As of late I’ve been considering this whole matter of “a call” particularly to vocational ministry. It appears to me that throughout scripture and Christian history that God would often give a man public ministry and then hide him in obscurity or vise versa. It seems as though God was willing to share his servant with the world and then would draw Him back unto Himself for He only to enjoy. Perhaps this could explain why people like Jeanne Guyon spent sixteen years in a French prison and Watchmen Nee died after he had served the last twenty years in a Chinese prison. Also such was the case with men like the Apostle John who at the end his life became a cast away on the Island of Patmos. I wonder what must have gone through his mind as he was thrown off the ship and left to die. Did he question God as to why this was happening to him? Did he wonder if he would ever preach the gospel again? Did he ask what was to become of his ministry? How could he possibly avoid fear and discouragement? I believe that John’s apparent loss was the biggest gain of his entire life. It was there that John, in intimate solitude with his Lord, received a revelation of Christ that was so overwhelming that he fell down as a dead man. God called a man unto Himself and two thousand years later the whole world continues to read the record of one man alone with his God, that impacted all of Christianity.
This brings to mind the subject of God calling a man or woman “into the ministry”. When I was nineteen years old I surrendered my life to God for the purpose of preaching the gospel. To this day, I do not doubt that God indeed was leading me in this direction. I am now sixty one years old and have been preaching for all these years; for the most part vocationally but for the last thirteen bi-vocational. In recent days, God has granted me a revelation that has revolutionized my whole way of thinking about ministry. I’m convinced that God never called me into the ministry but unto Himself. Most of us who have grown up in evangelical churches have heard many appeals to the churches congregate to consider a call to the ministry. As a result seminaries and Bible colleges have flourished with men and women preparing to be a pastor, missionary, music or youth director, or other vocational ministries. It is no doubt that many who have walked this path have been mightily used of God. This emphasis on being called into the ministry, unfortunately has also had some adverse affects on the body of Christ. Rather than point out the faults of others, allow me to share with you some of the impact it had on my own life.
After being ordained, by the church of which I was a member, the spirit of pride wasted no time in capturing my heart. I no longer viewed myself as just an ordinary church member but now I was a bonafide USDA grade A reverend. I loved it when people would call me reverend or pastor or some other title that pertained to the clergy. This spirit of spiritual superiority fed my ego but never quite satisfied it. The belief that I was the pastor and the people were there to support me (especially financially) manifested itself to the point of borderline spiritual abuse. The more external successes that could be bragged about, the more acceptance I felt from man and God. Now please understand that I found my identity in ministry. Take away my position and I’m just another nobody. Praise God today I know this is a lie from the enemy. My identity is in Christ, has always been in Christ (since conversion) and will always be in Christ. I no longer see myself as a notch above other believers. We are all the same, we are all the same, we are all the same, did I say we are all the same? Yes indeed. Christ is in you and He is in me and that makes us one in Him. No matter the title that we may be tempted to flaunt we are all on the same level in Christ. Another deception I accepted was that because I had given myself to the Lord’s work I deserved special privileges. These came in the form of my own special parking place in the church parking lot with a sign that read “reserved for pastor” and my own special chair on the sanctuary platform that made me feel exalted above all others. Because of my high priestly position no one was allowed to question my God given authority. Can you see now that ministry was more about meeting my own need than a pure heart surrendered to the call of God? Well we could continue this with many other pathetic examples but that is not my objective in this writing.
Now let us consider this whole topic of being called “into the ministry” from a Biblical perspective. The first and greatest truth that we must consider is that God did not create man for ministry but for Himself. Even though ministry is a part of the Christian experience it must be viewed as an overflow of the heart not as the fulfillment of an obligation. The source of our ministry will determine the substance of it. When ministry originates and is sustained by man the result will always be artificial. This kind of ministry seems to be very productive but only yields the seeds of carnality harvested by fleshly appetites. When Christ is our source we realize that without Him we can do nothing. As we abide in Him and He abides in us we bring forth much fruit. So you may be asking what does this have to do with a call into the ministry? Simply this, unless we realize that our calling is to an abiding relationship with Christ, then all else we do will be hay, wood and stubble. Again I emphasize that we are not called into the ministry but we are called unto God. I know you may be saying, what about all those men in the Bible who were called into the ministry? Well let’s take a look.
