Are You Called to the Ministry?
(Or more properly), Finding God’s Calling on Your Life
Are you called to the ministry? I am going to begin an answer to that question by suggesting that you are actually asking the wrong question. The question should not be “Are you called?” But it should be “To what ministry are you called?” But let’s hold that second question for a moment and go back to the first.
The real question many people are asking when they ask themselves if God is calling them into the ministry is this: “Is God calling me into the professional ministry?” Put another way: “Am I going to make my livelihood through professional ministry?” That is an entirely different question. Most often that question is asked by the seventeen year old who is considering college and a career. Sometimes it is asked by an older person who is considering a change in his or her career.
Make no mistake, I am not belittling the question nor saying it is illegitimate. In fact, I am a “professional minister” of the second category. At the age of fifty, I changed careers, quit my job—let me correct that—quit my career as a lawyer, sold my house, gave away nearly everything that I owned and moved with my wife, who also quit her career as a data analyst, to Bolivia. There, we became missionaries—“professional missionaries” making $1,000 a month. (Allow me to define what I mean by “professional missionary.” It is through being a missionary that we earn money that sustains us. We currently have no other method of earning money.) Also, saying that I am a professional minister does not mean that I wasn’t called. I received the call of God at forty-seven. My wife received the call at seven and thought it had passed her by, but it was renewed and off we went. Ok, it was not that simple and I will be sharing more of that call, how it came to fruition and how it was financed, later.
So, back to the question, “Are you called into the ministry–professional or otherwise?” Let’s look at what the Bible says about calling, methods of calling, and how you will know that you are called by the end of this article (there are 5 parts) and that the question you really need to ask is, as I said, “To what ministry are you called.”
God’s method of calling is as varied as the people that he calls. There were certainly great, dramatic thundering type callings. Paul was blinded and then healed in order to get the message that his ministry wasn’t killing Christians but was leading them (Acts 9). Jeremiah explains his call in which God says he called him from the womb and then put his words in the mouth of Jeremiah (Jer. 1). Isaiah is in the throne room of God in the midst of a vision when God touches a coal to his lips, and Samuel hears God speaking as if He was in the very next room (Is 6:1-9). Certainly, those are unmistakable callings.
But there were much more subtle callings in the Bible as well. Elijah puts his cloak around Elisha and kisses him. Elisha then runs after Elijah and wants to tell his family good-bye. It is then that it could be said that Elijah discouraged Elisha and says, “What have I done to you? Go home.” But Elisha is having none of it, he burns his ox and feeds them to a bunch of people, burns his plow and takes off with Elijah. There was no thunder from God, no miracle, no voice. I Kings 19:19ff. (That will preach-Burn your bridges and follow God’s call without looking back.)
Phillip was called by Jesus and it is recorded that Jesus met him and simply said, “Follow me” (John 1:43). That was enough for Phillip. Now, while you might say that was easy, after all Phillip was standing face to face with Jesus. Remember, we have the entire bible, the word of God that has revealed the resurrected Christ to us. And God is saying “Follow me.” One might say that it is more powerful because it is written, it is a pledge, it is a promise. What about Luke, Mark, Barnabus, Aquilla and Priscilla, Apollo? There is no mention in the Bible of any miraculous call for them. They simply responded to the word they heard preached to them.
Let’s look at Abraham. God, by all evidence previously unknown by Abraham, says, “Leave your country and go to a land I will show you.” Abraham responds by going. What a great step of faith. Although, I believe that Abraham actually heard the voice of God, he did not know God, he did not have a bible and yet, he responded to the voice. (Gen. 12)
The point is that there is no one method of calling, but there is one method of response: With Faith. In fact, I can say that if you are thinking about going to seminary or starting a church because it would be a good way to make a living and you aren’t sure what else to do-stop. You need to talk to your pastor and seek God before you make that move-there are red flags that you may not be called to what you think you are called.
