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


Kinds of Calls


Through all of history God has called men and women to stand in the gap to represent the people to God and God to the people.  He still calls men and women to do this today.  The way God calls though has been varied through history and has been different from person to person.  There are at least five different ways a call commonly comes to people today.  Or perhaps we might say five ways one recognizes their call.


1. The Damascus Road Call

This sort of call is certainly the most dramatic and impressive, even though most called ministers today did not experience this kind of call. 


The Apostle Paul’s call

The Damascus Road[1] call is based on the story of Paul’s conversion/call (The apostle Paul apparently was converted and called all at once).   The story is told in Acts 9.  Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians when a light flashed around him from heaven. Christ spoke to him directly, and he wound up temporarily blind.  When Paul tells the story in his trial (Acts 26), he says it was then that God called him to go to the Gentiles to spread the gospel.  A bright light from heaven?  The voice of Jesus?  Knocked to the ground?  Becoming blind?  It took a lot to get Paul’s attention!


Which makes sense.  After all, he believed the Christians were a dangerous sect that ought to be stamped out as quickly as possible.  People like this seldom come to a call gradually!


Isaiah’s call

There is another Bible story like Paul’s—Isaiah’s call (Isaiah 6).  He was in the temple when he had a vision of God’s presence including seraphs, earthquake-like shaking, coals from the altar, and smoke.  He heard the voice of God asking, “Whom shall I send?”  Isaiah responded by volunteering: “Here am I Lord, send me.”   God answered with, “Go and tell this people.”   Vision of God?  Foundations shaking?  Seraphs? Smoke? The voice of God?  This is certainly a “Damascus Road call.”


Charles Finney

One of the most famous Damascus road calls from recent church history is that of Charles Finney.  He was a lawyer who started reading the Bible because he had been employed by a church to defend them in a lawsuit.  While praying in a grove of trees God called him in a dramatic way that transformed his life and he dropped out of law saying, "I have accepted a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead His cause."


Have you had a Damascus Road call?

The Damascus Road call is a dramatic event when a person clearly and unmistakably hears God’s call to ministry.  The Damascus Road call usually is accompanied with a sign, a miracle, or an unmistakable voice of God.  It is what many Christians think all calls are—though it is actually relatively rare among those called into the ministry.  If you have had a Damascus Road kind of call you should have no doubt—you know for sure that God has called you—and you remember the experience vividly.


Why doesn’t God call all of us this way?

Most of us would prefer a Damascus Road call.  It would be so certain, so clear, so definite.  But God does not call every person into His ministry the same way.  Perhaps some need such a call, because they wouldn’t listen to God’s inner voice.  Perhaps God knows it take a powerful whack to get some people to pay attention to Him?  Who knows?  What we do know is this call is relatively rare today—often representing as few as 10% of those called into the ministry.  If you are fortunate enough to have a “Damascus Road call” then you have no choice—into the ministry you must go, with no doubt or questions!


A caution for the non-Damascus Road called.

Which brings up a word of caution.  Those of us who have a less dramatic call often ask God to make it clearer by speaking to us in an audible voice or giving us an obvious sign.  This is okay as long as we do not “tempt” God by forcing His hand to prove something to us.  Like casting dice or “putting out a fleece” like Gideon did it can be a risky way to discover God’s will. As we shall see, God usually confirms His call with a clear and certain “voice;” but, this voice is often an inner inaudible voice, not an external audible voice from God.  Literal audible voices accompanied by lights, smoke, earthquakes, seraphs, or blindness are not God’s usual mode of operation.  God alone will choose when and how He will give you certain confirmation—it is not for you to demand.


The benefits of not having a Damascus Call

Someone who has experienced a Damascus Road Call was simply headed from point A to point D and BAM!  They get called!  A person who does not experience and Damascus Road Call often goes from point A to B to C to D…until they end up at the place where they realize for certain God’s call on their life.  Why is this beneficial?  Although the road they took might have been a little longer, they have picked up a lot of experience and learning along the way.  The journey is part of the training.  And the biggest lesson is often constant listening to God’s voice and continued reliance on His guidance at every stage.


2. The Progressive Call

The progressive call does not come as a thunderbolt but more gradually with a growing certainty until I become absolutely sure God has called me into the ministry.  It is probably the most common call today.


