It feels heavy to not be doing what you're called to do. Every day you slog through trying to get to the next day walking in a role and a calling that isn't your own. Maybe this is because you're not gifted well for the role you are in. Maybe it is because your eyes are to the future and you're eager to take hold of whatever it is that you are called to. But more often then not the burden and weight that you feel isn't so much about your current status in life as much as it is the urgency and burden you feel to actually do what it is that you're called to do. If you've ever been in a mismatched role or calling you know what I'm talking about.
This is the fifth, and in some ways, final signpost of discerning your call to ministry. It is the external act of the Holy Spirit upon someone to give them a holy zeal and utter compulsion to do the thing they are called to. A person with this final mark of calling can only do what he has been directed and burdened by Christ to do. The Holy Spirit has laid upon such a person a zeal and directive that if he were to pursue any other path or do any other thing he would feel he had betrayed the created purpose for which God had made him.
Now, you might feel as if I am being redundant here. Didn't we talk already about a man's desire for the ministry in the first signpost? We did. Desire is critical to being in the ministry. But this signpost, although it can be similar to desire, is very distinct in and of itself. This compulsion is the subjective aspect of calling. Mainly it is subjective because the compulsion comes not from within the person, but from without. It comes from God himself. It is God setting aside an individual for himself and tasking that person with the ministry of gospel proclamation, gospel leadership, and gospel authority.
Old Testament prophets often caught wind of this calling by an intense and personal view of God coupled by a distinct and clear task set before them (i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea). They saw God in his resplendent glory and perceived the weight of his grace and were tasked to take the Word of the Lord to the nations. The call came to Paul on the Damascus Road where he saw the glory of Christ and was transformed, called and sent to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul himself felt the weight of his calling as he declared, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16).
John MacArthur is known for telling men that if you can do anything else other than be in the ministry, go do it. This isn't a way to redirect leaders away from using their skills and gifts in the church, but a way to help a man clearly identify the setting apart and calling of God to the ministry. It is a question of compulsion. Certainly leaders in the church are gifted and could do a variety of other work and ministry. The question is must they do this work and this work alone for the rest of their lives? Has God clearly impressed upon your heart and life in some way that the only course of life and action for you is to serve the Lord, even to the final drop of blood and the last breath of your lungs in laboring hard for the advance of the gospel? If not, please do something else. It's saying with Paul, "the love of Christ controls me" (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Why The Last Signpost?
I mark this as the last signpost because the first four signposts must be answered before we are able to make any sense of the subjective nature of this last signpost. Objective reality speaks before and into subjective feelings. If a man can demonstrate a desire, competency, affirmation and opportunity and then tells me that he "feels" God has laid the burden of ministry on him, I can affirm and believe that. If he tells me first and foremost however that God laid some impression on him apart from and indifferent to the verifiable objective questions of a calling, I can be reasonably skeptical. That's not to say God couldn't or wouldn't use people without the affirmation and skill-sets for ministry. It is to say that those examples are the exception, not the rule. Let me be honest with you (and myself), you're probably not the exception. Don't start from the baseline of believing you are the exception.
As we look back on what gives shape and forms a clear calling we begin by assessing desire and in the end find that God places the burden and call on ministry on a man by his grace. The desire starts the process, but it is measured by the competencies, affirmations and opportunities before the man. He must want the work of the ministry. He must be qualified in character for the work of the ministry. He must be skilled to do the work of the ministry. He must be affirmed for the work of the ministry by the church. He must have open opportunity to do the work of the ministry. Finally, he must have the glorious burden of God to do one thing and one thing alone, preach the gospel.
Eric Liddell, the Scottish olympian and missionary to China was once asked why he ran. He told the person inquiring, "“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” This is to be the driving force of a man truly called to the ministry. "God made me for a purpose, to preach his good news. When I preach, I feel his pleasure."
Questions For Discovery
- Would you feel satisfied in your life's work if you did something other than be in ministry?
- Why do you feel compelled to be a pastor or church-planter? How does that compulsion express itself?
- Have the objective questions about calling been answered already for you? How does your sense of compulsion towards the ministry match those objective answers?
- Could you do something else and be fulfilled apart from ministry? What is it?
- How has God placed a distinct impression upon you that you are to be in church-planting or pastoral ministry? Has this been verified by others as well?