I am occasionally asked how a person knows whether or not they are “called” to ministry. This relates somewhat to the discussion that has been going on in our Sunday School classes on God’s will.
Obviously, there are both subjective and objective elements to a decision to pursue ministry. My call was a slow one. As I tried to be obedient to God’s Word and participate in ministry, He continued to direct me to vocational ministry.
In the process of trying to determine whether or not I should pursue vocational ministry, I read a great chapter on the call to pastoral ministry from Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, a book that the Master’s Seminary faculty put together, that I found very helpful. In it, James M. George identified four elements of a biblical call to pastoral ministry that we find in Scripture: Confirmation, Abilities, Longing, and Life (CALL).
First, there is a confirmation of one’s call to ministry from both God and His church. In Scripture, we often see God confirming a call to ministry through providential circumstances. As George puts it: “God’s sovereignty provides for the calling of certain men for leadership in the local church. God gives them the gifts to carry out the functions of the ministry, gives them the desire to serve in this capacity, and then orchestrates the circumstances to provide for the place of ministry” (108). In 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 Paul speaks of the door God has opened for him to remain at Ephesus. Timothy serves as an ideal model of how the confirming from the church body should take place. The elders in this young man’s church recognized God’s work in his life and publicly recognized his calling. Later, in both 1 & 2 Timothy, Paul would refer to the public ordination of his young friend to exhort Timothy to persevere.
Second, there are abilities that one who is called to the ministry must possess. For example, Scripture tells us that the pastor must be able to teach and shepherd the flock (e.g. Acts 20:18; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Peter 5:2). Therefore, if he does not possess the abilities necessary to perform these very vital and basic tasks, a young man can be assured that he is not called to the ministry.
Third, there must be a longing by the pastor who is called by God. At first, I identified most closely with the type of longing Jeremiah describes. He writes in Jeremiah 20:9, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.” There was a longing to do what God desired me to do—indeed, I could not help it—but it was a longing that filled me with dread as well. Though I felt the joy of being involved in ministry, I was also reluctant to trust God with the long and difficult road that I knew ministry would be. As time has gone on, I have felt more the joy implicit in 1 Timothy 3:1. Not only is it impossible for me to be involved in any other vocation, there is no other vocation that I would desire to be in. I long to be with the people of God, serving them and aiding them in their walk with Him.
Finally, there must be a lifestyle that is above reproach. Even if others confirm him in his calling, a contentious man may be assured that he is most certainly not called into ministry. I believe that, by the grace of God, my lifestyle is consistent with what Scripture mandates concerning the one called by God.
One final thought: while discerning whether or not God has gifted a man for vocational ministry can be difficult, what is clear is that each believer has been called for some work of ministry. The Holy Spirit has give “to each one” gifts for the body’s benefit (Eph. 4:7; 1 Cor. 12:11).