Calling is a difficult concept because it is primarily subjective. I don’t know anyone who entered church ministry because they awakened at night and God said,
“Get on your feet. You’re going to seminary.”
So, how does someone discern whether God has called them? Further, how does someone determine whether their call is to church ministry?
First and foremost: God is sovereign. He calls individuals to serve in His Church for His purpose. God does not consult with church councils before calling someone to become a minister in His church.
Sovereignty means that education, talent, or personality are not relevant qualifiers to God. He does not depend on strength or ability to accomplish His Will. This reality is both freeing and humbling at the same time.
Jesus bypassed the educated, eloquent scribes and Pharisees to choose those ignored by the religious community. Peter knew more curse words than scripture verses. Matthew loved wealth and cheating people on their taxes more than kneeling in prayer.
Don’t misunderstand. God is not against seminary, but education can only complement calling, never replace it. The apostles were thoroughly unqualified to become spiritual leaders by today’s standards, yet they changed the world forever through their ministries.
Does anyone honestly believe that Peter could graduate from any of our religious institutions today? Yet, Peter used the keys Christ gave him to initiate the church age and later expand it to the entire world.
YOUR WHY MATTERS
Motivation plays a crucial role in calling. People desire to become pastors or church leaders for many reasons. Not all of them are laudable.
Sometimes individuals pursue ministry to gain personal affirmation or recognition. One perk of serving as a pastor or ministry leader is the thrill of public speaking. It is a privilege to impact lives through preaching and teaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Sensing God’s Presence with you while you speak is extraordinary.
On occasion, people will approach after I preach to compliment me on a concept presented in my sermon. That is always a nice feeling. However, if I crave that affirmation, something is broken within me that ministry cannot fix.
Church work is difficult and challenging at times. If you’re not genuinely called to it, ministry can become a very disappointing vocation. You learn quickly that some people praise you to your face but criticize you behind your back. If you got into ministry for affirmation, you are more likely to get the stuffing knocked out of you than be praised for all your hard work!
By contrast, someone who is called by God understands that people are fickle. They don’t serve to gain love or acceptance. They help people to express God’s love and carry out His directives.
Ministers get plenty of practice loving the unlovely, blessing those who hate them, serving the unthankful and encouraging those who disagree with them. They do this from a love for Christ and a desire to advance the Kingdom.
As a pastor or church leader, people will say and do things that will disappoint, annoy, - even anger you at times. God uses the weaknesses of people to train ministry leaders to be free from seeking human praise like the Pharisees. God wants his representatives to serve Him, irrespective of how people respond.
THE REVEREND DR. BISHOP
Similar to craving recognition, some pursue ministry leadership to gain a title. They want to be called, “Reverend,” “Pastor,” or even, “Bishop.”
What I am about to say will upset some of you, so let me ask you to forgive me ahead of time. Here goes: Nowhere in scripture are pastors or ministers titled. In fact, there is not a single instance where early church leaders are addressed by titles such as Apostle Peter, Prophet Agabus, Bishop Timothy, or Evangelist Apollo.
The New Testament describes apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers as functions, not titles. If you fail to understand that, you will misunderstand the nature of all callings.
In our culture, you can acquire a doctorate by attending a graduate school. That achievement qualifies you for a name change. You’re no longer John Rodriguez. You are now Dr. Rodriguez. Education changes how the public addresses you. If you graduate medical school, people no longer refer to you as Jeff Greenberg. Now you are Dr. Greenberg.
We adopt the same practice for clergy. Upon graduation from seminary or Bible School, church leaders get a Reverend in front of their names. I suppose that is better than Divine.
There is nothing ostensibly wrong with titles per se. A designation identifies your vocation to people who need to know, such as a receptionist at a hospital. Unfortunately, they can also create ego issues when inappropriately emphasized.
True pastors excel at doing pastoral or shepherding work. They carry out the daily labor of equipping, training, and leading congregations to serve Christ. Pastors love and feed others through preaching and counsel.
True evangelists excel at consistently winning people to Christ. They train fellow believers to do the same. You’re not an evangelist because you get a new business card. The results demonstrate what God has called you to do on His behalf.
