Over the last few years I've had more than a handful of guys talk to me about vocational ministry. Every conversation has generally gotten around to the person saying something along the lines of, "I think I'm called to ministry," and then talking about some sort of aspect of why they feel that way. As I have heard this statement again and again, I've begun to pick up on something that's a bit troubling to me. Mainly, that people voice their supposed "calling" in subjective terms. They had a sense, or "feel" this way, or believe that God said "such-and-such" and when you step back and look at the big picture there isn't some solid, objective answers to affirm their subjective sense of a calling.
Now I do believe having a "sense" of calling is important. Especially to vocational ministry. But it seems to me that a lot of men are spending a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of energy pursuing after a "calling" when the simple truth is, they probably aren't really called for vocational ministry. Maybe, more concretely, I should narrow the category down to pastoral and/or church-planting ministry. We are all called, as Christians, to the work of the the ministry in some capacity or another, but the specific calling to spend your life for the sake of the gospel as a pastor or church-planter is another matter entirely. I'm growing more and more convinced that guys who are pursuing a pastoral vocation without being called are doing long-term damage to their souls and their ministries by not being clear about their calling.
This week I intend to help shape a roadmap for calling. I want to put into writing a series of questions and discussion about the work of the ministry to help clearly answer the question, "am I called?" One of John Netwon's letters about pastoral ministry helped frame several of the signposts that I will identify on this map and has been a useful starting point for me in considering this issue of calling. Beyond Newton, I believe these signposts are Biblically informed out of the qualifications and characteristics of pastoral leaders in Scripture.
I call these markers signposts to give us a sense of a journey. We are moving along a trail to discover the intent of a ministerial calling and we cannot advance forward from one plot to the next until we answer the question before us. Conversely, we cannot start at the end and work backward. There is a successive flow and building that ever-increases the clarity of calling as we move forward.
The roadmap consists of five specific questions. These questions cannot necessarily be answered in isolation. At each point the community of faith must answer and affirm these with us, even if the answer is "no." Here's what the map looks like:
- Signpost #1 - Desire - Do I desire and aspire to the work of the ministry?
- Signpost #2 - Gifting - Am I properly skilled and gifted for the work of the ministry?
- Signpost #3 - Affirmation - Am I affirmed for this work by spiritual authority and leadership over me?
- Signpost #4 - Opportunity - is there a place and open door for me to do the work of ministry?
- Signpost #5 - Compulsion - has the Holy Spirit burdened me beyond anything else for this work of ministry?
This week I'll spend some time unpacking each one of these signposts and how they relate to the big picture of being called. My hope is to construct a helpful paradigm for answering the question "am I called" with something solid and more objective than just an inner feeling.