Like the dawning of day

This call comes like the dawn—gradually and progressively until finally it is no longer night but day. Long before the sun rises the night gets “less dark.”  Then the eastern sky becomes a dark gray, light gray, almost-light, and finally the sun rises over the horizon.  A progressive call is like this dawn.  A person might sense a “precursor” to the call long before he or she is certain.  Gradually, the call gets more certain until finally the “sun rises” and there is a bright certainty that God has indeed called me to the ministry. Sometimes the progressive call begins when a person discovers God has gifted them with ministry gifts, then they see the need for their inner gifts in the church, then they start to serve then as they serve their call gets more sure.  However it starts the progressive call eventually comes to surety.


Or like falling in love

Many fall in love and get married this way—progressively.  Sure, there are some people who walk across a college campus, spy a guy and WOW! they know immediately that this is The One—they will marry that fellow for sure.  But most folk do not have such a “Damascus road love life.”  Most of us fall in love gradually, over time, with a growing certainty, until finally our love grows strong enough that we know for sure we want to spend our entire lives together—then we “pop the question.”


Progressive calling and questioning

Those with the progressive call often go through several phases of questioning or even doubting their call.  Some people even get cold feet the night before they are to be married.  Likewise women and men with a progressive call may even have some uncertainty even the day before they are ordained. When people with a progressive call hear stories of other ministers who tell about hearing God’s voice or seeing a sign in the sky, they yearn for similar certainty and clarity of calling. 


Does God know what He’s doing?

Certainly we have to believe God knows what He is doing.  He works with each person according to our needs and His own will for us.   So who are we to dictate to God how He will do His calling?  If you have a progressive call, focus on God’s continual and increasing inner voice—is it getting stronger?   Who knows, perhaps if you had a “Damascus Road” calling you might be tempted to run off and listen less to Him.  A progressive calling forces us to keep our ear to the ground – or an ear to the inner voice of the Holy Spirit as we look for greater confirmation.



3. The call from birth

There are a few ministers who cannot recall a time when they weren’t called.  They were either called at birth or before.  These ministers came early to realize and accept their call—in fact some came to accept it so early in life they can’t even remember a time when they weren’t called.  While it has existed in every era of history it is very rare.



Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1) tells us he was set apart and appointed to be a prophet before he was formed in the womb.  It was his destiny before he was even born.  Thus for Jeremiah it was not so much hearing God’s call, but realizing the call already on his life.



You could argue that Samuel was prayed into the ministry.  Before his mother had even conceived, she prayed, “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and…give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (I Samuel 1:11).  Before Samuel could even move inside his mother’s womb, he may have been set apart for God’s service.


“Discovering” my call

If you have “never known a time when you weren’t called, you may have a “call from birth.”  Some ministers argue that all calls fit into this category.    That is God has already determined who He will call—God’s plan for your life—and the called person does not so much “hear” the call as “discover” it—discovering the vocation God has already set you apart for.  Even if you have another type of call, this notion is worth considering, for it is a shift of mindset in thinking about your call.  However, it could also be that God is more fluid than this—that He watches the battle rage and calls up soldiers and officers for his army as the war progresses. 


People with a call-from-birth sometimes struggle with doubt because they wonder if they “caught their call” from their parents or relatives.  They wonder if their call is simply a result of environmental influences not from God’s plan.  Since they “never considered anything else,” they sometimes explore several alternatives when they get to college before coming to certainty.  But if they were indeed set apart from birth, they almost always return to their original calling more certain than ever.  If you have a “call from birth,” thank God that you were so sensitive as a child that you heard His inner voice early in life.


4. The set-apart-by-the-church call

How does God speak?  Through His Bible most of all—but everyone who reads the Bible is not automatically called.  He speaks personally to an individual by a prompting or inner voice (sometimes while reading the Bible) and thus God can speak directly to an individual.  But God also speaks through other people—especially the collective “body of Christ” gathered as His church.  Occasionally God calls people to the ministry through His church, and they set apart an individual who may not sense the call personally yet.



Perhaps Barnabas fits this category.  He is a solid Christian when he first appears, selling a piece of land and giving the proceeds to the apostles (Acts 4:36).  The apostles in Jerusalem than apparently set him apart for a special mission: checking up on the Gentile revival in Antioch (Acts 11:25). He recruits Paul to join him and eventually the church in Antioch sets apart Paul and Barnabas and sends them out on the first missionary journey.  Here the church (first the Apostles in Jerusalem, then the leaders in Antioch) “set apart and send out” Barnabas as a missionary-apostle.  Some ministers first began realizing their call when “old saints” in their local church spoke to them, or others already in ministry urged them to consider a call.  Sometimes God speaks through other people—especially through his local body of Christ.  After all, who would you trust more: an individual listening to God or a group of committed believers listening to God?  Ambrose is a similar example of such a call from church history.  He was a provincial governor and lay person who was swept into the office of Bishop by popular demand and against his own desires yet was an effective bishop and later led Augustine to the Lord.


