written by: Warren Wiersbe
How can I determine whether I am called to the ministry, and how important is the assurance of a special call?
The work of the ministry is too demanding and difficult for a man to enter it without a sense of divine calling. Men enter and then leave the ministry usually because they lack a sense of divine urgency. Nothing less than a definite call from God could ever give a man success in the ministry.
How do we know we are called? For some, there is a crisis experience: Moses at the burning bush, or Isaiah in the temple. But for most there is simply that inescapable conviction that God has His hand upon us. Paul expresses it this way: “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9: 16). The man who is called has this inner conviction which will not permit him to invest his life in any other vocation.
Along with this there is the possession of the gifts and qualifications that God requires for His workmen. The candidate for the ministry had better pray over and ponder the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. No minister feels adequately equipped; even Paul exclaimed, “And who is sufficient for these things?” But the man God calls senses that God has given him spiritual gifts and natural abilities which must be dedicated, cultivated, and used for God’s glory.
Certainly the pastor must have character and conduct that are above reproach. He must sincerely desire to serve Christ. He should have a love for the Word and an appetite to study it and share it with others. He must be able to love people and work well with them. He must have spiritual and emotional maturity. If he is married, his wife should stand with him in his decision.
Along with this inner conviction, and an honest personal evaluation, must come an approval from those who know the Lord. This does not mean that we must “confer with flesh and blood,” but it does mean that God’s people will confirm what God has already said to the heart. If a man feels he is called to preach, he should begin to exercise his gifts in his local church and wherever God gives him opportunities. Spurgeon began his ministry by passing out tracts in tenement houses; D.L. Moody began as a Sunday school worker. It is wise to spend time with some seasoned saint (preferably your pastor) to discuss these matters and to seek God’s guidance. It is significant that, in the Bible, God preferred to call people who were busy: Gideon was threshing wheat; Moses was tending sheep; David was with his father’s flock; Peter and Andrew were fishing. It is difficult to steer a cat that is in neutral, and God usually does not guide a believer who is “taking it easy.”
Sometimes the church will sense God’s call on a man’s life even before the man senses it himself! John Knox was called to preach at the end of a sermon delivered by John Rough in St. Andrew’s Castle, when the preacher charged him solemnly “to refuse not this holy vocation.” Knox ran to his room, wept and prayed, and finally came out obedient to the call. George W. Truett had a similar experience when he was challenged to the ministry by an old deacon in a Baptist church in Whitewright, Texas. Truett said, “I was thrown into the stream, and just had to swim!”
A man does not enter the ministry because he has failed at a dozen other jobs, or because there is nothing else to do. The oft-repeated counsel is worth repeating again: If you can stay out of the ministry, then do so; because this will prove you were not called to begin with. The man who is God-called will know it if he is sincerely yielded to God’s will.
One word of warning: if you have unusual gifts but are not called to a full-time ministry, then get busy in your local church and use your gifts for God’s glory; but don’t try to pastor the church. The faithful, gifted layman who considers himself an “almost pastor” can either be a great help or a great hindrance in a local church. If he respects his pastor’s divine call to be shepherd, he can be a great help. If he decides to “go it alone,” he can create no end of trouble, particularly if he decides he is more gifted than the pastor God has called.
One final word of counsel: give yourself time to determine God’s will. This does not mean endless excuses and delays! But it does mean spending extra time in prayer and in the reading of God’s Word. Some of the greatest preachers determined God’s leading while busy in other occupations. G. Campbell Morgan was a teacher in a boys’ school and used his extra hours to preach and win souls. George Morrison served on the editorial staff of the great Oxford Dictionary while seeking God’s leading for his life. When a man is quietly obedient in the everyday tasks of life, he will hear the voice of God and know which way to go.
Once I am sure of my divine call, what should I do next?
If you are not already exercising your spiritual gifts in a local church, then – get busy! 1 Timothy 3:6 warns, “Not a novice!” This suggests a time of spiritual maturing under the supervision of a pastor in a local church. Certainly if the deacon must “first be proved” (1 Tim. 3:10), then the potential pastor ought also to have opportunity to prove himself.
God’s usual plan is to let a man prove himself faithful over a few things before He makes him ruler over many things (Mt. 25:21). “Too much too soon” can lead to “too bad too late!” Spurgeon began as a Sunday school teacher. One Sunday he was asked to address the entire group because the leader was absent, and he was so successful that he eventually directed the school. Because Spurgeon was faithful to his little flock at Waterbeach, God gave him a great ministry in London. The man who is not faithful in the little tasks will never have opportunity to prove himself faithful in the big tasks. Start where you are; do what must be done; and let God open the way.
Perhaps the leaders of your church will want to license you to preach. A license to preach is to ordination what an engagement ring is to marriage: it’s the first step, and it can always be revoked. Paul warns the church leaders, “Lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Tim. 5:22). Before the church lays hands on you for ordination, be sure God has laid His hand on you for a lifetime of service. It is better to be patient and certain than to be impetuous and embarrassed.
