This sponsored post was provided by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The call to ministry is indeed a subjective thing. We use phrases like “feeling called” and “sensing a call.” Sometimes we may talk about “discerning” a call or “wrestling with” a call. If you are in one of those categories of thinking, how can you get beyond such internal deliberation and get more objective about ministry aspirations? If you’re discerning a call to ministry, the following ten questions may help you re-locate a “gut feeling” to one of mind and heart.
1. Do you desire the ministry?
This question should go without saying, but many mistake a sense of begrudging ministry for humility. A man being asked about eldership says “I just don’t know if I’m ready” or “I just don’t know if I’m qualified” or “I just don’t know if I should be in that kind of position,” and some read this uncertainty as the kind of meekness that would preclude pastoral arrogance or authoritarianism. Perhaps so. But it may also work against his fitness for ministry in the first place. Some people are suspicious of men who seem especially desirous of ministry. And yet in 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul says that anybody who aspires to pastoral ministry desires something noble. The apostle Peter says that pastors should shepherd eagerly (1 Pet. 5:2). If you find yourself unsure of what you want to do with your life, pastoral ministry may not be for you. Those who are genuinely called usually genuinely desire the ministry.
2. Does your character meet God’s expectations?
It is of course not enough to “feel called.” It is not enough to desire to be in ministry. The biblical qualifications for pastors are clear, and they are set quite high. Review the lists of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-5. Do you fall significantly short of any of these? Would a rigorous examination of your life and true accountability find that your life reflects accurately these standards?
3. Is your household in order?
Embedded in the list of qualifications for ministry is the faithfulness of a man to his wife and children (provided he has them). Some men who feel called are so zealous for professional ministry they have already neglected their home life. Are your wife and children flourishing under your care? Do you lead sacrificially and humbly at home? If not, these circumstances will not improve if you were to add shepherding a flock to your life.
4. Has God gifted you to preach and teach his word?
This can be a tricky qualification to discern, because many men mistake their ability to talk with a gift for preaching and teaching God’s word. The qualification for elders—distinguishing it from the qualifications for deacons—is not primarily for eloquence, however, but for the work of “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) and giving instruction in sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). The “gift of gab” is not the same thing.
5. Does your church affirm your calling?
Here is another glaring omission in many aspiring ministers’ sense of calling. There really is no such thing as an autonomous feeling for ministry. If you are not currently a part of a Christian community that can affirm your gifts and qualifications, not a member of a church that could effectively “send you out,” you really have no business seeking to shepherd a flock. The question is not so much “Do you feel called?” but “Do your elders think you’re called?” or “Does your pastor encourage your aspiration to ministry?”
6. Do you love the people of God?
Ministry is not about platform-building. It is not about realizing your personal dreams. It is not primarily about “building something.” The Lord in his restoration of the apostle Peter connected love for himself with loving the sheep. “Feed my lambs,” he says to Peter. “Tend my sheep.” If you do not have a genuine love for people, you should take your entrepreneurial aspirations into another vocation.
7. Are you passionate about the gospel and the Great Commission?
This is non-negotiable. You may believe that “Without vision the people will perish,” but the vision in Proverbs 29:18 is not a pastor’s personal vision, but the prophetic vision of the glory of God, which is brought to us through the gospel, which is brought to people through the mission of the Church. If you find the gospel incidental to your calling, you are not called. If you do not see the lost with compassion, as Jesus did, as harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd, you are not called.
8. Are you engaged in fruitful ministry?
As in question 5, if you do not presently serve well the church in the capacity available to you, there is no experiential basis on which to expect you will serve the church well when given more responsibility. If you cannot be faithful in little, why should you expect the Lord to give you more?
9. Are you ready to defend the faith?
Perhaps more than ever before in the west, the evangelical pastor must be a man of courage and absolute confidence in the word of God. The temptations of worldliness, idolatry, and cultural hostility toward the things of God will only become worse in the days ahead. If you are not prepared to lead a flock through valleys of wolves, if you feel you may shrink back or be overly timid, ministry probably isn’t for you.
10. Are you willing to surrender?
Will you go anywhere? Will you serve anyone? If you feel called, do you feel called to go wherever God would send you? If your sense of calling has strings attached or is so tied to a specific vision that you would turn up your nose at something seen as “lesser” or beneath your gifts, you probably aren’t called to ministry. Pastoral ministry is no place for narcissists or personal kingdom builders.
Answering these questions provide a good start for discerning your sense of calling to ministry. You may also want to take some next steps in training and affirmation, including mentoring and discipling from seasoned pastors at your church or in your community. Bible college or seminary education can equip you further and help ready you to embrace your calling.
Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri offers numerous programs, including our flagship degree program for ministry training – the Master of Divinity – that help fulfill our vision to exist For The Church. Our shared goal with you is to see the local church strengthened and supplied with faithful gospel ministers. And if you apply to Midwestern Seminary or College by December 31, you’ll receive a free copy of President Jason K. Allen’s book Discerning Your Call to Ministry, which further elaborates on these 10 key questions.