Ordination occurs when established leaders unite with others to verify a candidate’s calling into church ministry. Those validating a candidate must discover evidence that they excel at whatever they are called by God to accomplish.
Ordination does not bestow ability onto unqualified candidates. Instead, it confirms that someone is already doing the work God charged them to undertake. Leaders partner with God to ordain a candidate for public assignment to that calling. Such an occasion is humbling. Titles should be used sparingly if at all.
I have several friends with doctorates in various fields. They are qualified to be addressed as Dr., but few of them demand to be titled this way. I honor and recognize their achievement, but still call them by their first names. It is not because I disrespect them, but because their significance to me is not their title or achievement, but our relationship.
Jesus spoke about those who desire the title of rabbi, teacher, or father. He criticized the clergy of his day, saying that they don’t practice what they teach and concludes: They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.
During an exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus turns to the future leaders of His Church to warn them. He instructs the apostles to steer clear of trying to gain recognition, praise, or honor from people by seeking titles. He notes how the Pharisees used titles to promote their importance.
Pastors and church leaders deserve godly respect. Paul charged the Thessalonican congregation to respect and appreciate their leaders for the work they do. Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work.
Respect is appropriate. I am not initiating a new crusade against titles, but we need to get real about who we are as pastors and church leaders.
I am an ordained minister. I own the reverend title, but seldom if ever use it. If I need the title to get respect, something is deficient in my character.
Unfortunately, we live in a day when you can attend a seminary, (in person or online), complete a course of study, earn the title of Reverend but remain an atheist!
There are seminaries throughout the world which pay professors to teach that scripture is irrelevant and outdated. Men and women graduate from religious institutions embracing beliefs contrary to fundamental Christianity. If a diploma qualifies a calling, we are in deep trouble.
Several years ago, I met a minister educated in the finest institutes of learning in the world. He held several degrees; could speak five languages fluently and knew his denomination’s theology inside and out.
I met him at the altar of a small church where he publicly acknowledged he did not know God and wanted to invite Jesus into his heart! Among his peers, he had a sterling reputation but knew deep down that his training did not qualify him to minister.
THE NATURE OF THE TASK
To do ministry correctly, you will spend a lot of time alone with God. Your calling drives you to study scripture, pray, and learn to discern God’s purpose and direction for your congregation.
Daily, you will serve the needs of other people in a hundred inconvenient ways. The word minister comes from the Greek word, doulos, which means “servant” or “slave.” You are God’s servant doing His bidding. That often means going unrecognized and unappreciated.
Other groups of people become attracted to the ministry because of laziness. They view church work as a comfortable living. After all, we only work on Sundays!
Most don’t see the hours spent:
Visiting the sick
Resolving conflict with congregants/ board members
Time comforting the hurting
… and the hundred and one other demands on your time.
Like any vocation, some ministers waste time, but lazy pastors don’t last long. The principle of sowing and reaping catches up fast, and the realities of life drive them to seek other vocations.
Finally, some think they should be in ministry because they enjoy the thrill of public speaking. Preaching isn’t as easy as seasoned ministers make it look. Anyone can flap their gums behind a podium. To speak for God and with God is a rare skill.
A silver tongue is not required to become a spokesperson for God. The Bible is replete with those who were not the most polished speakers yet had something significant to say.
I’ve known ministers who had no fear of public speaking but never said anything worth hearing! Don’t assume the gift of gab verifies a call.
SEVEN INDICATORS GOD HAS CALLED YOU
You genuinely love God. You think about and dream about the church; not only your local church but the church as a whole.
When God calls you to church ministry, the scriptures, (mainly the letters to Timothy and Titus) stir your heart. Since Paul wrote these letters to church leaders, you find yourself wanting more understanding of His insights.
I knew God was calling me to ministry as a teenager. After encountering Christ, I changed from being an occasional reader to a voracious consumer of Christian books, articles, and magazines. I couldn’t get enough.
My passions centered on teaching, preaching, pastoring, and church-related subjects. I didn’t have an ambition at that time to pursue ministry as a vocation. I just loved everything in scripture related to leadership and church.
