As is such in my life, I recently had a conversation that quickly turned to spiritual things. I was talking with a totally random Bible College student and as we talked it came up that he was wondering if he was called to ministry. As I probed his doubts I realized that he didn’t actually know what it meant to be “called”. As was the case with many young adults I talk to, there was no understanding of the concept of “call” outside of an esoteric understanding that it was something you got from God (somehow) and necessary to go into ministry. He knew he needed to get it, but he wasn’t sure what it would look like when it arrived.
I really feel pity for so many people who know that ministry is a “calling”, but when pressed to the wall they’re not able to give provide a concrete understanding of what a “call” is or how in the world to know if they’re called. So, for anyone who has ever wondered about their calling (and I can think of several of my immediate friends who do), then here’s what I told that student:
Believe it or not, all we had to do was go to the scriptures and read slowly with our “thinking caps” on. (I’m so old-fashioned…)
We went to the major text for understanding Biblical Eldership in the New Testament; 1 Timothy 3:1-7:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
So let’s break it down a little.
Verse 1 says “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”
I would suggest that this is what’s referred to as the “inward call”, and I would suggest two points related to the inward idea of “call”:
1. You need to aspire to the office of overseer.
That’s an entirely internal desire, and it’s not something that anyone can do for you. Also, the word used is in Greek is orego, and it’s the same word used later in 1 Timothy 6:10 which says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” The craving that lies behind the pursuit of money is parallel in kind to the craving that one must have for ministry (the office of overseer). This isn’t some lazy want; this is a consuming passion. I’ve heard it said “if you can do anything else, do”. Most of the guys I know who last in ministry could succeed tremendously in other fields, but can’t do anything else because they aspire to the office of overseer.
2. You need to aspire to the office of overseer.
It’s all good to have a consuming passion for God, or the church, or the lost, but that’s not a call to ministry (and I would recommend my previous posting on what ministry is and is not if you have questions about the term “ministry”). If you want to be a pastor in a church, or even a lay elder, you need to desire the office of overseer as it’s described in scripture (I would also recommend my previous posting on understanding Biblical Eldership if you’re fuzzy on pastors/elders/overseers/shepherds/bishops/presbyters). If you want to help straighten out a church’s bad theology, or lead worship, or catalyze revival, or do something to reinforce the faith of all the young people that abandon Christianity in university, you’re not desiring the biblical office of overseer. Those are not bad desires, but they’re not desiring the office of overseer.
Then, verses 2 through 7 say “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
I would suggest that this is what’s referred to as the “outward call”, and I would suggest two points related to the outward idea of “call”:
1. This is what the church should be seeking in a vocational minister.
I have read dozens of lists of hundreds of qualities desired for in pastors, and it’s funny how no two churches (even in the same denomination) look for the same things. Yet, the Lord has laid the characteristics of his kind of man out in the scripture, and the church who wants to extend the “outward” call to a prospective pastor should be using the shopping list of characteristics that God has provided..
2. These qualities are almost all moral.
It’s worth noting that in 3:2-7, thirteen of the fifteen listed characteristics are moral in nature. This means that 87% of the characteristics in the list are directly moral. The right guy to call to your ministry need is the guy who’s like Christ, and that has little to do with his education, his age, his experience, his success in business, or even his spiritual gifts. The “kind” of man that a church should call to ministry is a man of consistent and shining moral uprightness.
Let’s take a further look at the two “non-moral” qualities:
2a. I would suggest that “recent convert” may be more accurately understood as “spiritual newborn”, since the Greek term neophytos carries the idea of one who is newborn, but I would challenge whether there’s a simple temporal idea here. It’s not like there’s some magic number of years where one all of a sudden becomes a mature believer and I would suggest that the concept of maturity implies far more than the concept of time. Sure, a person isn’t usually spiritually mature after 3 years, but there’s no guarantee that a person who’s been in the faith for 3 decades is more mature simply because of time. People who have been in the church for a long time can still be neophytos. Also, this then should be actually understood as a quality of moral maturity. That leaves us with one “non-moral” quality…
2b. “Also, I would suggest that “able to teach” summarily describes a person who can “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). I would suggest that in order to teach, one must know how to teach and what to teach. This means that he should have a general grasp of the scriptures well beyond the lay people, that he should have a general grasp of doctrine, and that he should be able and effective to communicate those things. Paul explains to Titus why an elder must be a man able to teach sound doctrine and refute heresy when he says “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:10-11). An elder who is weak in the scriptures will have a congregation where other people speak louder, more convincingly and with more authority than him, and that will destroy whole families; the building block of the church (and society).
So, in just one small section of scripture, there’s a good and reliable start to answering the question of “am I called to ministry?”
Basically, do you crave to do ministry? Are you a man who can be a moral example? Are you competent to teach the scriptures?
If the answer to these 3 questions is “yes” (and you don’t answer questions 2 and 3 for yourself), then you may likely have a call.
As always, I welcome all thoughts and interaction.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Calling the Called to their Calling” Unger