A man wiser than me graciously said to me, “A call to ministry is a call to prepare.”
So my question is: How do I know that I am called?
Well, I could shoot off some thoughts for you on that question, or I could point you to Mack Stiles, who is an all-around better man than me.
Mack has been in student ministry and now missions for decades. A year ago I had the privilege of taking students to CROSS Conference in Louisville, where Mack spoke to us about the call of Christ to missions (you can watch his talk in full here). What he said is profitable not just for those considering the mission field, but also for you, wherever you find yourself in considering vocational ministry of any type.
In this first post, let me share with you a few points from Mack’s talk that stood out to me and, I hope, will be helpful to you as you think about your calling. The following are my notes from his talk. All notes are mine and not officially representative of CROSS Conference.
What does it mean to be called?
When we think about a calling, we often think about what we do for God (“I’m called to be a pastor, I’m called to be a missionary, I’m called to marry this girl, etc.).
Or we speak of calling in connection to our feelings. Have you ever heard a friend start a sentence like this: “I feel called to…”?
On this point, please take note that the Bible never connects calling to feelings. Feelings come and go. God is steady and constant. Our feelings can be strong yet deceitful, impassioned yet uninformed.
“Strong feelings do not make a call.”
When we take the time to intently read our Bibles, we discover that our popular use of the idea of calling is quite different than its use in the Bible.
How is the idea of calling used in the New Testament?
- Calling to God for salvation (Acts 2:21)
- God calling us to sanctification (2 Timothy 1:8-9, 1 Thessalonians 4:7, Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 4:1)
Your calling according to the Bible boils down to 2 things:
- You are called to be a Christian. God calls us to be genuine disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- You are called to be holy, to be growing in Christ-likeness as maturing disciples (which means striving to obey all that he has commanded).
So brother, sister, what is God’s call on your life? It is to Jesus.
That said, it is good to desire working in vocational ministry. Paul affirms this in 1 Timothy 3:1, saying that it is good to aspire “to the office of [overseer/elder in the local church]”. Desire is good; but it is not sufficient. More is needed.
Your desire needs to be inspired by God’s perfect Word.
So what do you want to do? Why do you want to do that? What has God said that inspires you to that?
Some, not all, will desire to be missionaries. Are they moved by fluffy fantasy, or by passages like 2 Corinthians 5:10-21?
- Are they inspired, knowing what’s at stake in peoples’ lives; that they are going to hell, are under judgement, and must hear the gospel, repent and believe in order to be saved?
- Are they inspired, compelled by the love of Christ, desirous for the world to know his glory and splendor?
- Are they inspired, convicted that the gospel is true, in all places, for all time, across all cultures?
- Are they inspired, knowing that Christ’s death makes us alive to God and calls us to live for and serve others?
Your desire needs to be informed by the gospel.
The work to be done in full-time vocational ministry boils down to the proclamation of the gospel.
Though there are many good things in the world to put your hand to, Christian ministry requires the proclamation of the gospel, such that if there is no gospel proclamation, there is no Christian ministry being done.
Romans 1:14-17, Colossians 1:28-29, Galatians 2:14
Lastly, your desire needs to be confirmed by the local church.
Has the church recognized and affirmed your desire, or do you intend to proceed as a self-affirmed, self-confirmed minister of the gospel?
- Does your church agree with your ministry aspirations?
- Does your church affirm your ministry skills?
- Does your church give you active positions in the church?
- Has your church asked you to pursue vocational ministry with their blessing?
Do you love the church?
The best way to demonstrate your love for the church is to become a member of one.
Are you a member of a healthy local church? If not, God’s will for you is to become one, before you continue pursuing ideas of vocational ministry. You cannot obey the NT commands for Christians apart from church membership.
Do you understand the church? What makes church “church”? Can you answer that question from the Bible?
According to Mack Stiles…
- The church is a gathering of baptized believers who covenant together in love to meet regularly under the authority of the Scriptures and leadership of the elders.
- The church gathers regularly to hear the word, sing, pray, give, practice the sacraments, and practice discipline.
- or, as Ligon Duncan puts it, to read the Word, pray the Word, preach the Word, sing the Word, and see the Word (ordinances)
- The overarching mission of the church is the Great Commission, to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe everything that Christ has commanded.
- The church exists to glorify and worship God by being the visible image of the gospel in the world.
So brother, sister, is your aspiration to full-time vocational ministry inspired by the Word, informed by the gospel, and confirmed by the church? May God grant you humility and wisdom as you consider these things.
Written by Dave. Dave is a church member, a college minister, and a nobody.