A walk with God is a walk of faith and a walk in ministry is a walk of faith. That means that many times we are not sure of what is going to happen, but we put our trust in God and take the next step.
First Steps to Finding Your Calling
What is a calling?
Paul writes that he is “called” of God to be an apostle (Rom. 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1) and he tells Timothy that God called them to a holy “calling” because of God’s own purpose and grace. (2 Tim. 1:9). But these words hold no mystery. In saying that he is “called” Paul uses the Greek word, κλητόςderived from the word καλέωwhich is a verb meaning to call or to summon or invite. These words are used when Jesus “calls” the disciples in Matthew 4:21 and to those who are “invited” to the wedding feast. Matthew 22:3. The distinction is not in the calling but rather in the caller.
Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 1:1 that he was called by the will of God. It is not man that called Paul to be an apostle. In fact, Paul would say that man called him to be the persecutor of Christians that we find in Acts. But God called him away from man’s plan in a miraculous manner. The familiar story unfolds in chapter 9 of Acts. After being struck blind, Paul, then named Saul, is instructed to go into the city of Damascus. There, Ananias meets Saul and prays for him to receive his sight. It is of interest that Ananias knew of Paul’s calling before Paul did. God told Ananias that Paul was “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…” 9:15. In Acts 22, Paul indicates that Ananias told him of his ministry and Paul began proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God immediately.
Few of us experience a calling like Paul. But in his calling, Paul illustrated the heart of a disciple wanting to please his Lord. In Acts 22:8-10 Paul says that after he was struck blind he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” Upon receiving the answer that it was Jesus, Paul immediately said, “What am I to do?” These should be the first steps of a disciple and are definitely the first steps to receive a calling. First, seek to know Jesus, study the word, pray, talk to God and listen to him; and second, ask him, “What do you want me to do?”
A calling to a specific ministry may happen in many, many ways from a loud voice of God to an inclination of heart, but all of us, as Christians are called. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10 ESV).
Called by God to Minister
By no means is this an exhaustive list of our calling, as believers, to minister. The following is simply a short list, an overview. Parts 4 and 5 will look at the calling to specific ministries and how you can begin your quest of finding your calling, or your specific ministry.
Called to make disciples
When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19) he wasn’t talking only to the twelve apostles, but to all his followers, to all his disciples, or in other words, me and you. It is true that historically the modern church did not always view this mandate as for all believers, but as a directive for the apostles only. However, William Carey, known as the father of modern missions, in his paper Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of Heathens (1792), promoted (if not introduced) the idea that the words of the Great Commission were not only directions for his disciples, but words to all followers of Jesus, to all who are disciples. In fact, in order to call yourself a disciple you must make disciples.
I will digress here just a moment to respond to an argument that does appear from time to time regarding the translation of Matthew 28:19. The argument says that the translation should be or could be, “As you go make disciples…” and that there is a suggestion that we are not commanded to “Go” but simply as we go through life…make disciples. This is simply not in keeping with Greek grammar. The word “Go” is an aorist participle and when that is combined with the aorist imperative of “make” it must be translated with the understanding that the whole is a command. “Go and make disciples.” If it were to be translated “As we go…” then the participle would have been in the present not the aorist. (For a wonderful explanation of the Greek grammar in this translation, see the explanation of Greek scholar and Professor, Daniel B. Wallace at http://danielbwallace.com/2014/02/17/the-great-commission-or-the-great-suggestion/ ).
Therefore, if you are a disciple, then you are called—commanded—to go and make disciples. This is the calling of all disciples and this calling is presented to us in the written word of God.
Peter says that even though he was with Jesus and heard the “very voice” of God talk about Jesus as the beloved Son in whom God was well please, he had a “more sure” word-that of the prophets. It is the same with the calling of God. The greatest calling, the most sure calling you will receive is the one of all disciples written in Matthew. “Go, therefore, and make disciples.” Matthew 28:19.
