Table of Contents
The Call to Ministry
This is such an important topic (and it hinges on such an essential topic as the sufficiency of Scripture) that I can't get it outta my head. So, I gave the topic its own page for my brain-dump musings…
First things first:
- In the Bible, a calling was verbal, clear, and unequivocal.
- Today, a “calling” is a subjective sense one feels about God's personal leading in his or her life.
With that in mind…
What We Know
The Bible Says...
In the Bible there are clear and unequivocal “calls” to the ministry. God “called” Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah… and even Elijah got a clear and unequivocal “call” from the still small voice of God.
- Clear: easy to perceive, understand, or interpret
- Unequivocal: leaving no doubt, unambiguous
And, yet, in today's churches (and in Christendom in general today), there is this idea of a “call to ministry” being a “subjective sense” (Don Whitney, a self-proclaimed “called to ministry” preacher and teacher, said, “…a call to ministry, that is, a subjective sense of guidance from God into vocational ministry”).
Where is that in the Bible?!
Yes, There is a Call
This is Position #1: Most people who claim to be Christians, church-goers, believers, etc. hold to this position.
- The majority opinion is that there is this subjective, mystical, personal “calling” of God on the life of a man whom God divinely appoints for a preaching-teaching ministry in a local church.
The only thing I can think to say about this is the following:
STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!! Stop perpetuating this myth of a subjective and somehow authoritative call to pastoral ministry! It doesn't exist in the Bible!
Dr. Peter S. Ruckman
Anyone who knows me also knows I highly respect Dr. Ruckman. Dr. Ruckman wrote a whole book on this topic:
Dr. Ruckman says in this book that the “call to ministry” is more than “just the call to witness”; it is, he explains, the act of God putting a man into the ministry as a life-long job.
However, Dr. Ruckman did say in that same context that this “God-called preacher” was assigned a lifelong job… two things that God expected him to do for the rest of his life:
- Study and search every branch of knowledge, religion, history, and news event to find THE TRUTH in it, according to one standard: the Holy Bible; and
- Proclaim those truths (or that truth) any way that he can as long as he lives.
Quote: “He is to be obsessed with learning and teaching” (teaching what is TRUE and what is NOT TRUE). Any other occupation is a “hobby” or a “necessity,” not his “calling.”
- Even thought I disagree with the notion of an extra-biblical, personal “call to ministry,” I really like what he has to say about what God expects of a preacher.
David Cloud is another contemporary Bible teacher who I've learned a lot from. He, too, believes in a subjective call to the ministry.
- Article: Test of a Pastor’s Calling
Cloud says: “We find a number of tests of a pastor’s calling in Scripture. These can help a man determine if God is calling him to be a pastor…”
- The test of desire (1 Timothy 3:1)
- The test of life (1 Ti. 3; Tit. 1)
- The test of ability (Tit. 1:9-11; 1 Ti. 3:5; 1 Pe. 5:2)
- The test of recognition (Acts 13:1-3; 16:1-3)
- The test of proving (1 Ti. 3:10; 2 Co. 8:22)
- The test of fruit
The “calling” has to be “tested” because it's subjective. Jeremiah didn't have to “test” his calling. It was clear as a bell just as if God Himself actually spoke to him (oh, wait… He did).
Don Whitney is a self-proclaimed “God-called minister.” He defines in no uncertain terms exactly what the modern perception of a “call to ministry” to be.
Quote: “…a call to ministry, that is, a subjective sense of guidance from God…”
Amen! Finally! Someone finally said what everyone else has danced around: The “call to ministry” is a subjective sense one has about God's personal guidance in his or her life.
You can find his clear teaching on this topic here:
- Two-minute video: “Called to Ministry” by Don Whitney
- The Call of God to Preach the Gospel
- Is It Unusual for a Minister to Question His Call?
No, There is No Call
This is Position #2: Those who hold to this position are in the minority…
- The minority position on calling is that there is no subjective calling today for anyone, including ministers, preachers, teachers, pastors, or janitors.
