“I think God is calling me to ministry”
I love hearing these words from guys & girls I’ve had the joy of influencing. One of my great passions is to raise up leaders for the Kingdom through the local church. It’s an exciting time for them, their parents, and for their church. A church should be seeking out those God is calling to equip them to be sent out. Let’s be clear first, God calls all of us to faithful service. But God calls out some for specific spiritual leadership within the church, which some would call “vocational ministry.”
Southern Seminary (my 2x alma mater & Carrie’s) has this helpful site as well to consider.
But how can you know that God is calling you to ministry? I want to walk through the steps I use with prospective ministry leaders. I believe all four of these are essential, and if one of these is not currently present I encourage that person to step back and assess their calling, or to explore the possibility that God desires them to faithful service in the church but not as a vocational ministry leader. A helpful passage for this is 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
- The inward (personal) call – This is the beginning point, where God’s Spirit leads an individual to understand that s/he has been given a unique, personal calling towards ministry. It’s also the hardest to dispute, which is why it shouldn’t be the only step in discerning a call. When people have shared they sense this part, I normally ask them these kinds of questions to help them make sense of what God may be saying to them:
- Can you share your testimony of conversion, and is it a credible one of saving faith & repentance?
- Do you have a deep love for Jesus, the Bible, prayer, the Church, and God’s people?
- Do you find an unspeakable joy in the things of God?
- What do you believe about the “big deal” stuff? Theology & Doctrine matter
- Are you someone who has a high level of character & personal purity?
- What are your spiritual gifts? Do you have the gifts that translate well to ministry leadership?
- Do you like to serve, get your hands dirty, and work hard?
- Do you find yourself repenting more of your sin and working to kill it in your life?
- Do you like to read? Leaders are readers
- Are you willing to be held to a higher standard than others?
- The pastoral call – Go to a person who is in spiritual authority over you. Ideally in your church there are a number of people who you can seek wisdom from. Share with them your inward call, and ask that person if they believe you could be in ministry. It could be your pastor, youth pastor, or another elder or minister in your church. Whoever it is, it needs to be someone who has had an impact in your life and who knows you really well. I firmly believe this is the crucial step, because if someone in ministry can speak well of your character and abilities, then you might have something worth pursuing. If this person can confirm that you may be called to ministry, then you’re ready for this to become an issue for the church.
- The external (public) call – If you sense you are called to ministry, this is something that has to be validated, confirmed, and accounted for by a local church. It needs to be the church that you are attending/serving in. Do they believe you to be a person of Christian faith, of strong character, who is found faithful in the areas of service you are in? If you are not faithful to serve, work, and lead as a layperson, you will fail as a ministry leader. Seminaries and Bible colleges are great, and they are necessary to prepare and teach ministry leaders. But they don’t make a pastor, the local church does. Only the church has the authority to ordain and set apart men for pastoral leadership, and men & women for ministry leadership. So it is a huge deal for a local church to confirm a person’s call. I remember well the night my home church voted to license me to ministry. It was humbling to hear testimonies from men & women I had served with and gotten to know, and their endorsement still hangs on my wall and still humbles me.
- The sustaining call – Eventually, the joy and elation of being called to ministry will disappear, and will be replace with the difficulty of carrying so many spiritual, emotional, and physical burdens for people. You’ll watch families fall apart, you’ll bury babies, you’ll listen to people pour out their sin struggles, you’ll write depositions for court, and you’ll deal with church critics who want you to fit the mold of their favorite TV preacher or the guy/girl who was there before you. I remember the first person’s face who wanted me to help them discern their ministry call when I told them “I’m going to do everything I can to talk you out of this. If that doesn’t work, I’ll do everything I can to set you up well.” The sustaining call is the one that flows primarily from your walk with Jesus, your relationship with your spouse, and your contentment to obey when Jesus says “Follow Me.” It will force you to ask what your satisfaction is: Jesus or _____? But God is faithful to carry His servants through to the end, and His grace is sufficient no matter what circumstances are around you. God will vindicate His own people. But you might still get fired.
For more, check out this book: Are You Called?