Every Christian is called by God to a specific purpose. The call to vocational ministry has unique demands, and it should not be pursued without prayer, counsel and spiritual examination.
Robert Crosby is professor of practical theology at Southeastern University. Pamela Crosby is the senior director of Southeastern University’s COMPASS—The Center for Calling and Career. Here they offer their perspective on discerning God’s calling to vocational ministry.
Understanding the Calling of God
How does the Bible use the term “call” or “calling?”
What does it mean to be “called into ministry” or “called of God?” In a sense, as Christians we are all called to Christ, to follow and obey Him. He made that clear when He said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me (Luke 9:23).” The call to Jesus Himself is the ultimate call on our lives.
The concept of a divine call has sometimes been misunderstood within the Christian community. The opportunity of understanding the call of God on a Christian’s life can at times be confused with personal dreams and ambitions. But, the purpose of a divine call or even a call to minister is not something we create, but something God places within us.
From the Old Testament to the New, God frequently called people to Himself and to His work. For example, Abraham was called to leave his home and to travel to a place of promise (Gen. 12:1-9). Paul was “called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1) and noted in his letter to the Ephesian church that God “gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11).” These roles were vital in order to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (v. 12).”
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The apostle Paul urged Christ’s followers with these words:
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)
For Paul, the “call” was not as much a destination as a journey. Also, it was one that required commitment and moving forward in faith. It also is one that holds the promise of “the prize.”
Is God Calling Me to Serve in Ministry?
How can you discern or understand if God is calling you into vocational ministry?
Confirming and clarifying a calling to vocational ministry is a process. Even more than you want to be sure of it — God wants to help you find that assurance. He will not drop an envelope out of heaven that tells you what your calling is; however, He has provided relational, practical and spiritual resources to help you. Consider these:
- “The Call” for the Christian is primarily into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This comes first and then your ministry flows from that commitment. Os Guinness notes in his book, “The Call,” that this is the “primary Call (capital C)” and that everything else we do for God in the church and our community is a “calling (small c).” While we can find a key calling on our life, it is vital to remember that the greatest call is to know Jesus Himself. Guinness writes: “Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism and direction lived out as a response of his summons and service.”
- Attention needs to be given to your God-given desires. What is it that God has put in your heart to do? What is the work you feel drawn and compelled most to do? In other words, what are your areas of irresistible interest in life? Pay close attention to those. A calling is something God places within us. Philippians says, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).” What has God put in your heart to do for others in His Name? Dr. Kent Ingle, president of SEU, wrote “The Adventure Called Life: Discovering Your Divine Design,” which provides insights and exercises to help students better understand those God-given desires and gifts.
- Listen with interest and discernment to the counsel, advice and encouragements of Christian leaders, parents, pastors and church staff members. God has placed people in the church and in our lives to help us learn more about Him, His ways and His plan for our lives. Ask great questions of them and you will gain great insights for today … and tomorrow. Also, SEU students benefit from the many services provided by SEU’s office COMPASS—The Center for Calling and Career. The office is staffed with people who direct students to helpful resources. COMPASS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- AVOID: The tendency to “go it alone” in trying to discover or confirm your calling to vocational ministry. In fact, often it is the people to whom you minister that will see and affirm the ministry gifts and abilities within you.
- EMBRACE: The community of God, the local church, and stay active there. The local church is not only the “house of God” and the “people of God,” but it is the incubator of ministry callings.
- AVOID: The tendency to try and be a carbon copy of other pastors or ministers. By all means, learn from them and let yourself be influenced by their Christ-like example, but remember you are “God’s workmanship” (Eph. 2:10) and you have your own unique purpose.
- EMBRACE: The heart for God and other people that you have been given; a unique passion. Pour your heart into serving others in Jesus’ name.
- AVOID: The assumption that your “personal dream” is synonymous with God’s call on your life. While dreams and desires can play into our discovering God’s plan, there are times when God will actually call us to surrender our dreams in order to live out His calling on our lives; His Kingdom call.
- EMBRACE: A heart of obedience and a passionate response to God’s call on your life to serve others. A life of ministry is one fueled by love for God and others.
- AVOID: Worry or anxiety over finding your calling. Remember Paul’s advice: “Do not be anxious about anything, but pray about everything and present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ (Phil. 4:6-7).”
- EMBRACE: The opportunity to pray and to seek God and His will for your life and the opportunities to talk with other leaders and godly counselors. While your calling may seem a bit unclear or blurry right now, as you pray, serve, learn and seek counsel you will find it will become more and more clear to you.
Your Calling and Career
Southeastern University’s online ministry degrees prepare students for various roles in churches and other faith-based organizations. Graduates can pursue positions in areas such as teaching, worship, administration and youth and family ministry. Each program takes place in a flexible and convenient format to accommodate students’ personal and work schedules.