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 firstname.lastname@example.org © 2003 Keith Drury
What is a “Call” to ministry?
What does it mean when we say a person is “called” into the ministry, or “called to be a pastor?” How can I know for sure I am called (or not called)? What do Christians mean when they say “a call to ministry?”
We could study a variety of definitions of “the call” to the ministry but we’ll settle on this one: “The call 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.”
By breaking down this definition into its parts we will be able to understand what we are speaking about when we say somebody is “called into the ministry.”
The call is an inner conviction from God
While the call comes in a variety of ways (see the chapter on Kinds of Calls), the result is always the same: I become inwardly convinced that God is calling me. At first this call may come gradually. And at times it may be stronger or weaker, but “the call” itself is the inner conviction that this indeed is what God wants me to do with my life. The call might have external elements like signs or outward confirmations, but the call itself is inner—in my heart where God speaks to me, telling me that this is what He wants for me personally. As God prompts and prods my heart, my “inner ear” can increasingly hear His quiet voice convincing me that this is what He wants for me. As I listen to God’s inner prompting—I will probably take some “baby steps” in response to His call. As I take these initial steps, I can become increasingly convinced of the certainty of this call. Eventually this certainty will rise to the level of a conviction—I will be completely convinced this is what God wants me to do with my life. In fact, this conviction will be so strong that I know I would be wrong to pursue anything other than the ministry. This is “the call” to the ministry.
One of the confirmations of a call is its growing nature. It gets stronger, not weaker over time. But the call does not grow in clarity all by itself. A call grows clearer as we respond to what we’ve already sensed. For some the call tumbles in like a thunderbolt from the sky, but for many men and women it comes gradually—starting with a tiny hint or “precursor” from God. Once these hints come, it becomes our turn to respond. Sometimes we might respond by taking a volunteer job at church, or starting to give devotional talks at a nursing home. Once we begin to respond to God’s initial call, He often turns up the volume of His inner voice. When we respond to that increased volume by taking more ministry opportunities (say going on a missions trip, or starting some courses in ministry), God’s voice gets stronger and clearer. While some are called and confirmed in an instantaneous moment, many move through several years of this “dance” with God. He whispers our next move and we respond. With time, His whispering gets louder; I keep responding to that whisper until I am completely convinced of my call.
But what happens if you respond to what you thought God wanted and you do not get an increased conviction you should be going into the ministry? What if you feel less and less convinced? What then? It works both ways. This is why it is so important to get involved in ongoing ministry in a church immediately when you sense the first hints of a call. As you respond to whatever call you already sense, God can either confirm or block your future. Get involved in a couple years of increasing ministry in a church and you will become more and more certain—either more certain that you are not called, or more certain that you are called. This inner conviction doesn’t increase as you sit around and wonder about the future—it usually comes as you get involved in ministry.
The call however does not come from the work itself, but from God—it is an inner conviction from God. There are no vocational tests you can take to tell you what God is saying to your heart. Vocational tests are helpful to show if you are a “good fit” compared to other ministers now serving. And they can tell you how suited you might be to the work of ministry--just like reading this book will do that, but neither will tell you if God is calling you personally. You have to find that out by listening to God’s inner voice then responding by doing more ministry—until the call becomes increasingly an inner conviction from God.
…confirmed by the church
But your call is not just between you and God alone, it also involves the church—the people of God. How can you know for sure that you are not just wishing yourself into the ministry? How can you know if it’s truly God’s voice or just your grandmother’s? You can know this by getting confirmation or blocking from the people of God—the body of Christ—the church. This is the primary way God will confirm your call. He will prompt His people to see your gifts and graces and affirm/confirm your call. If you think God has called you into ministry but you find no church willing to affirm and receive your ministry, then you should seriously question your call. God confirms the call through the Body of Christ. If you sense a call to the ministry and get involved in a church you may hear God’s people affirm that call. As these “ministry affirmations” pile up God will increasingly confirm your call through His people. The ultimate confirmation of your call by the church will be at your ordination service—where the church sets you apart as a minister and leader for life. A call is an inner conviction from God, that it is confirmed by the church.
