We live in an app-crazy time. One of the favorite motto’s of this generation is, “there’s an app for that.” Indeed, there are apps for many things. Some of them are helpful. Others are just plain weird. For example, did you know that there is actually an ACME lie detector app? I’m not sure if there is a falling anvil involved. There’s also an ugly meter app to determine one’s degree of ugliness on a scale of 1 to 10 (I didn’t try that one). You can download an app to give all your corny jokes a rim shot. There’s even an app to see how long you can press and hold a designated button on your phone. Personally, I’m still waiting to find an app that will get me in shape without me having to work out or change my diet.
Despite the ease that technology can bring to our lives, there are no shortcuts in ministry. Modern advancements may make some things easier, but they won’t change who we are. Moreover, today’s gadgets may help us get in touch with other people, but they can’t facilitate getting you in touch with God. That will only happen the old fashion way. He calls you.
Scripture teaches that ministry is not a job or a career path you choose; it is a calling for which you are chosen. I’ve often heard people say, “If you can do anything else and be happy, do it.” I suspect there is some truth to that. However, our goal should not be happiness, but rather to be found within God’s will. If God has called you into His service, you’re not somehow doing God a favor. Instead, you are the one who is blessed. Ministry is not a right; it is a privilege. And it may be rejected, forfeited, squandered, or wasted.
But what does it mean to be called? For most of us, God doesn’t write it down on paper or audibly speak His bidding. It might be easier for us, if we could just punch a few buttons on our iPhone and see if God has called us. But, apparently God didn’t want to make it that easy. Rather, we find principles in Scripture that help us understand a calling from God.
I define calling as an individual’s Holy Spirit implanted desire to vocationally serve in the Lord’s work in coordination with the conviction that God is setting him aside for that purpose, which is confirmed through His Word, affirmed by one’s local church, and evidenced by the individual’s spiritual gifting and physical talent.
I define calling as an individual’s Holy Spirit implanted desire to vocationally serve in the Lord’s work in coordination with the conviction that God is setting him aside for that purpose, which is confirmed through His Word, affirmed by one’s local church, and evidenced by the individual’s spiritual gifting and physical talent. To me, all of those are important.
This definition combines a number of factors that all work together to affirm one’s calling to ministry. Each of these ingredients: desire, conviction, confirmation through God’s Word, affirmation from the church, giftedness, and abilities work together to lay the foundation for a confidence of God’s calling. Indeed, days may come in which clinging desperately to the certainty of God’s calling will be all that gets us through.
Seven truths about a call to ministry
- Your calling is not your vocation; it is your identity. A call to ministry is not what you do; it is who you are. There are no vacations, sabbaticals, or days off from a calling from God. It’s not something that we put on and take off at will. A calling may lead to what you do, but it begins with who you are. We’re all tired of seeing ministers fail and fall. Each seems more hurtful than the last and more harmful to the Kingdom. Could it be that some of those who have fallen began ministry for something to do, rather than someone to be? A calling is who you are.
- Your calling does not make you more important than anyone else in the Kingdom; it makes you set apart for a task. The minister’s not better, more spiritual, or even necessarily more qualified than anyone else in the church. He is just God-called. I’ve been reading a lot lately on distinctions between clergy and laity, as though that were some bad thing. And, to be sure, some ministers have developed an arrogance that fills the air around them and nauseates all who have to smell it. The Bible says of king Uzziah that “he was marvelously helped till he became strong” (2 Chron 26:15). Then, when things began to go well for him, his heart was lifted up and pride let him down. In the same way that God leads others in the body to tasks that are different from ours, may we never forget that God’s calling doesn’t make us better, it makes us set apart.
- Your calling does not excuse you from other responsibilities. There are few things worse than a minister who neglects his family or feels too good to help others because he’s too busy doing God’s work. Ministry is never an excuse to neglect your family. Years ago, I met an older minister who told me that he didn’t practice biblical tithing because he gave a tithe of his time to the Lord, as though serving the Lord in some way excused him from little things like obedience to the Word of the Lord whom he served. Ministry isn’t your excuse for lazy obedience. You cannot expect more from others than you are willing to give yourself.
- Your calling is not to a position; it is to a person—Jesus Christ. Never forget that ministry is not about a what, it is about a who. Our passion and purpose must be to please Him. Above any desire for position, must be the pursuit of an intimate, growing relationship with Jesus Christ that spills over into your ministry with His people. We have no right to instruct people in a personal relationship with Christ, if that is not authentically apparent in us. Your specific task in ministry may change in your lifelong pursuit of Christ, but your purpose never does. We often use the word “call” when describing the invitation that a church extends to a person to serve in a particular ministry capacity. But, that must never be confused with God’s specific calling to His service. When God calls you, He is calling you to Himself. In Exodus 24, God called Moses up to Mount Sinai to give him the Ten Commandments. Moses was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. Now, surely God doesn’t have slow penmanship. It didn’t take Him that long to write out His instructions. In fact, I suspect that took only a very small fraction of that time. So, what was Moses doing on the mountain the rest of the time? The answer is found in the summons in Ex. 24:12. The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there.” More than what God wanted from Moses, He wanted Moses to be with Him. When Moses was retelling this story in Deuteronomy 5, he included the instructions that he received from the Lord to “Go and say to [the people], ‘Return to your tents.’ But as for you, stand here by Me.” When God calls you, He calls you to Himself.
- Your calling does not guarantee a position; it promises a Presence. While it is true that if God has called you, He has a place for you, He may not always lead in your time or according to your preference. You and I have no right to determine for the Lord His will for our lives. If you are waiting, it might be that you’re not yet ready, or the place to which He will send you isn’t ready. Continue to be faithful where you are. And, remember, if you squander an opportunity of ministry today, He may not blind the next Search Committee to your past failures tomorrow.
- Your calling does not make you prepared; it makes you chosen. You may be called of God to ministry but still not be ready to preach a sermon, teach a SS class, visit the sick, lead a staff, counsel the hurting, answer the inquiring, or engage in a myriad of other ministry responsibilities. Remember, there are no short cuts. Don’t be in a hurry to serve and find yourself in a position for which you are unprepared. Years ago, someone asked Billy Graham if he only had three years to serve, how he would use that time. Dr. Graham responded that he would spend 2-½ years preparing for a healthy six-month ministry. A call to ministry is a call to prepare. Do the work. Study diligently. The approval only comes after the effort.
- Your calling is not to get a degree; it is to get an education. I’m not saying don’t pursue a degree, but if your goal is just to walk the stage, you may miss out on what you can learn along the way. Your goal shouldn’t just be to obtain a certificate to mount on your wall. Your goal should be to learn. Too many people short-circuit the process for one reason or another. Take advantage of the opportunities that you have. If you are in seminary, learn all that you can. It’s not just a hoop to jump through. You have a responsibility to develop good habits of study and preparation that will stay with you for a lifetime. If you look for short cuts now, you’ll look for them in the years ahead when there isn’t a professor grading your work. Technology has changed the way an education can be acquired, but the convenience of education must not compromise the sacrifice required in preparing. Have you completed your degree? Don’t stop learning. Studies show that the 90 percent of men, after they have finished their last degree, never complete another book in their lives. You are called to be different. You are called to be a life-long learner. The calling of God on your life demands it; the people you will serve deserve it; the work you will be asked to do requires it; and the impact of your ministry will make it worth it.
I’m not techno-phobic. If you can use technology to improve your ministry, by all means do it. But never compromise the commitment of your calling on the altar of convenience. If God has called you, there is no higher calling. He demands the very best of you. It is a task worth investing your life pursuing. There’s no app for that.