A calling from God is accompanied by a great hunger to serve God with little concern about positions or fame. You want to please the Lord.
A strong desire to help people. It makes little sense to become a church leader if you don’t have a passion to better the lives of others. Calling means you have matured beyond a self-centered outlook on life.
There is a vast difference between calling and separation. Just because you show signs that God is calling you doesn’t mean you are ready to launch out into full-time ministry.
God called Paul on the road to Damascus, but he was separated to do the work of ministry years later in Antioch. There is a time-frame between the initial calling of God upon your life and a release to begin the work.
People naturally come to you for advice, counsel, or help. You are the person people seek to find solutions to their problems or direction in life. They look to you for encouragement or comfort. All these activities are what spiritual shepherds do.
The gift of leadership is evident to others. People follow your guidance. If you turn around and no one is following you, it is doubtful you are called to lead!
People follow because they realize that you have given your time and energy to meet their needs. Bold people sometimes mistake confidence for leadership, but that is not always true. Confidence without anointing is merely cockiness.
Meaningful results (Fruit). God works with and alongside you to relieve people of stress and help them feel whole again. Your input or actions solve challenges.
If God has called you to become an evangelist, you regularly encounter people when they are ready to receive Christ. That doesn’t necessarily mean you are called to full-time evangelistic work, but it indicates God has gifted you in that direction.
People who hang around me for any amount of time learn something. Why? My gift is teaching. We may enjoy a coffee together, but something said in conversation will usually show you something about your present or future.
This gift has nothing to do with a skill or strategy on my part. The gift God put in me spills out wherever I am. I do not set out to teach anyone anything, but the gift works through me consciously and unconsciously.
A close friend of mine is gifted to pastor. That gift expresses itself in nearly everything he does. If you spend any time with him, you walk away feeling cared for by God. He brings peace to your soul without even trying.
Another friend possesses a unique ministry of exhortation. You cannot spend an hour with him without getting ten ideas on how to do more for God.
These are fruits that reveal the calling on a person’s life. These fruits are consistent and become a pattern over time.
Proverbs tells us that a person’s gift makes room for him. The context explicitly references the gift of money, but I believe it has a spiritual application. What is the consistent fruit which manifests through your life?
Other spiritual leaders affirm the calling in you. I am always wary of the self-ordained. It doesn’t always mean they are not called, but the confirmation of other spiritual leaders goes a long way to establish whether any ministry has merit.
If leaders in your region do not recognize the gift you claim to have, I counsel you to step back and sincerely seek God. Not all leaders are discerning, but if respected ministers of God do not affirm your calling, it would be wise to ask their counsel regarding what they do see.
A calling to ministry is not always church-related. Many believe if God has called, you must become a pastor or church leader to serve Him. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Serving the Lord as a minister has been fulfilling for me as a full-time vocation, but that is because it is God’s will for me. I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life.
Even so, during my years in ministry, I also have worked bi-vocationally in the secular arena as a carpenter, insurance salesman, short-order cook, and estate planner, (though not in that order!) I enjoyed each job, but never felt at home in any of them. Why? They did not fit me.
I meet people who are called, appointed, and anointed to serve the Lord in medicine, business, and even politics. These callings are just as holy as a call to serve in church ministry.
Pastors do a disservice to the body of Christ by exalting church ministry while ignoring “secular” ministry. This is one reason average Christians compartmentalize their faith as something only practiced in a church building.
We identify our church building as God’s House. Congregants naturally assume their own houses or places of employment are less important.
People should catch a vision for their true callings instead of wasting their lives doing something God hasn’t called them to do. God fashioned each believer for full-time ministry in some capacity. It may be in education, business, entertainment, medicine, or wherever God has gifted and trained them.
Destiny. Paul responded to criticism about his ministry by saying, For I take no special pride in the fact that I preach the Gospel. I feel compelled to do so; I should be utterly miserable if I failed to preach it.
If God has truly called you, he has imbued you with passion and fulfill a destiny. Like Paul, you must do church ministry whatever the personal cost. It is not about pride but obeying God with humility.
May God give you wisdom in pursuing His purpose for your life.