In summary, the calling to go and make disciples is not a calling to be taken lightly, neither is it only for a few, but it is for all believers. It is a calling that is intentional. We must “go” with intention, not passively, but with purpose, making disciples.
Called to be witnesses
Should you think that the Great Commission was only for the twelve apostles, let’s look quickly at the purpose and role of the Holy Spirit. Whole seminary courses, books, and systematic theology articles exist on the purpose of the Holy Spirit. He is a comforter, an advisor, he is a teacher about Jesus, the giver of gifts, he helps us in prayer and he convicts us of sin, and he is so much more that is far outside the scope of this article. But the Holy Spirit does something else that we often overlook. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would give us power to be his witness unto the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). If we are not his witness we are not using the power the Holy Spirit gives us. In fact, if you are not being witnesses for Jesus, then you don’t need the power of the Holy Spirit. In short, you are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus to the ends of the earth.
Called to love and rescue our neighbor
Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 to a lawyer illustrating the significance of loving your neighbor. The story begins with a “certain man.” It is significant that the man is not named, nor is he identified by ethnicity, dialect, clothing. In fact, he is intentionally not identified because he is any man and every man in need. After priest and Levite, compelled by religion and its rules, passed the naked and beaten man and left him to die, the Good Samaritan responds. He rescues the man, bandages his wounds, pouring oil and wine on his wounds and then takes on the responsibility and price to make sure the man is further cared for until he is healed. And Jesus tells us to do the same.
Can this be a call to medicine? Of course. But the illustration is in principal to meet the need of any man that needs rescue. I would underline that the thief in this parable can easily be seen as the devil and sin that has beaten this man and left him to eternal damnation. What greater rescue is there than from hell? What greater rescue than to that of eternal life? Go and do likewise.
Called to the body
There is a perception floating around Christianity today that because there are so many wonderful Christian ministers preaching on television, radio, and the internet, it is unnecessary to go to the local church. After all, a Christian can listen to good sermons anytime. However, the church service is more, or at least should be much more, than simply a good sermon. Paul clearly states that believers are all members of the body of Christ, all with varying functions (1 Cor. 12:14). In our body the hand cannot do the job of the eye, the ear cannot do the job of the foot. So, it is in the body of Christ. In the church at large and in our local body we have a function that we must carry out. No one is called to be a pew sitter. No one is called to contribute nothing. Those contributions cannot be made while sitting in front of a television screen.
Paul also says that the Spirit gives gifts to each of us for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). It is God’s design that we are called to be part of a body and to help each other to grow. As a part of the body of Christ, each fulfilling the role God gave us to fill, we are stronger.
As a Christian, each of us are called, at least, to the above callings: Going and making disciples of Christ, being a witness of Christ to the reaches of the world through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, rescuing those who have been beaten down in this world, and ministering through God’s gifting to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
Are You Called to the Ministry? Questions to Ask, Factors to Consider
Here are some questions to help you along the road of understanding if you are called into a particular or a specific ministry, such as that of a Pastor, Missionary, Youth Pastor, Teacher, Church Planter, Evangelist, and so on. Later, we will discuss the different callings, but for now, we will look at factors that are common to each.
I came to receive the Lord when I was 22 years of age and within 3 months I became a regular attendee of a small congregation. (Regular in the sense that I was there every time the doors were open so that I could learn more about the God I gave my heart to.) After about 6 months I was asked to assist in Sunday school teaching 4th graders. From then on, I served the Lord in some manner of ministry. I became a Sunday School leader, a Sunday School bus captain, a youth Pastor, a Bible school teacher, an outreach director, a Drama for Christ director and writer, a “cell group” leader, a visitation member, a Deacon and an Elder, and I formed my own street evangelism organization and sometimes filled the pulpit to preach for the Pastor. For none of these did I sense a particular, specific call from God. I participated in all of them because of the empowering of the Holy Spirit and my general calling to disciple others.
