One of the essays in my application to DTS, was responding to how I knew I was called into ministry. While I understood that question to be more related to affirming events that led me to apply to seminary, I find that the idea of being called into ministry has not only been a popular catch phrase but also bears some examination. I say this because I believe the call to ministry has been designated as a special call to select individuals based on God’s selection for specific ministry roles. I do believe that has some merit but I think it requires some reconciliation to the biblical witness of Christian ministry.
First, I think the ‘call to ministry’ as designated for select individuals is misleading. All Christians are called into ministry because all Christians have spiritual gifts that are to be employed for service to the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10). That doesn’t require some specified direction but a working out of those gifts as we grow in our Christian walk and seek to serve the body. 1 Corinthians 12:12-24 identifies that everyone has a part to play in the growth of the body (also supported Ephesians 4:16). I don’t dismiss the fact that God may have specific roles or even specialized ministries that He directs us to, but it is more indicative of our progress in the faith.
Second, the New Testament witness to the concept of calling is predominantly related to the salvific call of election. God calls individuals into the body of Christ but not into individual ministry roles. It is through service to the body that one works out there inclination. There is much to be said for passion and desire. I heard a popular preacher say once that if you want to know what you should be doing pay attention to what drives you and what bothers you when its off. I don’t believe that should be equated with a critical, fault finding mission, but an inclination of things that God has placed within us. This is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. But in time, we will find ourselves inclined and passionate in certain areas of ministry that we will gravitate towards.
I don’t dismiss the fact that individuals may have some kind of revelatory event that designates their direction in ministry, but I think this sets a questionable precedent when expected as the guide. I believe this relies on the over-used and abuse of Proverbs 29:18 as I wrote about here. Yes, desires can lead to vision and specific things we should be doing in Christian ministry. But I am not convinced that is the predominant way one is called into ministry but may give us a guide to what God will have us do.
By this point, I can hear the protests. ‘What about Abraham or Moses or even Paul? Were they not called into their specific roles?’ Paul does identify that he was called to be an apostle. But here too, I think it bears examination of why these individuals were called and how that related to God’s revelation of Himself. I believe the application for us to consider that God sets in motion what He wishes to accomplish. In the case of these individuals, God chose them to bear witness to his progressive revelation that was culminated in Christ. Paul apostolic witness was to transmit the mystery in Christ that was previously unrevealed but had to now be made known (Ephesians 3:1-7; Colossians 1:25-27).
Some may insist that the role of pastor/overseer/shepherd requires a special call. But I don’t believe that is the case. It is a question gifts, maturity and the capacity to fulfill the pastoral obligations as outlined in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Paul tells Timothy, if anyone desires to have these offices, here is the criteria (1 Timothy 3:1) NOT ‘if anyone feels they’ve been called’. Here too, I believe is an instance where the process of Christian maturity should identify those who have the desire and capacity. That doesn’t dismiss that God may have intended for them to fulfill that specific role, but it is not so much driven by some special call as it is a walking out of their Christian faith. Not everyone will have this capacity or desire.
Moreover, those individuals who lead should be affirmed by others regarding their capacity to fulfill the criteria identified in scripture. Here is where the idea of calling as a revelatory event can lead to danger, though not in all cases. How many congregations are led by pastors who felt ‘called’ to be a pastor and may be able to preach/exhort but do not possess the qualifications outlined in scripture? Rather, they are affirmed because of a self-proclaimed call and have the capacity to rally people to their cause rather than a carrying out of pastoral obligations according to scripture. In the case of poor teaching and theology, the congregation may not have any idea that person should not be leading them but relies on their persona and charismatic ability instead. I shudder to think how many congregations are led and hurt by such individuals.
While this notion of call might be not jive with the popular understanding of what is means to be called to ministry, I am convicted by scripture that the call to ministry is not so much a call but a walk. We step into ministry that is affirmed by our spiritual gifts, abilities, desires and identification by others. This I believe, bears much more fruit than relying on a ‘call’.