Questioning the Call
- Monday, January 14, 2013
3 Fatal Flaws in the "Call to Ministry"
Augustine's story challenged my paradigm of "the call" in at least three important ways. And it was those three flaws that led to my ministerial crisis that late night after youth group.
1. The call looks the same for everyone.
After reading Augustine's story, I looked back over the biblical qualifications for ministry. And you know what I found about the "call"? Nothing. The Bible never once says that a person must have some kind of burning bush experience to be qualified for ministry. Instead, the Bible offers a lot of guidance on how the church can and should discern those who have been gifted for leadership in the church.
To be more precise, then, I think we should say that all pastors should experience a call, but that call can come in many different forms. I'm sure that some people do have the kind of direct encounter with God that many of the biblical stories describe. But others get called more like Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13, where God spoke through the church to appoint them for ministry. And still others get called when someone like Timothy recognizes their faithfulness and giftedness (2 Tim. 2:2).
God rarely locks himself into one way of doing things. So we should stop trying to do it for him.
2. The call is individualistic.
My biggest concern with how I understood the call back them was with its inherent individualism. The call is supposed to be something that God speaks to you directly. And my crisis came when I was no longer personally sure of that call. What was missing in the entire process was the church. It never even occurred to me that the church's invitation to be one of their pastors could actually be my call to ministry. God normally works through his people, so why should it be any different here?
For many, the flip side of this individualism is the idea that others cannot question your call to ministry. If you've received a direct message from God that you should go into ministry, you simply can't allow that to be challenged by anyone. I didn't realize how ingrained this view of calling was until I approached a few seminary students about whether they were really cut out for ministry. To me, it was pretty obvious that they should consider other vocational options, preferably ones that didn't involve living people. But they couldn't even entertain that possibility. They'd been called. Who was I to question that?
We do need to leave room for the possibility that God is calling an unlikely person into ministry. He does that a lot. But let's think twice, even thrice, before giving our call to ministry the stamp of divine mandate. Too many people have led churches tragically astray by thinking that they alone knew what God wanted. In the garden, God declared that it was "not good" for us to be alone. And I think he probably had some good reasons for that.
3. The call is only for pastors.
I find it interesting that we only talk about "the call" in the context of pastoral ministry. Why is that? Everyone recognizes that God has called all Christians to be ministers of the gospel. Indeed, when the Bible talks about God calling people, it's usually referring to salvation (e.g. Rom. 1:6; 1 Cor. 1:2). So why restrict “the call” to one particular vocation?
I think a lot of our language about calling still reflects a tendency to drive a wedge between full-time pastoral ministry and other forms of ministry. So, when I began to entertain thoughts that maybe it was time to pursue a different vocation, that meant I was questioning my call. I had no paradigm for the idea that I might just be pursuing a different calling.
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