Divine calling is essential to the lives of Christians. In fact, we owe the fact that we are Christians to God’s divine calling. Divine calling is firstly seen in a Christian’s life in his coming to salvation through faith in Christ. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). The Good Shepherd calls his sheep and the sheep listen to his voice (John 10:3). Just as Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, God has called us to life by speaking it into our dead hearts (John 11:43; Eph. 2:5). Indeed, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; cf. Rom. 10:13). In reflecting on the multiple callings in Scripture, Derek Prime and Alistair Begg note that “the primary call is to fellowship with God’s Son Jesus Christ—a call to union with Christ and all its glorious benefits” (On Being a Pastor, p. 20). From 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 they then describe the next two aspects of calling on all believers as being sanctification and service. God is in the calling business for all believers from the calling of believers to first believe, onto further holiness and into Christian service and love. God also calls his followers to be fishers of men and disciple-makers (Mark 1:16-17; Matthew 28:19-20). In his book Spiritual Discipleship, J. Oswald Sanders comments: “the initial call of Christ to the men with whom He planned to associate in His purpose of world evangelization was a call to discipleship” (p. 7).
Nearly all believers are eager to affirm God’s calling in this realm of Christianity. We all desire to celebrate God’s sovereignty in calling sinners to himself. We love to praise and brag on this God and his grace. However, that is where many of us put an end to divine calling. Some, of course not all, Christians are slow to discuss a divine call on a man’s life into the ministry. However, God never changes his character and he is a God of calling. It is all over Scripture. God continually has been calling men into special offices of ministry for his glory. He called Moses, David, Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the twelve disciples, Paul, etc. One thing I believe is vital for us to regain in our churches is a firm belief in the divine calling of God on certain men for pastoral service and for the shepherding of his sheep. If we are to hold a high view of God calling sinners to salvation, we must have an equally high view of God’s grace in calling some of these redeemed men into the ministry of the gospel. I am inclined to agree with T.B. Maston when he declares that “If we lose the conviction of a unique call for some we shall tend to lose the sense of God’s plan or ‘call’ for all” (God’s Will and Your Life, 1964).
There is no denying the fact that God calls some men into full-time ministerial service. A few questions I wish to very briefly address are: What is a call to ministry? Who calls and who is called? And how do I know I am called?
What is a Call to Ministry?
Prime and Begg describe the call to ministry as “an unmistakable conviction an individual possesses that God wants him to do…[such as] being a pastor and teacher…shepherd[ing] God’s flock and car[ing] for its well-being” (On Being a Pastor, p. 18). This is a specific call on a man into the service of God and his flock through the preaching and teaching of his Word along with rest of the duties outlined for a shepherd in the New Testament. The call to ministry is not a call into a career or occupation in which the pastor seeks personal gain. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The call to ministry for a pastor is a call to be a slave. “Paul, a servant (douloV) of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle…” (Rom. 1:1). While ministers of the gospel of Christ are not at all apostles, the apostles (like Paul) were indeed ministers of God. Therefore, in understanding the call of a pastor into ministry, it is proper to understand the call as being one to vocational slavery to Jesus Christ rather than a prosperous career or occupation. So, a call to ministry is a divinely initiated summons to shepherd the flock of God as a vocational slave to Jesus Christ and his gospel.
Who Calls and Who is Called?
The tendency in a discussion about the calling of a minister is to place all of the focus on the unworthy sinner who is graciously called. However, the emphasis should be placed on the gracious and glorious God who calls. At the same time, the pastor who is called should not be neglected. There must be a healthy balance given in this discussion. I believe the two go hand in hand. For example, when God called Moses, he called a murderer who lacked the ability to publicly speak. When we focus on Moses (as Moses did) it is easy for us to conclude that God must be mistaken in his calling of this inadequate man. But that’s just it. Moses was inadequate. Just like Paul: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:4-6). So, yes, Moses, in and of yourself you are inadequate to carry out this special role that God has called you to because you are “slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). God calls very ordinary people who have many deficiencies and lack sufficiency to carry out the task God has called them to. But that’s the point! The glorious beauty of it all is that the focus of a divine calling is the Divine, God Almighty! This great Caller takes what is weak and makes strong. He takes what is insufficient and provides the grace of sufficiency to carry out his purpose in ministry. So, while God calls ordinary people like Moses, David, Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, Charles Collins, and Mathew Gilbert, it is the same almighty, sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, and gracious God who calls us all. And it is in the God of the calling that the pastor should rely to carry out the extraordinary task he has laid out for him. Therefore, a crucial and vital point in understanding the pastor and his calling is realizing that ordinary people are called by an extraordinary God for extraordinary ministry for the glory of God. And as the called, we are called to a Person. “If there is a Caller, then we are called primarily to a Person—not to do something or go somewhere” (Os Guinness, The Call, 1998).
How Do I Know I am Called?
A final important aspect in understanding the pastor and his calling is the determination of a pastor as to whether he is called. There are many different ways in which a church member can determine whether he has been called into the ministry. One method in determining this that I believe is the most crucial, while the rest are viable (such as examples of fruit, encouragement from others, etc.), is the desire God places in the heart of a man. I fully believe that God is sovereign over the thoughts and desires of man. God gives to some the gracious gift of desiring God through Jesus Christ, which leads to their justification. This instilled desire will be kindled further through the sanctification and conformity into the perfect image of God, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). And the more one aligns his or her self with the Word of God, the more one will desire what God desires. In the same way, this is one definite way that God calls men into the pastorate—through their desires. Godly advice for a man considering his calling is to get out of the ministry if he can. If you cannot get out of the ministry or see yourself doing anything else but pastoring, it is great evidence of being called into the ministry. The call of a man into the ministry means that he will forever have a burning desire in his soul to preach Christ and shepherd the flock of God. It is a call that is irresistible in nature (On Being a Pastor, p. 19). When a pastor feels this deep desire and irresistible longing in his soul to preach Christ (accompanied with some other signs like spiritual fruit) he can be certain he has been called of God, for this is indeed a foreign desire to the heart of man—to be a vocational slave to the gospel of Christ for the glory of God alone.