The Call

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. ~ Acts 13:2

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. ~ Acts 13:2

Is there a call to ministry? How do I know if I’m called?

Before a man can discern God’s calling on his life, he must discern whether there is any such calling at all. Does God call specific men and equip specific men for specific work? Many assume that He does, but not all assume this. I talked with a man who was a member of a Baptist church who told me he had never seen any such call in the Bible. He went on to say about preachers, “I can preach as good as anybody I’ve ever heard.”

A lot of the material that deals with the call to ministry assumes there is such a call and spends most of the time dealing with discerning that call in ourselves or others. I don’t want to start with that assumption. I want to examine that assumption. I believe God does call specific men for specific work, but is that actually found in Scripture?

Does God call certain men to ministry?

A study of Scripture yields at least five reasons to believe that God calls men to ministry. These are not necessarily in order of importance but are worth consideration.

  1. Generally speaking, we have examples in both the Old and New Testament that God calls men to certain tasks. Think of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Peter, Matthew, and Paul. These men were called by God to specific tasks. Those tasks were different in each case, but nevertheless they all began by God calling and equipping them for their task.

    This point by itself doesn’t go very far to prove that God has called this man or that man today, but it does show a precedent that God has called men to certain tasks and gives us a reasonable expectation that He has continued to do so. In other words, the Scriptures illustrate that in God’s normal administration of history He appoints men to specific works.

  2. Another reason is the objective existence of the Lord’s church. The church was established by Jesus during His earthly ministry. It wasn’t the invention of man, nor did it just happen to come into existence. He purposely established the church, equipped it, and charged it with carrying out His work in the world. The church is His design and He designed the offices of the church and that at least says there must be men to fill those offices. This at least requires men dedicated to that work, not to mention being qualified for it. This point of itself does not prove a call to preach but, when taken with the others, it does contribute.
  3. When considering the church body, chapters like Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 teach us there is a diversity of both gifts and offices. They also show that not all have the same gifts nor do all hold the same offices. There is a distinction between different members of the body. Along with the other gifts and offices, there are some who have the gift and office of preaching and teaching and some who do not.
  4. These same passages mentioned above make clear not only the distinction between different members but that the Holy Spirit makes that difference. He distributes the gifts and offices as He wills. So in Acts 13:2 the Spirit instructed the church to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work He had called them to. In Acts 20:28 Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders saying that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (elders/pastors/preachers) in the church. Paul spoke of God putting him into ministry and committing the Gospel to him (1 Timothy 1:11-12; Colossians 1:25). Jesus said it is the Lord of the Harvest that sends forth laborers into the field.
  5. The fact that the New Testament gives qualifications for the office of elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-10) presupposes those who desire and/or claim to be called to the work. The church at Ephesus tried those who claimed to be apostles. So the church has a responsibility to judge those who claim to be called to preach.

These points are worth considering. The Bible teaches there is a call and that call comes from God. In the Old Testament, God complained of many who self-identified as prophets but He declared He never sent them. The author of Hebrews also pointed out the calling of Jesus that He was made a high priest and that calling was essential (Hebrews 5:4).

How do I discern God’s call?

This question is a little more subjective because people have different experiences. In other words, the way this call is manifested or discerned is often different between men. Think of the different experiences of Jonah and Saul of Tarsus. Should we look to their experience as a standard for testing the call of others? Certainly not, but the principle is the same that God called them. So let’s stick to things a little more objective in discerning God’s call. Once again, here are five observations to help in discerning God’s call.

  1. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:1 of a “desire” for the office (the work) of a pastor. That primary office/work is defined as giving oneself continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Ac 6:4), feeding the sheep (Ac 20:28), watching for souls (He 13:17), taking the oversight (1 Pe 5:2), etc. The desire for this work is a very strong desire. The word can be used in a negative context to refer to coveting after. The point is that coveting is not a passing thought and neither is the desire to preach. It is a continual, lasting desire. It’s not a flash in the pan or a vapor over the pot. It sticks with you over time.
  2. The passages that speak directly to the work of preaching, teaching, and pastoring impose a weight upon you. You feel them as speaking directly to you and perhaps even feel some shame that you are not fulfilling them straightaway.
  3. If you believe you are being called then you probably have already had some opportunities to speak and/or teach the Word to others. Be careful not to make too much or too little of those times. However, you should consider how you were received and whether or not your words seemed to be a blessing or help to others.

    An essential qualification for this work is aptness to teach (2 Timothy 2:24). Aptness refers to the ability or competence to teach. While a preacher can and should grow in his ability to teach over time, he must have some ability to start with. There is simply no way to know this on your own without the evaluation of others.

  4. Look for confirmation through the church you’re a member of. God’s calling does not come to an individual apart from the church. Consider Acts 13:1-4 how the Spirit worked through the church and Barnabas and Saul. The church is particularly charged with discerning the gifts and callings in the body and should there be an ordination, the church is responsible to discern the candidate to meet the qualifications. The church should not be looked upon as a hindrance to discerning calling but rather as an indispensable part of it.
  5. The last one I would mention is that if you are being called, opportunities should be opening to you to minister the Word. These could come in a lot of ways but we do need to look at our lives in context and discern what the Lord is doing as best we can.

Conclusion bonus

I want to add one thing as a sort of bonus help to those who are wrestling with this issue. If you’re wrestling with whether or not God is calling you to a greater service, let me ask this question: What service are you doing now? The Scripture principle is that when we have served faithfully in smaller things, God gives us greater things (Matthew 25:21-23). If you have not been faithfully serving in lesser, behind-the-scenes roles and you do not already have a heart for service regardless of recognition, then it is very unlikely you’re being called to ministry.

Ministry is service (Acts 6:1-4) and a lot of the hard work required in ministry is not done before an audience. The call to ministry is a call to pour yourself out to God for others and it garners little applause (2 Corinthians 12:15). Count the cost as fully as you can and it will help you discern if you are called.