It wasn’t until I was 47 years of age that I received what I would say was a “call” from God to the ministry. At that time I was a lawyer at the top of where I wanted to be, the managing attorney of a Legal Aid program. My calling took me away from my career, away from my family, and my country. I answered the call to be a missionary and move to Bolivia.
I asked myself about the following factors when I considered this call. To that degree they are tested.
- Can you articulate your call? “Write the vision, make it plain.” Habakkuk 2:2. If you cannot articulate your vision, your calling, right now, that’s ok-write what you know. I believe the Lord will make it clear to you, but there are things you can do in faith to prepare (see below). If you do know your calling, write it down, whether it is simple or very detailed. You may not be ready to launch out right now, but write it down and let me also encourage you to write the steps you have in your mind and in your spirit that may be necessary to make your calling come to pass. “For which of you desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost.” Luke 14:28. A Pastor told me this as I considered the call to the mission field and it was some of the best advice I received. Pray over every step and ask God to confirm it. Then, put it somewhere that you can review it on your next birthday and on each New Year’s Day. “Wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” Hab. 2:3.
- Do others recognize your call? When my Pastor at my local church asked me to be a Deacon I responded by saying that I wasn’t sure that I could devote the time that may be needed for the office and I asked what would be my duties. He told me that I already did them. I typically served the local congregation at dinners by making sure everything was ready and by cleaning up, I greeted newcomers, visited the sick and generally filled in the gaps. He said that he was not asking me to do anything different, he was simply recognizing the call he saw on my life that I was already operating in. His words were, “Deacons deke. You already deke, so I just want to recognize you as a Deacon.” I’m sure the word “deke” doesn’t exactly clear things up, but you get the idea. My question to you then is this: “Do others recognize that God has a call on your life?”
- Are you working in ministry now? It never ceases to amaze me how many people tell me that they think they are called to the ministry, but have never worked in any ministry during their Christian life. I’m not going to say that they aren’t called, but it is similar to telling me you are going to be in a rock band and you have never played an instrument and you can’t sing. In other words, it can happen but it is not likely it will happen soon. In the New Testament, the disciples trained with Jesus, Apollos trained with Aquilla and Priscilla, and Paul mentored others before they were released to their own ministry. If you want to preach, start by teaching children. If you are an evangelist, witness to your friends and disciple them. If you have a desire to minister the church has plenty of places to get your start AND be of service to the body. I was involved in all kinds of ministry and I can tell you I learned valuable lessons that helped me prepare for the mission field.
- The Burden Jeremiah said, “Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent.” (4: 19) He was talking about the burden he had to tell the prophecy that God had given him. That was his calling and he could not hold back! He had to speak. He was burdened for his people who were to hear the prophecy and be warned and his heart was full of the message from God. Whether you have a burden for those in your family, the neighborhood, the city or other countries, a burden is a factor in your calling. A burden is nothing more than feeling compassion with a sense of urgency for those you want to reach. That burden is not the only thing that determines you are called but it is a motivation for answering the call.
- The Desire This is one of the most important factors for me. Is being in ministry a desire of your heart? Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This scripture has a twofold meaning. When you delight yourself in the Lord, God will give you a desire-it will be a Godly desire, and when you delight yourself in the Lord, God will grant you the desire that is in your heart. Do you desire to serve God and others? Is it your passion? It is mine. I can think of nothing else that makes me happy and satisfied. When I am not ministering I am unfulfilled. Why do you think I am writing this?
- Counsel “Plans are established by counsel.” Proverbs 20:18. There are many verses that speak about the wisdom of seeking Godly counsel to help you with your plans. This also goes back to what was said in the previous article about others recognizing your call. If you have not sought counsel, direction and help about your vision, do so after your write down your plan. Seek out more than one counselor but start with your pastor. He probably knows you better than anyone else and has already spent time praying for you. Ask the pastor if he knows someone else that can give you advice as well. This can be humbling but “in the abundance of counselors there is victory.” Proverbs 24:6.
