I suppose I’ve had the conversation with hundreds of people over the course of my life. People feeling a calling to a life of ministry—pastoral ministry, children’s ministry, cross-cultural missions, etc.—they all have this question. How does a person know if they have a calling to life of ministry or not?
In this post, I’m addressing a calling to vocational ministry or full-time ministry that requires a person to orient their entire lives around their sense of calling.
In my own life, it’s been a really important question that has shaped nearly every important decision I have ever made. Since I became a Christian at the age of 13 and felt like God had spoken to me that I would spend my life serving him as a minister and then at age 14 when God spoke to me about someday serving him outside the United States, the woman I married, the university and graduate education I pursued, the jobs I took or turned down, how many children my wife and I decided to have and when we decided to have them, the houses we built or bought, as well as the ways we spent our time, refreshed ourselves or spent our money. I’m sure I could mention more things, but the point is that our pursuit of the calling on our lives has impacted nearly every other life decision we have made.
So, answering this question about whether you have a calling to a life of vocational ministry is an important one. It’s central to your life. Maybe you’re like Moses, and God has called you from a burning bush with an audible voice, but if you’re like most people out there, you have a sense that God is leading you to that future and maybe he has spoken to you about it.
I think discerning a calling to “the ministry” is kind of three-legged stool. These three things accompany every true “call”.
- A deep, inescapable desire to do it. This can be a tough one to figure out. Some people want to enter the ministry because that’s what their mother or father have said that they wanted for their child. Others have a desire to be in front of people and the center of attention. Those reasons will never be sufficient for sustaining a person through the ups and downs of life in the ministry. The ministry often involves hardship, dealing with conflict, and even sometimes leading people who hate you, not to mention a number of other things that are fundamentally unpleasant. When I suggest that a deep desire to do it is key to a “call”, I mean you can’t imagine finding fulfillment in doing anything else. I mean that you daydream about ways you can serve God or how God could use you. This is an unavoidable leg in the stool to a calling to ministry. This has been the case in my life. Over the past nearly 25 years of public Christian ministry, I thought about what it might be like to be a salesman in corporate America or a lawyer or some other profession, but truthfully, these have been fleeting thoughts. I cannot imagine finding fulfillment or contentment doing anything else with my life. If you have a call, I imagine you feel the same way.
- Gifts. Simply put, you recognize that God has given you some of the skills or abilities or gifts that will be required in the ministry. That’s not to suggest that anyone who is called to the ministry is perfectly suited for a life of serving others in the ministry, but it is to say that you may already have some abilities that you recognize as the markers of a person who is going to pursue being a pastor or a missionary or an evangelist. Maybe you’re able to dispense great biblical advice that comforts and gives direction to someone who needs it. Or maybe you’re able to explain the scriptures in an extremely helpful manner. Maybe you’ve got a great ability to lead others into the presence of God in leading worship or in prayer. Maybe you find that in nearly any group, you’re the one that others are looking to for leadership. Whatever the case—and there are many gifts beyond these—look for some of the ways you’re wired in identifying gifts for public ministry. You may find you’re ill-suited for ministry right now, but that’s OK. God equips and refines those he calls.
- Confirmation from others. A person’s calling is generally affirmed by others. When they preach or teach or lead, others can clearly see a divine calling at work. This is particularly important to recognize if you are going to seek credentials. In the church that ordained me, I had not only to take a test and be interviewed by others, but I had to receive recommendations from others who said that they could confirm my calling.
You can’t wait until you’re perfectly prepared for a life of ministry. Instead, you need to apply yourself to prepare yourself for a life of ministry through study and working hard at being open to opportunities to grow and gain experience. But that being said, the big key, I have found, is determine is God is calling. How about it? Is God calling you?