- There are two sources I found so far that provide biblical, sound, and defendable explanations of this position…
I'm not a big fan of John MacArthur because of his Calvinism and dual-authority preaching. However, this article on Pyromaniacs is simple outstanding.
The “Call” to Ministry (and why there isn't one), a post by Dan Phillips on Phil Johnson's Pyromaniacs blog.
Excerpts from the Article:
The concept of a call to pastoral ministry or a call to preach is deeply ingrained, and deeply traditional. It is down there at the point of men wearing pants when they preach. You don't question it, you just do it. Actually, it's deeper, since it is believed to be a Divine necessity, a movement of the Holy Spirit. I've heard of “the call” looming as a critical facet of ordination committee meetings. The candidate has to relate his sense of calling. If he can't, his “call” is suspect at best.
So I'll just ask one question. It should be a really obvious question. In fact, it should be the first question, shouldn't it? You regular readers know what the question is, already. What verse in the Bible talks about a pastor's “call”? The answer, of course, is no verse. Not one.
The only “call” the Bible talks about in this sense is a revelational and verbal call to prophetic ministry. Then there is the Christian's call to salvation (1 Cor. 1:26) and to live a holy life (Eph. 4:1), which is found in so many words in Scripture.
“Then how does a man know whether he's ca… whether he's supposed to be a pastor?”
Do you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture? Really? Then it should have an in-context, sufficient answer, shouldn't it?
What does it say? When you closely study and reflect on passages that expressly address the issue of pastoral qualification (1 Tim. 3:1ff.; Titus 1:6ff.), what do you see? Can you discern anything that is better expressed in terms of a “call”? Do they overwhelm you with internal, mystical, privately-revelatory elements? Or are they not rather almost shocking in their relative matter-of-factness?
Yet this “call” model has many baleful effects, real and potential. It makes “the call” essentially an internal, private, mystical, self-authenticating event.
Comments: Some of the comments to the blog post are outstanding…
Randy Talley: The only thing remotely resembling a “call” is “desire” in I Timothy 3:1. But since “call” carries an inherently revelatory connotation, the comparison is worse than remote. It's non-existent.
Tom Chantry: I Timothy 3:1 says that a man's desire to be a bishop is a prerequisite for the office. In other words, no one can be compelled [i.e., “called”] into office… That's not insignificant. There are far too many men in Bible schools, seminaries, and pulpits who are where they are because someone told them that really good Christians become preachers (and great ones go on the mission field)… The church calls its pastors, and God in the Bible tells them the basis on which to issue that call.
Gary Gilley is a pastor and author. I like his books; they're practical and filled with common (?) sense and a common (?) sense approach to the Bible.
Is That You Lord? by Gary E. Gilley
- Gilley says the crux of the issue is the sufficiency of Scripture. (Yes, it is.)
- A quick video review by Todd Friel
Some quotes from Gilley:
- [p.35-36] We have been taught that the will of God can be ascertained through divinely prompted feelings, hunches, impressions or dreams… To be sure, these methods are usually coupled with analysis of circumstances, wise counsel, and the peace of God.
- [p.36] But here a serious question arises–does the Bible prescribe such methods? Is this how God says we are to discern his will?
- [p.37] The Bible nowhere teaches that God has a specific will for every believer's life that is to be found through extra-biblical means.
Freedom to Choose: In his chapter of this title, Gilley says…
- “…God does not call for Christians to make subjective choices based upon what they 'feel' God might be telling them. Rather we are to be students of the Word, knowing how God wants us to reason and choose based upon principles he has given us…”
- In this same chapter he explains his position on the “call” to ministry…
- He explains the normative use of the word “call” in the New Testament is the universal call to salvation.
- There is also a call to service that God gives all the saved (e.g., 2Cor 5.17-21).
- Gilley refreshingly points out that there are only three times in the New Testament where we see someone called personally and specifically into the ministry…
Three New Testament Personal Calls to Ministry: [p. 58]
- (Rom 1.1; 1Cor 1.1) God called Paul to be an Apostle.
