How to Know You've Been Called To Ministry
Have you ever heard someone talk about their journey into “full time ministry” (AKA how they became a pastor)? Somewhere along the line the person is likely to say “...and that’s when I felt the call into ministry” or “...that’s when God called me into ministry.” I was listening to one such story the other week and the perennial question entered my mind: how does someone know they’re being called into ministry?
Over the years I’ve heard so many different approaches to this question. As a southerner, more times than not the answer takes a form similar to Wesley’s testimony: “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” The call into ministry seems a very nebulous subjective event for the southern minister. For some, the call occurs on a mountain top, for others in a valley, but in all their testimonies a profound drawing of the affections seems to be the ticket.
While I don’t want to sit here and disparage such an approach per se, I do want to offer a suggestion that occurred to me when I was listening to this most recent account. If you’re a regular reader here then you’ll know that I write regularly about the objectivity of the church. Over the past year it’s probably the subject that I’ve written about more than anything else.
What do I mean when I say “the objectivity of the church”? Taking an objective approach to the church means, in short, rejecting the popular concept of “the visible” vs “the invisible” church. When the Bible speaks of the church it doesn’t make this sort of distinction. When Paul writes to churches he isn’t addressing “the invisible” church within “the visible” church. When he writes to the “saints” in Corinth he isn’t just talking to the people who are really “saints.” Nope, Paul is talking to everyone who has been baptized in the Corinthian church, including those who are sleeping with their step-mothers. Of course, there can be false brothers in the church. But it is the fact that they are in the church that makes them “false brothers” and not “non brothers.”
One of the biggest aspects to understanding the church in this objective manner is actually believing that the church is doing what the church is doing. When the church marries someone in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the church really is marrying them. I don’t have to wonder whether God really brought them together or not. When the church baptizes someone in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the church really is baptizing them. Jesus gave authority to the church to do these things (Matthew 16:18-19).
Having written about this so often I’m surprised that this current application hasn’t yet occurred to me. Perhaps a good approach to understanding “the call into ministry” would be to center it around the church. This would mean that when the elders of a church see a man in their congregation who is gifted for the ministry of an elder and they seek ways to equip that man, the call of ministry is in it’s early stages. No longer, would people need to suffer under the weight of their own subjective feelings as to whether God is calling them into ministry. The church, that has been commissioned by God to call train and equip (Ephesians 4:12), does this on God’s behalf.
As American individualist we all too often attempt to figure out God’s will for us apart from the means that God has provided for us, namely, the church. This is especially true when it comes to the call into ministry. American Christians have taken something that should be bound up in the church and subjected it, almost entirely, to the subjective feelings of individuals.
Food for thought.