One of the most important issues every Pastor has to work through is their call to ministry. Over the years, I’ve discovered there will be times when the only thing that keeps you going in the ministry is your call. When I teach Pastoral ministries classes or have the opportunity to mentor young men who feel called to preach, the first two issues I talk to them about are their conversion experience and their call to the ministry. If you are not clear on both of these issues you have no business going into the Pastoral ministry. So let me give you just a few thoughts about how to know whether or not you are called to ministry:
1.) Can you do anything else an be happy?
This was a question that my Pastor asked me when I surrendered to the ministry and that I ask anyone who tells me they feel called to the ministry. It is actually a question that is derived from Charles Spurgeon’s “Lectures to My Students.” The point of this question is that the call to preach must be like an all consuming fire in your life. Those who are genuinely called find that they simply can’t do anything else.
2.) Has God given you a clear Word from His Word?
The night God called me to preach our Pastor was preaching from Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The moment I read these words, they thundered in my soul and I felt that God was speaking directly to me. At the moment I had the overwhelming sense of God’s call to preach the gospel wash over my heart and I knew I could do nothing else. I received a clear Word from God’s Word. When I talk with men who feel called to the ministry, I always stress the importance of being able to hang your call on specific passage of Scripture. God speaks to us from His Word! I am not saying that the call will not be accompanied by a strong emotion or experience of grace, but apart from a clear Word from the Word of God, we are prone to misunderstand or misinterpret. If you feel called to ministry, search the Bible until you have a clear Word from the Word to confirm your call.
3.) Do you meet the qualifications?
The qualifications for ministry are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-16. I am not going to get into the specifics of these qualifications in this post, but I do want to say that anyone who is called to preach must meet these qualifications before they assume the office of Pastor. I am not saying that any of us are perfect and at times we all falter or come up short in some of these areas, but generally I am seeing far too many men going into the ministry trying to explain away or minimize these qualifications. Whenever I meet someone who does not take these qualifications seriously it is evidence to me that they are not called.
4.) Has the congregation affirmed your call?
Receiving the affirmation of the church is perhaps the single most important step in confirming your call to ministry. In my denomination, we have a two step process of first licensing a man to preach and then later ordaining. In both of these steps, the affirmation of the church is crucial. In licensing, the church affirms that they see the gifts necessary to be an effective minister in the life of the candidate. They are essentially saying, “We think there is some potential here and want to give the candidate opportunities to demonstrate their call.” Usually what happens then is the person who feels called will get some opportunties to preach and minister within the local church. This provides the church the opportunity to examine his qualifications, his gifts, and frankly, whether or not he can preach. Eventually, if all goes well and the candidate is called to a church he will go through ordination. Which involves being questioned by and ordination council and then affirmed by the calling church.
My council to young men going into the ministry is to seek as much input from other members of the church as possible. In my experience, they are usually in a better place to objectively evaluate our call to ministry. The bottom lines is this, if you are called to the ministry the church will see it. If you can’t convince the church you are called, then you are not called to the ministry.
5.) Can you minister for the applause of God alone?
What I mean by this statement is that in the ministry you cannot be a people pleaser. Your only job is to please God and do what He tells you to do. This means that you will often be unpopular or even hated for preaching the Word of God. If you desire the applause of men more than the applause of God, you are not fit for the ministry. You will cave to popular opinion and be unwilling to say the things that may make you unpopular. As a preacher you must be willing to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2) You must be willing to be faithful even when that will make you unpopular. Can you minister for the applause of God alone? If not, don’t preach! If so, then PREACH! PREACH! PREACH!