In the January 2013 issue of “Leadership Journal,” there were two differing views over whether there is a special “calling” into pastoral ministry. Callings. What does it mean to hear God’s voice and let it fill your life and attitudes and actions with meaning? That gets about as close to the soul as it’s possible to get. This is a topic that’s as vital for church planters and church leaders as it is for everyone else. David Platt, well-known author of the book, Radical, said in the “Leadership Journal” article, aptly entitled, Radical Calling, “I think there’s a command [into ministry], which is for everyone and it’s nonnegotiable. Then there’s a call [itlaics mine].”
In an opposing viewpoint, Dan Kimball at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California wrote, “I never felt a ‘calling to ministry.’ It just happened. I respect those who have had a calling experience to be in ministry, but honestly, these stories leave me confused. Isn’t everyone who places their faith in Jesus and begins to follow him ‘called’ into ministry? For some it might be serving on a church staff. For others the calling might be serving as a full-time mom or a plumber or an engineer. Each of these is a sacred calling. We all interact with other human beings, and we all represent Jesus. We are all called into a sacred vocation. We’re all on mission.”
Following college I married. I did not start out to be a pastor. In fact, I was running from it. Let me explain. When I was a teenager I felt strongly compelled to respond to an invitation given by an evangelist who was holding revival services at our church in Upstate New York. The invitation was directed to youth who felt that God was calling them to be pastors. The tug on my mind and heart was so strong that I had to walk down the aisle to say, “Yes!” I never forgot that night. That event began a struggle in my heart. Throughout college I fought that “calling”, if that is what it was at that early age.
I also had a strong desire throughout my childhood and early adolescent years to be a police officer, the dream of many young boys (and even girls today)! I could just picture myself getting a call and jumping into my cruiser with lights turned on and siren blazing, responding to the crisis to which I had been dispatched.
I also remember while at church picnics, and other church social gatherings, listening to the men of the church sitting together and talking about what they had “wished they had done.” Careers that they would have liked to pursue, but for various reasons they were either unable able to do so, or they let them slip by. Even today I can remember a moment in time when I said to myself, “I never want that to be true of me. I never want to miss being what I really dreamed of doing.”
So, after college, I married my college sweetheart and joined the local police department. I was now, officially, a policeman! I spent the next several years developing that career path. And, I loved it! I never wanted to leave it! During those years I often remembered my decision at the end of the revival meeting, but I figured I must have gotten it wrong.
Seven years passed. We had two small children now. One night, about 3:00 in the morning, I woke my wife and said, “You know what God just told me?” She groggily asked, “What?” I responded, “God just called me to be a pastor.” She tiredly said, “Go back to sleep. You’re having a nightmare!” The next morning she asked me if I remembered waking her up in the middle of the night. I said that I did, and I reaffirmed what I had said. Her response was, “I was afraid of that!” That night God called me, or reconfirmed His calling on a 14 year old boy at a revival service in rural New York State, to be a pastor.
I know that every pastor has not experienced a calling as dramatic as what I just described, but I am confident that a pastor must be convinced that God has called him into the ministry. To serve without this sense of calling would be to reduce Jesus Christ’s gift to the Church of “Pastor” or “Pastor/Teacher” to the level of a secular career choice. The Apostle Paul deliberately set this gift (as well as prophet, apostle and evangelist) apart from other people and livelihoods. These are men called of God, distributed by Jesus Christ, to equip the Church for works of ministry. A Pastor/Teacher is God’s “called” man.
Through history God has always called out certain leaders, assigning them to positions of elevated responsbility, to lead his people. This is not new and it is not simply cultural. God gave all of these leaders a higher degree of responsbility and accountability. A young Timothy fully understood that calling and responsbility when the Apostle Paul singled him out and gave him this charge:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure soundteaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV).
This charge was not for everyone in the church. It wasn’t for the carpenter, or the sheep herder, or the tentmaker, or the housewife or the soccer mom or dad. No, this was for a man who had been raised since childhood for such a calling as this. This was for a man who was to stand out above all others in the Church at Ephesus as God’s man, as the man who was to lead, teach, preach reprove, rebuke. This was for a man who was to ‘hang in there’ through the extremely difficult challenges of ministry, to be sober-minded and to endure suffering, doing the work of an evangelist. He was charged to fulfill his ministry. Why? Because his ministry was different, and with far more accountability than that of others in the church.
Devoid of a divine calling a pastor will find it difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill this calling. Without this calling, even though he may enjoy the work, he cannot serve with the same sense of responsibility and accountability as the man who is God-called (2 Timothy 4:1-5). A God-called Pastor may sense God’s call on his life in a clear and dramatic moment or he may sense the call over a period of time through circumstances, opportunities, and an inner compulsion. Regardless, one should assess his call by examining his willingness and desire for the task, as other elders do (1 Timothy 3:1). He should also examine the spiritual qualifications of the pastor-elder (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4). He should seek the Lord’s will in prayer with confidence that God has called him and will direct him. He should also seek the counsel of godly people and the approval of his church. No man will ever feel adequate to the call (Isaiah 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:9), but the knowledge of God’s gracious and sovereign call will keep him humble and dependent upon the Lord. In the final analysis, if a man can do anything other than the work of a pastor and find contentment in it, then he should go and do it, leaving the ministry to someone else, someone “called” by God. Not someone better. Not someone superior. But, someone “called” nonetheless by God to equip the Church of Jesus Christ.
I know this is simply one man’s opinion; but, I have searched the scriptures and my heart long and hard over this question. I believe God has a very special, unique and wonderful calling for certain men to lead His Church as pastor/teachers. May He bless and strengthen you today if you are one of those privileged men.