Grady Nutt, the late Christian comedian and preacher, used to have an entire routine that revolved around, 'the call to the ministry!' He added to that last word the grunt that many old-timer southern preachers add to almost every sentence. The word came out sounding like 'ministruh' with a strong emphasis on the last syllable.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received."

Somewhere along the way between Paul and Grady many Christians came to the conclusion that 'the call' was only for ministers. In fact, 'the call' is described in hushed tones, as though it were some sort of divine, communicable disease with which God infected a certain few of His followers. And if one were to 'get the call,' it could result in a new big voice, big hair and a big Bible.

It is the conclusion of this writer that the church has misunderstood the words call and calling. The result then, is that the Great Commission that Jesus gave to all of His followers, is only being attempted by a handful.

In Paul's opening words to the Corinthians in his first letter to them, he describes himself as "called to be an apostle," then goes on to describe the church as those who are "called to be holy, to gather with all those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ..."

All three uses of the word call are from the same word in the original language of the Bible. It is the same word in Ephesians 4:1 and it has the general meaning of invite or summons, to call someone.

The question before the church then, is not, 'Who is called?' or 'Have you been called?' Rather, it is 'Will you respond to the call of God on your life?' The Bible teaches that all Christians are called by God to serve in His kingdom. Will we respond like Isaiah with "Here am I, send me," or will we take the next-boat-to-Tarshish approach of Jonah? To better understand this subject we must see that there are three aspects of 'call' in every believers life.

First of all, there is a call to salvation. God sent His Son Jesus to seek and to save those who are lost. Peter explains that God is "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."(2 Pet. 3:9b) God calls us to salvation and by grace through faith we can call back. Paul wrote, "for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Rom. 10:13)

Next, that call does not just result in 'fire assurance' as some term it, there is also a call to Christlikeness or holiness. "But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy. "' (1 Pet. 1:15-16) The Christian is called, is summonsed to act like a Christian all the time, to be like Christ.

The word holy has the idea of being set apart. Like mother's fine china dinnerware, the Christian has a special purpose. Unlike that china however, a Christian's holy lifestyle is on view every day. God has called us to be Christians, to be set apart. There ought to be something different about us because of our relationship with Jesus. That difference is a Christlikeness that attracts others to what we have.

Third, every believer is called to ministry in God's kingdom. Ephesians chapter 4 is one of four New Testament passages that list and discuss spiritual gifts. We must notice that none of these are considered exhaustive lists. Who can put a limit on what the Holy Spirit can do with obedient believers?

The Ephesians passage mentions gifts that we normally think of when we hear someone speak of being called to ministry. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers called "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."

The clear teaching of scripture is that all Christians are called to ministry. Earlier in Chapter 2, Paul wrote, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph.2:10) The gifts of chapter 4 then, inform us that some Christians are called to a particular ministry of preparing other Christians to do their ministry.

Every Christian has been called by God; called to salvation, called to personal holiness and then called to service or ministry. Some Christians are called to the particular offices mentioned in the fourth chapter of Ephesians. However, there are as many ways to minister as there are ministers!

For the Great Commission to be obeyed, every soldier in God's army must do his or her assigned task with his or her grace gifts. The question is not, 'Are you called?' It is, 'Will you obey the call?'
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Roy D. Hall is Pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Diboll, TX and Professor of Bible at Angelina College in Lufkin, TX.
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All scripture references: NIV