To my knowledge there are limited examples in the New Testament where the scripture uses the term “called” as pertaining to a specific ministry. The first we shall look at is Barnabas and Saul (later called Paul). Acts 13:2 says “Now separate to me (or unto me) Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”. Please note three things. The Holy Spirit called them first unto Himself before the call to ministry. Secondly, the work to which they were called could also be interpreted as the work to which they were led. Thirdly this calling was not a call to a ministerial position like that of an Apostle.
The second person that we shall notice is Peter. In the first and second Epistle of Peter he introduces himself as an apostle. Peter was truly called of God as an apostle, for scriptures clearly teach us that Jesus personally chose twelve apostles. However, please note that before Jesus chose the twelve, He first called them unto Himself (Luke 6:13). Before Jesus gave the great commission to the Apostles, He first called them unto Himself for at least three years. It is interesting to note that none of the other ten apostles never referred to their title of Apostle, let alone flaunt it before the other brethren.
The third and last person that we shall consider is the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul is the only man in scripture that I know of that spoke of his Apostleship as a calling. Before we continue, please note once again that before Paul launched a lifetime of ministry he was first called unto God. Paul spent three years in the desert of Arabia being tutored by God Himself. I believe that the reason for Paul’s frequent mention of his Apostleship was because of his unique ministry unto the Gentiles. Paul’s ministry was different from all the other apostles, and therefore needed authentication for the acceptance and confirmation of the other apostles.
Now we ask the question that most have already been thinking about as you have been reading this article. What about pastors, missionaries, evangelist; and teachers? Aren’t they called of God into these ministries? I find nowhere in scripture where God has called men and women to these ministries as a position. Did you hear what I just said? Not to a position. These were gifts given to the church for the benefit of the body. They are all gifts to be expressed as we abide in Christ. As we allow Christ to live His life through us ministry will flow naturally, many times without our being aware of it. For this, seminary education or Bible knowledge will not suffice. This must be a natural outworking as we abide in the Vine. What man has deemed as a calling into the ministry is usually a surrender to a position with titles and ministerial perks. I say again, God is calling us unto Himself and out of His life and His life only will come true ministry. Please understand that true ministry cannot function under a controlled environment. It must be free to break forth with all of the energy of the universe if it is to crush the gates of hell. We cannot control the gifts of God anymore than we can control God Himself. Are you beginning to see that ministry is not a job, duty, or position but it is the expression of the life of God. And how can we express His life unless we are called unto Him and abide in Him? If we are called into the ministry then ministry can very easily become an idol; but if we are called unto God then ministry will be His not ours. I humbly appeal to all of my brethren who have made “the ministry” their life to drop the shackles of religious bondage and run from the lie to the one who is the Life. I’m not suggesting that if you are in a vocational ministry that you resign and seek some other means of livelihood; however, I am suggesting that we minister from a life and giftedness perspective. It is important for us to remember that every member of the body of Christ has a ministry and each one’s ministry is simply an expression of their call to Christ.
Now let us consider our most high calling. Jesus, “said come unto me and learn of me” (Matt 11:28-29). It is interesting to note that He did not say learn about, me but learn of me or some translations say from me. The callings of God will always take us to Christ. They will never distract us or burden us. When Christ gives a call it will always be first and foremost unto Himself. Every believer has received the callings of God. Consider for just a moment the following:
- We are called to be saints. (1 Cor 1:2)
- We are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28-30)
- We are called unto the fellowship of His Son. (1 Cor 1:9)
- We are called into the grace of Christ. (Gal 1:6)
- We are called in hope. (Eph 4:4)
- We are called in one body. (Col 3:15)
Let us be mindful that we are not called “into the ministry”, but we are called unto Christ. Rest in Him and ministry will come.