- (Acts 13.2) God called Barnabas and Saul to go on their first missionary journey.
- (Acts 16.9-10) Got called Paul to take the gospel to Macedonia.
Gilley then points out: [p. 58]
These three unique callings do not establish a norm. What about all the other ministers in the New Testament who did not receive such a call–how did they know they were to be elders (pastors) or missionaries or where they were to go? Since the Bible seems to be silent on the subject, just how does a person make a choice as to whether he should be in what we might call vocational ministry?
Gilley's Tests for Those Considering the Ministry: [p. 58-59]
- The test of desire: 1Tim 3.1 (Do you want to be a pastor?)
- The test of gifts and abilities (Do you possess the necessary spiritual gifts and abilities to be a pastor?)
- The test of opportunity (Has God provided you any opportunities to be a pastor?)
- The test of teaching: “If a man is not gifted to teach the Word, he should not consider the ministry.”
It's About Vocation
Scripture is Sufficient!
- Any and all callings of God to His people today (during the Church Age) have been written down in Scripture.
- That is why we say “Scripture is sufficient,” because it is. It is sufficient for all things pertaining to this life (what we should do) and godliness (what we should be).
- We need nothing more than Scripture, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, to be made like the Perfect Man, Jesus Christ (what we should be), and thereby be throughly and thoroughly equipped for every good work (what we should do).
Your “Calling” is Your “Vocation”:
- “Calling” for a Christian refers to his “vocation” (which literally means “a calling, a being called” from vocatus “called,” past participle of vocare “to call,” from PIE root *wekw- “to speak”)
- Our vocation is our calling, and we (Christians) all have the same vocation.
There is one and only one mention of the word “vocation” in the King James Bible:
Ephesians 4.1: I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation [#2821]wherewith ye are called…
However, the Greek word translated vocation in Ephesians 4.1 (Strongs #2821) appears 10 more times in Scripture and it is translated the same way in all ten verse (here are just a couple examples):
1Cor 1.26: For ye see your calling [#2821 - vocation], brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
2Tim 1.9: Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling [#2821 - vocation], not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
Therefore, calling is not personal; it's not mystical; it's not extra-biblical (something outside the Scripture); and it's not revelatory (i.e., it's not something God reveals to us in a specific, personal way). Calling is simply the work to which God has called us; it is our vocation of making disciples by evangelizing the lost and edifying the save.
It's About Teleology
Teleology is the study (Greek logos) of the end purpose (Greek: telos) of a thing.
- If you look at a hammer, you can understand what that hammer was designed to do (what it's purpose is) by studying what it's designed to do. You can explain the hammer (give a reason for its existence) by looking at what it is designed to do (its end or purpose).
- A hammer drives nails, not because God called the hammer to the work of driving nails. A hammer drives nails because it was designed to drive nails; we made the hammer for this end, for this purpose.
When someone asks the question: “What does God want me to do?”…
- This is not a question of calling: “What has God called me to do?”
- This is a question of teleology: “What has God designed me to do?”
Instead of all this “Christian divination” (the mystical seeking of personal divine revelatory guidance), we should be focusing on design.
- God's “divine design” in a Christian will provide all the guidance necessary for that Christian to “find” and do the work God designed him to do.
Ephesians 2.10 says God has made each and every one of us in Christ “unto good works”–He has designed us for the works He wants us to do. And He has ordained those works that we should walk in them.
- That means we are made (created in Christ, divinely designed) for the works God wants us to do.
- That means the works God wants us to do are divinely ordained for us as individuals.
- It's a perfect fit: we are designed for the works and the works are ordained for us.
- The Christian who does the works he was designed to do will do those works as naturally as a hammer drives nails.
- But the Christian who tries to do works for which God did not design him… will be like the guy who tries to drive nails with screwdriver. He might get one or two in… but he won't last long before he quits.