The corporate element in all calls

When we think of a set-apart-by-the-church call we are focusing on the kind of call that comes when God speaks through the body of Christ—his church on earth.  Sooner or later the recipient of such a call would want to come to a personal certainty about their call. We shall see later that all kinds of calls have a corporate element—the church confirms a call, even if it is received completely privately and personally.


Is your call a set-apart-by-the-church call?

Sometimes a person can’t hear God’s voice as well as others can.  Perhaps a saint who has walked with God for 50 years can sense what He is saying better than you can. God will sometimes use that person or group of people as a mouthpiece. If you have had a minister or dear saint in your church urge you to consider the call, you might be hearing a “set-apart-by-the-church” calling.  Perhaps God is speaking through the body of Christ to call you.  But just because people think you ought to go into the ministry won’t be enough for you.  You’ll have to join their affirmation with your own personal conviction—the set-apart-by-the-church call is often just one way we start to hear God speak.


5. The open door call. 

An “open door” call is when a person who has ministry gifts comes to an “open door” of ministry.   They walk through it and their ministry leads to yet more ministry until they (in the experience of ministering) come to sense God is calling them to do this very work for the rest of their life.


Missions trips

This often happens to young people on missions trips.  They experience a high water mark of ministry in their life, and while they are seeing fruit multiply, they sense that this is exactly what they are being called to do for the rest of their life.  It is not so much that the situation called them, but while they are in the situation (by walking through an open door) they come to hear God call.


Close association with a pastor.

This sort of call also happens to people who come to be closely associated with a pastor or other local church ministers, particularly “preacher’s kids.”  Such young people get extra opportunities to see what “ministry really is like.”   They get early opportunities to serve, lead, and speak.  They see the remarkable fruit of ministry—changed lives, a loving sense of community, and people helped in their growth toward Christ likeness.  While they are in the midst of such an atmosphere, they sense God speaking to them—“This is what you should do with your life.”   While this call is often combined with other kinds of calls, it is a very common experience for many young people who are closely associated to the actual ministry.  An open door alone does not make a call—but when we step through it God sometimes speaks to our heart convincing us that indeed He is calling us.


A Combination of several kinds

If you ask a hundred ministers about their call you’ll discover that most can’t fit the story of their call into just one of the above categories.  They will say their call was a combination of several “kinds of calls.”   God is a God of infinite variety, and His call comes to people in a variety of ways.  For a few it may come as an audible voice or sign.  For others it may come progressively as a growing inner conviction.  For still others it may come first from other people in the church or even through an open door of ministry experience and then later as an inner conviction.  But for most it comes as a combination of several of these avenues.  The call to ministry is an inner conviction from God confirmed by the church that I am commissioned to lifelong vocational service ad an equipping minister for the people of God.


Certainty of a call.

The call may come in a variety of ways, but eventually the called person must be able to say with certainty: “God has called me.”  There may be times of equivocation or doubt.  At times the call may be stronger or weaker, but over time, if you are truly called, the inner conviction will become a certainty.  By the time you are ready to be ordained it will be a lifetime certainty—you will know this is what God has prepared for you.



Follow up study and application


To Share:

1.  If you are sensing a call to ministry tell your own story related to one or another of the kinds of call.


2. Do you know anyone else’s story of their call to ministry—if so share that story.


To Discuss:

3. Does God change the way he calls people according to the culture and expectations of the day? That is, when the culture expects more dramatic calls does God accommodate to that expectation?


4.  This chapters outlined several kinds of calls, but it might have termed them several kind of ways we hear God’s call.  That is, perhaps there is only one kind of call—an inner certainty of God’s commissioning and the “kinds” of calls are really ways we hear the call.  If so, what other ways can a person begin to hear God’s call besides those listed in this chapter?


To Do

5. Interview an active or retired pastor and get the story of how they became sure of their call—be able to tell their story to others.


6. Make a drawing or chart gathering together on one sheet in a visual way all the content of this chapter—including the kinds of calls and other insights.


[1] I am indebted for the basic paradigm of these kinds of calls to the work of Dr. Lee M. Haines and Dr. Bud Bence.