Start praying and planning toward specialized training. Your pastor and other mature Christians can give you guidance concerning available schools. Please don’t use the old excuse that many great preachers never went to school! Spurgeon, Moody, Ironside, and G. Campbell Morgan never attended any schools for pastoral training; yet two of them founded schools for training preachers, and the other two sat on learned faculties. They knew the importance of education.
Watch out for the devil’s attacks during this period. He often uses other Christians to discourage the would-be preacher, and sometimes even uses former pastors! Maintain a strong devotional life. Be devoted to Christ-be disciplined -be busy! Claim Proverbs 3:5-6 and Psalm 37:3-5.
What really is “adequate preparation” for the ministry?
God has many ways of preparing a man, and we should never despise or question His ways. He has a specific purpose for each of His workers, and He alone knows how to prepare His tools. Rule One: Keep your eyes on the Lord and not on other Christians ? especially preachers!
There is more than one kind of preparation for the ministry. There is, for example, general preparation that comes from daily living. Paul was a tent maker; Peter and James and John were fishermen; and each of these men learned much about people and life just from their daily vocation. Many a practical lesson is learned in the office or factory, so never despise your hours of labor. Fortunate is the pastor who has punched a clock and has learned by experience what it means to be a Christian in today’s workaday world!
Of course, there is vocational preparation as well: study of the Word, knowledge of Bible languages, an understanding of doctrine and church history, and practical training in the know-how of Christian service. “Apt to teach” is one of the important qualifications for the ministry, and this suggests “apt to learn.” We must be receivers before we can be transmitters. The man who does not learn the discipline of study will never accomplish all God wants him to accomplish in the ministry.
There are several options available when it comes to education, and you and the Lord must decide which is best for you. You can spend three years in an accredited Bible institute and stop, but this is not recommended (unless age is a real factor). You can take those three years and add two more at a Bible college to earn a degree. Or, you can spend four years in college and add three more at seminary. Some men will feel called to earn graduate degrees, but be careful not to use school as an escape from the realities of the ministry. It is easy to die by degrees!
Whatever course of study you follow, just be sure you graduate knowing how to use the basic tools of the ministry. A working knowledge of the Bible is basic. Try to get hold of the basics of the Bible languages, even though you may plan to use interlinear translations and lexicons. Several good courses in preaching are essential. Learn how to prepare and present a message from the Word! Your basic courses in theology will help you recognize heresy when you see it, and will also keep you from confusion and contradiction in your preaching. History and philosophy may be dry, but they will give you perspective and depth.
Of course, you must be a student all of your life! Everything the pastor experiences or reads becomes a part of his spiritual treasury, and he can invest it in the work of the Lord. He will major on The Book, but he will also read books. He will read the “Book of Nature” and the “Book of Humanity” as well. He will constantly find that place where truth touches life, and there he will feed his people the eternal truth in Jesus Christ.
To sum it up: let God lead you to the school that will best prepare you for the work God has called you to do. While you are there, give yourself devotedly to your studies, because you will never see these years of preparation again. Do not look upon education as a parenthesis or a detour in your life, but as part of your obedience to the will of God. Scholarship is stewardship.
You are ministering to the Lord in your studies as well as in your sermons, so be faithful. At some point you may be tempted to quit school and “get out into the work.” Resist this temptation! Dr. W. B. Riley says it so well: “If your work in school makes a student of you, one of the essential preparations for preaching will have been accomplished. If you leave school with no love of study, the background of school will be of little value” (The Preacher and His Preaching [Wheaton, Ill.: Sword of the Lord, 1948], p. 21).
Does God call a man permanently to the ministry?
“No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62). The emphasis throughout the Bible seems to be on a permanent call.
Please do not enter the ministry with reservations! It is unwise to ask God for an escape clause in the contract. The couple that enters marriage saying, “Well, if it doesn’t work, we can always get a divorce!” is asking for trouble; and so is the pastor who says to himself, “If I don’t make it, I can always get a different job.”
The ministry is not “a job” – it is a divine calling! “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29). The called man who tries to run away will, like Jonah, discover that there is no place to hide. This does not mean that God will never change a man’s sphere of ministry. Many a faithful pastor has been led from the local church ministry into teaching, missionary work, Bible conference ministry, or denominational responsibilities.
Sometimes a crisis in the home requires a change of ministry. More than one man has had to change his sphere of service in order to care for an invalid wife or aged parents.
Every servant of God has, at one time or another, sensed his personal inadequacy for the work of the ministry. “No day passes,” wrote the great Marcus Dods in his diary, “without strong temptation to give up, on the ground that I am not fitted for pastoral work. Writing sermons is often the hardest labor; visiting is terrible.” Yet Marcus Dods became a great force for God, and pastors still read his books today.
When that hour comes and you feel like giving up-Don’t! God has called you, God is with you, and God is going to use you to accomplish His purposes. Get alone with God and instead of resigning from the work, re-sign your holy vows! “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Originally published in “When Pastors Wonder How” by Howard Sugden and Warren W. Wiersbe. Answers to questions asked in pastors’ conferences. (pg. 9-16) Moody Press. Used by permission of Warren W. Wiersbe.
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Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).