…that I am commissioned
The source of your inner conviction does not come primarily from other people or your positive experience in church work. Sure, most of us who are called have gotten lots of confirmation from the church (perhaps even before we sensed our own inner call from God!). But despite lots of prodding, nudging, or encouragement from other people, ultimately you must become convinced that it is God Himself who is calling and commissioning you. There will come a time when you are convinced that God is recruiting you—you!—to the ministry. You may feel inadequate. You may feel ill-equipped. You may be scared. You may wonder if God is making a mistake. But a call leaves one convinced that God is saying I want you—for the ministry. The term “call” suggests “come”—the term “commissioned” denotes “sent.” God commissions people to the equipping ministry—he send you to His church, you are his “gift” to the church (see Ephesians 4) A call is sensing that God is sending me, commissioning me. To be called is to become convinced that God is commissioning me.
…to lifelong vocational service
God recruits people all the time. He recruits people to Salvation. He recruits people to service. He recruits people to live a holy life. He even recruits people for a specific task He wants done. So we can honestly say God is recruiting everybody all the time. In fact, God calls everybody to ministry—in the sense that “every Christian is a minister to others.” But the call to the ministry as a lifetime vocation is different than the general call of God that everyone receives. It is an inner conviction that God wants me to serve Him vocationally in “the ministry”—as a pastor, youth pastor, or other professional minister. It is the conviction that I am to spend my entire life—my vocational life, my profession, my daily job, what I do for income—in church work. Having a call from God to the ministry is to know what I plan to do the rest of my life. It is a call to minister and build up God’s people.
Perhaps understanding the term “vocation” itself might help. The term comes from the Latin vocatio “summons” and vocare, “to call.” In the 15th century the term was only used to describe the call into the priesthood or a religious order. At that time, the only people who had a “vocation” (calling) were priests and members of a religious order. Everyone else simply “had a job” to “make a living.” Gradually the term vocation broadened to include every kind of work, and the notion arose that all Christians should consider their work as a “life calling” whether it is in the church or in a factory. When we speak of the call here we are speaking of a lifelong vocation. A call is about spending my entire life in vocational service.
…as an equipping minister for the people of God
The ministry to which you are called is not just to “be a minister” to needy people, though it includes that. The ministry is about equipping God’s people so that they can do ministry. Equipping people means empowering people and leading them. We often call this the “equipping ministry” to distinguish it from the "general ministry" all Christians should be doing. What does an equipped congregation look like? Equipped people are actively involved in teaching Sunday school, serving on missions teams, giving financially, serving the needy, establishing justice and mercy, evangelizing. If you are called you are God’s gift to the church—to enable them to grow and develop. Your ministry is as both “prophet and priest.” As a prophet you speak for God in preaching, teaching and providing wisdom from God. As a priest you represent the people to God in leading rituals, intercessory prayer and leading praise.
The classic Scripture on how a professional minister relates to the people is is from Ephesians 4:11-13
The call to ministry is a call to work with the people of God. The ministry is not a calling to run off as some sort of lone ranger disconnected with God’s church; rather God calls apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and pastor-teachers so that they can equip God’s people. Ministers prepare their people for their own lay ministries. They do this through teaching, advising, counseling, preaching, and by all the other activities a minister does. Why equip the people? The called ministers equip God people to minister to each other so that the people of God will come to the unity of faith in the knowledge of the Son of God. Where does all this lead? That the church will become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The call 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.”
Some common misunderstandings about the call
While we have defined what the call is, there are still some prominent misconceptions. While most people are familiar with what the call is, let’s take some time to discuss what it isn’t:
Misunderstanding #1--"Everybody is called."
have discussed this repeatedly but it bears another pass here. While it is true that God calls everybody to
minister to others, God does not call everyone to the ministry as a profession
and vocation. God has always selected
men and women to serve as priests and pastors—to “represent God to the people
and the people to God.” To be God’s
prophets and priests. While everybody
should do their own work “as unto the Lord” and as a “calling from God,” He
still calls some to the lifetime vocational ministry of equipping and leading
His church. God has chosen no other plan
to accomplish His will on earth but His church.
