Once, I thought I’d make a good pastor. When I was in college I assumed it was a career choice like others, and I had the knack for it. But I discovered the hard way that it isn’t like that, and it took being uncalled to the ministry and being blessed to serve Christ in other ways before I would hear “the call” when I least expected it..  Looking back over the past 35 years of pastoring, I’ve learned a few things about the mysterious business of being called.

Calling all Shepherds

All Christians are called by God, first, to salvation in Christ. Then, we are all called to serve Christ in unique, significant ways, according to our gifts, maturity, and place in life. But there is yet another kind of call. Although it isn’t the best choice of words, we often refer to this as “the call to ministry.” I think of it this way.

There is a short video clip in Ephesians 4. Picture an upward road, crowded with an unchained gang of captives, newly-taken slaves who sing, “Free at last!” and “He has made me glad!” They delight to see out ahead of them their Conqueror Christ. The Bible says, “When he ascended on high he took many captives…” The captive church, including us, parades toward paradise.

But unnoticed by most of our brothers and sisters in their upward journey, Christ in his Emmaus disguise slips in and out among us. Here He taps someone on the shoulder and points to the side of the road. There, He slips in behind others and whispers to them. Their puzzled look says, “Who? Me?” and He nods. Everyone on that highway was taken captive once by Christ, thank God, and now some are captured again. Captives twice over. Born again, again.

What does Jesus do with these captive captives? He outfits them with the Word and gives them back to his upward bound church as gifts. “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people. . . So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. . .” (Ephesians 4:8, 10-12 NIV). These believers do not just have grace-gifts; they are grace-gifts to the church, because they deliver God’s Word in Christ and Scripture.

There is no earthly reason why the Lord pulled these particular captives out of the company of the heaven-bound and set the Word burning on our tongues. All our saintly siblings are gifted by Christ to serve one another in His body as surely as we are, but we are among the Wordworkers. That is what I call the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers. God divinely equips these particular believers to speak to the world and the church on His behalf. So far as I can tell, God did not single any of us out for this work because He liked our resumes or found us in a talent search. I suspect He chose us because, ever since creation, God finds special creative delight in making something from nothing, ex nihilo.

Christ’s Wordworkers, these four ministry cousins, have different voices, like a choir. Apostles have voices that can be heard over the din of a whole discordant culture, like a tornado warning siren. They step on unclaimed shores and proclaim a beachhead in the King’s name. Prophets can bellow like town criers, stirring even the soundest sleepers with, “This is what the Lord says.” Evangelists sing with God’s sweetest words, “Repent and believe the Good News. Jesus Christ died and rose again to save sinners. Come home! Come home!”

Then there are my people—the pastors and teachers. I think of pastors and teachers as the journeymen of Wordworking. The gospel tradesmen with sweat-stained work shirts, well-worn tool belts, achy knees, and the insider’s knowledge of how souls are built.