer and coffee" with Mike, Jason found peace about his decision.  He found peace the way he had made every other decision to date: he came to an inner certainty that this is what God wanted—or at least was permitting.  Relieved, Jason hugged Mike and said, “You'll never know how much you’ve meant to me all these years.”  He hopped into his car with a smile on his face again.  Punching the speed dial button for Jessica on his cell phone Jason greeted her “Hello” with, “It’s clear now—God came through again—like He always does—I know the answer.”





Jason and Jessica’s story illustrates the difference between God’s calling and leading.  Jason was called into the ministry at the youth convention. Everything after that was a leading.  It was a leading that enabled him to go to Iowa and do youth work.  Based on God’s leading he went to seminary and took the staff job in Michigan.  It was God’s leading that he sought to determine if he should be the interim pastor, and then later if God was guiding him to become a senior pastor.  And it was God’s leading that he was seeking in making the decision abut going to the college to train other ministers.  Likewise Jessica had one call into the ministry that came to her as she worked with worship as a lay person.  In fact Jessica would have a totally separate story here if we were telling her story.


God’s call is a lifetime commission to the ministry.  God’s leading is for guidance as to where we will work with His church and people, and what specifically we will be doing.  God’s calling is lifetime and general; His leading shifts as He guides us through life.  There is one call but many leadings.




Follow up study and application


To Share:

1. Tell about a leading you received from God that was under the umbrella of your calling—you prayed about it and sensed God's guidance on it, but it was a leading not your calling.


2. A leading sometimes comes with a calling so that the two seem to be the same thing.  Tell about your own call and what leading you may have had related to it.


To Discuss:

3. What do you think Jason actually did in the story—his decision was to either go teach ministerial students or stay with his church?  If Jason had listed the pros and cons of both options what would he and Jessica have probably listed for each job?


4. The author of this book like most denominations believes the call and ordination are lifetime and not temporary though some people disagree with that notion.  Discuss this idea.  What you think of it biblically, theologically and historically.


To Do:

5. Draw a "life map" for Jason and Jessica's life together representing all the forks in the road where they had sought God's leading.  Imagine their taking the other fork and where that could also lead—draw in these "alternative futures" on your map.  Discuss what you discovered with someone else.


6. Interview a minister and draw a "life map" for their ministerial life--show all the forks in the road and decisions they faced.  Collect from this minister at least five items of advice on getting the leading of God to share with others.


[1] This book will not deal here with the “what ifs” associated with a mid-life change in career some ministers experience.  Some say the call may not be lifelong at all but a calling pro tem—for a time.  These folk argue that it is normal and natural for a minister to give up their ministry and  switch into another career part way through their life.  This book does not enter that debate since it is written to prospective ministers and not to those already in ministry.  What happens when family matters, personal sin, ill health or retirement make it necessary to leave the active ministry? That must be addressed in a book to active ministers. For this book to new ministers we should say that there is almost unanimous agreement that (like the marriage vows) one should not take the ordination vows without intending to be in ministry for a lifetime.  Marriages sometimes  collapse.  Ordination vows are not always kept.  But for the purpose of this book, to its audience we will consider the call and ordination a lifetime thing.