Question: "How can I know if I have received a call to ministry?"
Answer: In the most basic sense, all Christians are called to ministry. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) applies to all believers. Too, every Christian is part of the Body of Christ. Fulfilling one’s role as part of the Body – no matter what that role is – means ministering to others. However, most people who ask this question are really interested in whether they are called to vocational ministry, such as the pastorate. This is an excellent question. Certainly, vocational ministry has unique demands.
In confirming any calling, it is important to first examine your heart and motivation (Jeremiah 17:9). Do you truly feel this call is from God, or is it a personal desire? Or is it an attempt to live up to someone else’s expectation of you? If the motivation is pride or people-pleasing, you should give pause. Are you feeling “called” because you think that in order to be “most Christian” you must work in a distinctly “Christian” ministry? Christians are the fragrance of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15) no matter where they serve. You can be light and salt and “do ministry” outside the church or in a secular job just as well as you can within the church or in a distinctly Christian vocation.
Guilt can sometimes be mistaken as a call to ministry. Many Christians hear that serving God requires sacrifice, which it does. But this does not necessarily mean all Christians are called to the mission field in Third World countries. Yes, living for Christ requires sacrifice, but not misery. There is joy in living out our calling. Paul is a great example of this. He suffered greatly for his ministry, yet he was always content and joyful in Christ (see especially Paul’s letter to the Philippians).
After you are certain that your heart is rightly motivated, consider your natural (and spiritual) gifts and strengths. Do these seem to fit with the vocational ministry you are considering? Yes, God is shown strong in our weaknesses and calls us to serve out of His strength rather than our own. But He also gave us gifts and talents to use for Him. It is unlikely that God would call someone who is manually unskilled to be a repairman. Are you gifted in the area in which you think you are called?
Another important consideration is your natural inclination. Someone invigorated by accounting facts, for example, is likely not going to enjoy a position in pastoral care. You may find spiritual gifts tests and even personality tests to be helpful in determining your natural gifting and inclination.
Another area to consider is your experience. God prepares us before launching us into our calling (in the Bible we see this occur with David’s training under Saul prior to his taking the throne. Reggie McNeal’s A Work of Heart does an excellent job depicting this time of preparation). Are there things in your past that God will use to contribute to your work in the call?
Also, you’ll want to seek counsel (see Proverbs 11:14 and 15:22). Others can often see strengths and weaknesses in us that we cannot. It is helpful to receive input from trusted, godly friends. It is also helpful to observe others’ reactions to you. Do people seem to naturally follow you, or do you often have to force your leadership? Are people naturally open with you and share their concerns? While it is important to seek counsel, it is also important not to rely solely on this. Sometimes our friends and family are wrong (see 1 Samuel 16:7). However, honest feedback from those who love you should help confirm your calling.
Every person has a unique calling from God. The call to vocational ministry, however, is particularly public, and those in public ministry are often both highly regarded and highly criticized. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Those in ministry leadership positions are held to high standards because they are guiding others. The books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus list requirements for those in church leadership positions.
When determining whether or not you are called to vocational ministry, consider what it will entail, be courageous, and trust God. If God has called you, He will equip you and fill you so that you may be poured out for others (see Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 13:20-21; Ephesians 3:20-21; Psalm 37:23; and Isaiah 30:21).
One more thing. It is important to keep moving. We sometimes refuse to move until we are certain of the call. But it is easier to redirect something already in motion than to get something moving. When we step out in faith – even if our step is not quite in the right direction – God is faithful to guide us.
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