It's about teleology (what is your divine design?), not about “calling” (a “subjective sense” of God's leading–oh gag me with a spoon!).
God created each and every one of us with a purpose in mind–works He designed us to do:
Eph 2.10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
God gave each and every member of the Body of Christ the gifts, talents, abilities, etc. to do the works He wants us to do:
1Cor 12.11: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
This is God's divine design in each and every member of the Body of Christ:
1Cor 12.18: But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
When we do the works God designed us to do (the works he ordained for us: perfect fit!), He is gloried and the Body is edified (i.e., everything works as it should):
Eph 4.16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
When we sit around wringing our hands, praying and fasting, and “seeking the calling of the Lord”… we're stupid.
- Get up and get busy doing something to evangelize the lost and edify the saved.
- What comes natural? What do you like doing in the ministry? What is your “passion” (desire) in the ministry? Go do that! Because we need the hands in the Body of Christ to do the work of the hands… and the feet to do the work of the feet… If you're a foot, don't try to do the work of a hand. Do what comes naturally to the foot! It ain't that hard…
- Remember the LRRPs, folks.
If you put a good hammer in your hands, you're gonna look for a nail… that's telology.
- Telology (God's divine design; what He designed us to do) should be the guiding principle in our search for our ministry niche.
- And we'll never figure it out until we start driving nails… get busy in the ministry.
Dr. Peter S. Ruckman wrote about this in his Commentary on 1Corinthians (p. 27-28). Pay attention as you read this quote how he mixes the idea of “calling” and teleology (“that for which the Lord has equipped you”). Doc was way smarter than I am… Way smarter… But, I disagree with the traditional Baptist myth of a “calling” as he mentions it in this quote. I think we would do better to stick with what he says about simply focusing on what you are equipped by God to do (teleology), because that will clearly define what God wants you to do.
I don't particularly appreciate my ministry. I really don't. If I had my way, I'd like to be a big time evangelist and run up and down the country and preach to a town and get people saved. I would like to be a Billy Graham or Jack Van Impe instead of a poor man's Oral Roberts. I don't particularly appreciate my ministry. I don't particularly appreciate God calling me to spend all my time hacking away at these Christian educators and slamming these revisers and going after these fellows and calling them “asses” and “blockheads” and “dumbheads” and “meatbrains” and all that. I never particularly enjoyed doing that. I would rather do something else. But you will have to do what the Lord calls you to do, and you will have to do that for which the Lord has equipped you. That is what the Lord equipped me for, and that is what I'm going to do. That's what I am supposed to do. A fellow said “Billy Sunday was God's joke on the ministry and Pete Ruckman was God's joke on Christian education.” I appreciate that. If that's what I can do, I'll do it.
You do what you can do and what you are equipped to do. Don't follow my example all the way unless the Lord wants you to. If he does, OK; if he doesn't, go some other way. Do what God wants you to do. In my background is all the equipment for what I am supposed to do. It is weird equipment. I mean, the Lord had to get somebody down low enough on the ground who would talk like common folks. So he put me in the infantry for four years. Then God had to get somebody that could handle the Hebrew and Greek. So I had to go to college for ten years. The Lord had to get somebody that would say it plain and blunt and clear. So he had to give me a background where I wasn't raised; I was “drug up.” And all of that is equipment for what God intended me to do. In your life the same thing will be true. There will be some things in your life that won't be clear. But you keep on doing what God wants you to do the way God wants you to do it, and you will find everything in your background will begin to come in and work out for the particular job that God wants you to do. And it will be the right equipment and the right training.
I have never known God to waste anything, any human life. We waste things, but the Lord doesn't.
Summary: So, how do we know what the Lord wants us to do? By some mystical “subjective sense” that we think is a “calling”? No. Do what God equipped you to do.
- Look at your background–everything in your background (it's not an accident: Eph 2.10).
- God doesn't waste anything.
- Go do what God has equipped you to do because that is what He wants you to do.
I wrote a book on this.