Discerning God’s Call to Ministry
Over the last few weeks I have been praying that the Lord would call more people in our church and school to vocational ministry. On Sunday, June 24, 2019 I preached a two-part sermon on the importance of both vocational ministry and non-vocational, or marketplace, ministry. In today’s post, I will discuss how to properly discern if God is calling you to vocational ministry. August’s article will address the advantages of marketplace ministry.
Vocational ministry is a definitive calling to serve Christ on a full-time basis in a ministry. Serving the Lord vocationally isn’t just another career (i.e., a way to make a living). If you enter ministry without the call of God on your life or for the wrong reasons, you won’t remain in Christian service very long. Sadly, those who enter ministry for selfish reasons often cause significant damage to the body of Christ. Therefore, it’s imperative that Christians handle an apparent call to ministry with great caution and discernment.
Admittedly, the number of believers called to serve in vocational ministry will always be smaller than the legion of Christians God equips to serve Him in the marketplace. It’s important to remember that the mission of vocational ministers of the gospel and marketplace ministers is the same. All believers are called to share the gospel with others for salvation and sanctification. Whether you serve the Lord in a church or in a secular career, you are called to be a faithful minister of the gospel.
The mission of the church is an amazing opportunity to share Christ with others. Vocational ministry is a humbling responsibility that requires a lot of prayer. The church’s mission is one of eternal significance, and it’s one worthy of your investment. The body of Christ is about the transformation of lives through the gospel. Sinners are saved by the grace of God, and they are changed into the image of Christ through the same grace. Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that God gave “shepherds and teachers” to the church for the purpose of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Those in vocational ministry are called to equip believers for service.
Ministry is challenging, but satisfying if God has called you. Perhaps you have detected God’s call to ministry in your life, and you’re wondering if this sense of calling is genuine. As you analyze the possibility of God’s call to vocational ministry, carefully consider these six questions:
1. Are you facing a time of unusual discouragement, frustration, or discontentment? Vocational ministry is not an escape route from a difficult career or from a dead-end job in the marketplace. Ministry isn’t for those trying to find relief from a season of professional discouragement, frustration, or discontentment. Deciding to pursue vocational ministry when you feel overwhelmed and disheartened because of your current employment is a huge mistake that can produce devastating consequences. A position in vocational ministry is not the solution for career disillusionment. If you are currently working in a secular vocation, remember that the best transitions from a career in the marketplace to vocational ministry are made from a season of success in the secular business world.
2. Are you feeling pressured to enter the ministry by someone close to you? Ministry isn’t for those who are pressured or manipulated into full-time service by well-meaning people. While it’s commendable to see multiple generations within a family serving in ministry, those who pursue vocational ministry must do so because God called them individually. It’s dangerous for people to enter gospel ministry because they feel pressured to do so by family, friends, or their pastor. One pastor said, “My dad called me into ministry, not God.” Giving into peer pressure is a terrible reason to pursue ministry. Calling people to ministry is God’s responsibility. Don’t allow others to pressure or manipulate you into ministry.
3. Are you and your spouse in agreement concerning your apparent call to vocational ministry? Ministry isn’t for families that are divided over serving the Lord vocationally. To state this principle bluntly, if your spouse is not supportive of you serving in vocational ministry, God is not calling you. Serving the Lord in vocational ministry is physically, emotionally, and spiritually demanding. Full-time ministry places a lot of stress and strain on families. If those in ministry don’t have the support of their spouse, their ministry will be difficult and will eventually fail. Homes of those in ministry often fall prey to an onslaught of spiritual attacks. If your home is divided, it will not withstand the relentless pressures that come with ministry.
4. Are you seeing ministry accurately? Vocational ministry isn’t for those who are naïve and have developed an inaccurate view of ministry. People who view ministry through rose-colored glasses are in for a rude awakening if they enter full-time service. When someone enters ministry with unrealistic expectations, there is going to be disappointment. Ministry is wonderful, but it’s hard. Really hard. One young pastor who entered the ministry from the secular workplace said, “I had this idea that I would have an abundance of free time and short work weeks in ministry. Serving in ministry seemed like a piece of cake compared to the business world I was coming from. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Ministry is unbelievably demanding. There is always more ministry to be done. I soon realized that I’m on call twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred sixty-five days a year. I learned the hard way that ministry is a never-ending commitment.” It’s true that full-time ministry can produce extraordinary gospel opportunities that bring great joy. But it’s equally true that ministry comes with a lot of pressure, criticism, and discouragement. Every pastor I know has faced significant times of emotional and spiritual depletion. The depression rates among pastors is high, because it’s hard. But there is no greater joy than following God’s call full-time gospel ministry. Embrace ministry if God has called you. Just make sure you enter the ministry with realistic expectations.
5. Are you theologically prepared? Ministry isn’t for theologically unprepared people. There is nothing more dangerous than theologically incorrect sermons. People who are serving in vocational ministry need to be properly equipped and trained, just as you would expect those who are serving in other profession. Would you trust a doctor who has never been to medical school? Shepherds need intensive training so that they are adequately prepared to fulfill their greatest calling of accurately exegeting the Scriptures Sunday after Sunday after Sunday after Sunday…
6. Are you absolutely certain about your call? Ministry isn’t for the uncertain. My friend, if there is anything other than full-time, vocational ministry that you can do and be fulfilled, happy and productive you should do it. Only follow the path of full-time vocational ministry if you are absolutely convinced that God’s call to ministry is upon you. Only pursue full-time vocational ministry if your most trusted counselors agree with your perceived calling. For instance, do you have the skills and character required of pastors as described in 1 Timothy 3? Do others recognize these gifts in your life? Does your pastor agree with your assessment? Experimenting with full-time ministry to see if it works out is a dangerous plan. If you’re unsure of God’s call, serve as a leader in your church first, and see if the desire for ministry grows (see 1 Timothy 3:1). Test your ministry skills under the leadership of a pastor. Allow your pastor to give you honest feedback. Don’t rush into ministry. If your call is genuine, God will make it clear, and you can then enter ministry convinced of your calling.
In closing, I would suggest that if you sense God is directing you into ministry take your time and carefully assess the authenticity of your perceived call. If God has genuinely called you to the privilege of ministry, it will become clear over time. Years may not be required to discern your calling, but certainly weeks of prayerful consideration is in order.