A life in business is exciting and worthwhile, but Christ was not the
cornerstone of business, but the church. A career in
Misunderstanding #2--"There is one type of person suitable to be called."
Some people mistakenly assume that God only calls one type of person to the ministry—a person who “fits the mold.” Perhaps they have known a particular minister who is very effective. Or they attended huge churches all their life and assume all ministers should have personalities like the “super church” pastors they know best. Such folk might that your “personality doesn’t suit the ministry” or they may scoff at your call. But they would be wrong. They would never have approved of Moses; not only did he stutter, he was also guilty of killing a man in a fit of anger. But God looked past Moses’ lack of communication skills (and even his past sin) when he called him to lead the Israelites. In fact, God seems to enjoy using weak people; “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (I Corinthians ).
Ministry jobs are as varied as the culture and size of a church. There are huge suburban churches that want one type and small rural churches or inner city temples that want a totally different kind of minister. There are senior pastor jobs and staff pastor jobs. There are jobs with adults in nursing homes where you dress conservatively and ministry jobs with youth where you might paint your face blue and wear a baseball hat backwards when you show up to preach. There are ministry jobs planting new churches that meet in living rooms and jobs working with children’s church. There are churches who want a quiet unassuming humble pastor and other churches that prefer an outgoing talkative person who seems more like a salesperson than a pastor. There is no cookie-cutter that fits all ministry types. God’s church is too varied. When God calls a woman or man into the ministry He has a place that person can serve, even if that person does not “fit the mold” of what others think a minister should be like. When God calls a person, He has an audience in mind for them. God knows what He’s doing.
Misunderstanding #3--"The call always comes as an audible voice."
Perhaps the most common misconception of the call is that it comes in an audible voice or through a clear visible “sign” from God. While God does sometimes call people this way, the average call is far less dramatic. Most ministers have received their call more quietly and less dramatically than an audible voice or a sign in the sky. A lack of drama does not mean a lack of certainty. It is important to not compare your own calling with another person’s; likewise, it is crucial to keep from judging another on experience of your own call. To fall in love gradually does not make one’s love less certain than the person who falls in love at first sight. Both can be equally certain in the end—for both “falling in love” and “hearing God’s call” cannot be determined by a test or sign—but must eventually become an inner conviction that is outwardly confirmed.
Misunderstanding #4-- “The ministry” is a human invention not God’s."
Some Christians say there should be no distinction between a lay person and a vocational minister at all. They say that everyone is a minister and the role of a pastor or priest is invented by human beings, not God. They believe every believer should act as their own priest and the church needs no leadership other than the Holy Spirit. The trouble with this notion is that God has never followed these folk’s advice. Rather, throughout history God has repeatedly selected men and women for His service. A vocational minister today stands at the front of a long line of called people—from the Old Testament, through the New Testament up until today. That is what the next chapter is about.
Follow up study and application
1. Share your own sense of calling on a scale of one to ten—ten being absolutely certain and 1 being just barely exploring a call.
2. Describe the most effective minister you know in your life so far—what were they like? What did they do that made them effective?
3. What are some other misunderstandings about the call and the ministry that you can think of that were not listed in this chapter?
4. The Ephesians 4 passage says, ‘God gave” the equipping ministers to the church… this book is mostly about Pastor-teachers. Who are the other three categories—apostles, prophets, and evangelists? Do they still exist today—if so, how?
5. Do a Bible study on “the call” by looking up the term and making a chart showing the best examples of the general call to all people, the special call for a particular task and the call to the ministry.
6. Turn the definition of a call from this chapter into a diagram like the Ephesians 4 diagram—one that will make it easier to remember.