- The Sacrifice This is another top priority factor for me. Are you prepared to sacrifice? David said that he would not give to God an offering that cost him nothing. 1 Chronicles 21:24. David laid out a principal of sacrifice when Ornan offered to give oxen to David for free so that David could make an offering to the Lord. David refused and acknowledged that it was not his offering if it didn’t cost him something. When I answered the call to the mission field, I quit my job as an attorney, my wife and I sold our home and left for Bolivia without the promise of any ministry there. There was much sacrifice but we were walking by faith and it became a great blessing. We should not become pastors or preachers or missionaries because we want respect, we think it is a good job or because it is a great adventure. We become ministers because we answer God’s call to do so, no matter what the cost. That may mean that you hold a job at a factory and still work hard as a Pastor. I know a man who has done that for the last 10 years. I know a woman who has a children’s church. No adults and therefore, no income. The church is in a poor section of a city where kids have nothing, often no food. She uses her own money to pay rent, often feed the children, and provide craft money to aid her lessons. In so doing, she has lived in her own poverty. But she has raised many children in the Lord over the last 9 years. I can tell of many more stories, but the question that you need to ask yourself is this: If I made no money at this ministry that God is calling me to, if I had to use my “free” time, if I received no respect, would I still do it?
- Preparation T.D. Jakes says that time used for preparation is never time wasted. I can say that is certainly true in my life and even with a degree in Biblical studies and my wife’s Master’s in Intercultural Studies, and all our experience in ministry we still feel like we don’t know enough. We simply want to serve the Lord the best way we can, making the most of our representation of Jesus. There are many men and women of God who have gone before us. We would be irresponsible not to listen to their counsel and education. Paul told Timothy “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV. The first place to look for that education for ministry is in your church. Let your Pastor mentor you. Volunteer to work with him as an intern. Then, university, Bible school, or missionary training programs. This website will soon begin a page on resources that will include books and training courses to help you. But seek to become educated in many areas so that you can relate to others and if you are called to the mission field, begin learning another language as soon as possible.
- Can you do something else? The story goes that there was a faithful pastor who had a faithful son that came to him one day and said, “Dad, I want to be a pastor.” The faithful pastor responded by saying to his son, “Son, if you can do anything else, do it!” One point the faithful pastor was making was that if his son was called to ministry, he would not be able to do anything else and have peace. Jonah tried to do something else. His call was not a desire of his heart and he certainly wasn’t happy about it (although he is an exception), but Jonah could not do anything else. He had to preach to Ninevah. Jeremiah could not hold back from his ministry even when his life was threatened. He said that his heart was beating wildly, he had to prophecy, he could not keep silent. If you are called, your calling will always be inside of you, knocking on your heart and peace and fulfillment will only come by answering that call.
- Confirmation. God often confirms by two or more witnesses. While Rhonda and I were sure of our calling to the mission field, we were not as sure about our destination. As we prayed about Bolivia, confirmation after confirmation came across our path, from people talking about Bolivia, to news about the needs in Bolivia, to doors miraculously opening to Bolivia. Pray and ask God for confirmation and then, watch for it, even writing them down so as not to forget. Those words will also help you in times of doubt that the enemy will bring to your mind.
None of these factors are absolute. In other words, if you cannot answer one of these questions with a positive response, it doesn’t mean you are out of ministry and clearly not called by God. These are simply guides. If you are answering in the negative you may want to re examine your life at this time and see if you can change the negative to a positive response.
Let me encourage you to take the next steps in addition to those factors above: Pray and ask for Wisdom. God says he will give wisdom to those who ask. James 1:5. Secondly, know God’s will. God has expressed his will in the word. Study it and you find guidance.
Finally, if you are struggling with God’s call, write to me at the comment box below. Comments are not posted without approval so they are kept private if you wish them to be. It may take a couple of days for your comment to appear if you do request privacy.
If you have a further opinion or direction, please feel free to comment.
- Bolivians come to the altar to meet God