After serving in the vocational ministry for over 20 years, I have witnessed many men and women step forward in answer to God’s call on their life to enter full-time service. Some were called to the mission field, some to ministry in other local churches, and some to become a church planting pastor.
The call to ministry has always perplexed me. From a church leader perspective, it often places me in a tough spot–if God has called a man or woman, who am I to question? Yet, at the same time, I’ve seen too many respond during an emotionally high conclusion to a service, or worse, because they have grown weary of their present life and believe ministry is a great alternative. In your gut, you know this person is not equipped or prepared for ministry, and probably doesn’t have the necessary skill sets to succeed.
A friend of mine, who is now in his mid-50s, told me the story of his call to ministry as a young man. Like so many, he responded during a powerful preaching service with a guest evangelist. He was young, with a young family, and he had no formal training, but he was certain God wanted him to forsake all and enter a life of ministry. Begrudgingly, his wife went along, and they began the process of enrolling in Bible college and returning to school. For the next four years, his family struggled, his wife carried an almost unbearable load, and my friend held down a part-time job while attending Bible college. Worst of all, he hated Bible college. He was not a good student, he struggled to preach well consistently, and he struggled with the details of ministry, even though he was only serving as an intern at a local church. Whenever he thought of quitting, a wave of guilt poured over him. After all, wasn’t he called by God to serve?
Eventually, my friend was forced to come to terms with his lack of success in the ministry. He felt like a failure both professionally and personally before God. Had he misread God? How could he be so wrong about his calling? In reflecting back on this period in his life, my friend made the comment that he wished his pastor had helped him direct his passion into an area that matched his gifts and abilities.
This leads us back to our original question: how can a church leader help confirm someone’s calling to vocational ministry? Darrin Patrick, in his recent book Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission offers two tests a leader should consider when examining a church member’s calling. The first test involves his understanding of Scripture:
Does he have a working knowledge of the whole of Scripture?
Can he articulate the gospel story throughout the Scripture?
Does he understand the controversial verses that have caused division in church history (Calvinism vs. Arminianism, method and mode baptism, and so on)?
Can he explain the Christ-centered nature of Christian theology?
Secondly, Patrick recommends a leader examine the fruit of a member’s present ministry:
Can he inspire the church for mission?
Can he cast vision for the church and inspire people to pursue that vision with him?
Can he organize the church to reach its goals?
Can he set up systems and structures that run apart from his direct influence?
This second area of focus is a great help in determining God’s call into vocation ministry. Bottom line, are you doing the work of the ministry now? Do you demonstrate strong leadership abilities and are people following you? Let’s be honest, a piece of paper from the best Bible college in America cannot make you into a leader. Education will give you knowledge and help you acquire the skills needed to lead, but you can’t make an apple into an orange.
For those of you considering a call into ministry, one book I’ve recommended to many is Your Work Matters to God by Sherman and Hendricks. In this book, the authors make a solid argument that God calls people into both secular work and vocational ministry. The truth is, our understanding of the words “called” and “ministry” have become skewed. Too many of us believe that if God calls us, He must be calling us to preach or to the mission field. In reality, God calls His people to become teachers, factory workers, physicians, mechanics, construction workers, moms, etc.
Could it be you are already doing what God has called you to do in the place He has called you to serve? If so, then enter your calling with renewed determination to serve God to the fullest of your ability and be thankful for His clear direction in your life.