How does a person know if they are called to be a pastor? How does a person know what God is calling them to do? Below are some questions to consider for those who may be in the feeling stage of considering their call. Why is it important to consider carefully and prayerfully one’s call, especially a call to be a pastor? I am convinced that to enter pastoral ministry without God’s call is one of the greatest deceptions of the devil. This is so because the one who is deceived and drawn into pastoral ministry apart from God’s call, will suffer great personal loss if not shipwreck their lives and the lives of their loved ones. But worse, the one who ventures into ministry for the wrong reasons will be powerless to prevent the desecration of God’s holy name. The non-called pastor , the non-called person in any position, is one of Satan’s most effective weapons. (See 1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3-4; 2 Peter 2; Jude; and Revelation 2-3).
Furthermore, there is another enemy in discerning the call to be a pastor, it is called self. There is something attractive to people about standing in front of a group and speaking. This is often at the root of a person’s interest in pastoral ministry. Because of this the person considering whether or not they are called to be a pastor needs to really reflect and prayerfully consider their motives. Is pride involved? Is this “calling” self-serving or self-crucifying? Really pray about your motives. Is this “call” from inside you or heavenly in origin? Satan will seek to sneak into a person’s life through their self and oftentimes snares them on the hooks of pride. He should know, he’s hooked himself (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19).
Therefore, how does one cut through the fog of impression and feeling to discern in the Spirit whether or not they are called by God into pastoral ministry? Below are a few areas that are particularly important for discerning the one called to pastoral ministry. While I’m sure these questions are not exhaustive or all-inclusive of every individual situation, they are the product of prayer, Bible study, and experience and should be considered seriously and prayerfully. (This tool is focused on discerning the pastoral call, but many of the questions can be applied to various other aspects of ministry to which someone might feel God is calling them to.)
- Discerning God’s Will –
What evidence is there that you are called to be a pastor? Do you have a plan to discern God’s will? Do you have a history of feeling called to do something only to leave the work unfinished? If so, what makes this “feeling” or sense of a call different? Have you truly put yourself on God’s altar and opened yourself to His will no matter what that might mean in regards to your own personal desires? (See Romans 12:1-2 as well as Joshua 1:8; Psalm 37:5; 119:168; 143:8; Proverbs 3:6; Hebrews 4:16).
- Evidence of Pastoral Call –
- Origin of Call – How was this “call” initiated, by you or someone else? Genuine calls are usually brought to light by others who see it in you before you “feel” it in you. If you had not felt the call and initiated it, would anyone else have seen it in you or brought it to your or someone else’s attention? If someone other than yourself has initiated recognition of your call, what is the basis of their observation? Are they simply confirming something that you have sent a message about in some way and therefore trying to affirm you and please you more than they are observing a work of God in you and through you? Jesus initiated the call in the lives of the disciples; they did not come to Him to initiate it. The call by Jesus is more of a follow Me than it is a let me follow You. (Matthew 4:18-22; 10:1-4)
- Small Groups – Do you take an active role in small group activity? (e.g. Sunday School class; Home Bible Study) It is here where the fruit of a pastoral call is usually seen first. What fruit or evidence of a pastoral call is present in the small groups ministry? Do small group Bible studies “take off” or grow and bear lasting fruit as a result of God working through you? Or, do you find teaching in and leading a small group difficult, uncomfortable, and unfruitful?
- Interpersonal Evidence - What evidence is there of being able to relate to people in a pastoral way? Do you tend to be frustrated with people or patient with people? Are you able to communicate with people by both listening and speaking to them? Is communication one way, your way? Are you gracious with people? Do you love people? (Galatians 6:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
- Teaching – Has the Lord opened a door of opportunity for you to teach? If not, why not? Lack of opportunity may indicate this spiritual gift is not present. If the opportunity has presented itself, what fruit of a spiritual gift of teaching was apparent? Pastors need to be able to teach (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 and 2 Timothy). What evidence is there in your life of an ability to teach? Is there evidence that you can effectively communicate God’s word in an edifying manner? If a person cannot excel in Biblical studies, if God’s anointing is not present in this area, are they called to pastoral ministry? (E.g. Calvary Chapel Bible College/ Extension courses or similar studies – Do you revel and thrive in the work and preparation? Or was the work a burden?)
- Godly Counsel – What do others (Christians and Christian leaders) think about you being called to pastoral ministry? Do they see it in your life? Can they clearly see evidence of such a call? If so, why? If not, why not? Are you open to their godly opinion or is your mind made up? The counsel of others is important to decision making (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 20:18; 24:6)
- Service – Do you have a servant’s heart? Are you willing to serve in obscurity? Have you ever done so? Are you willing to do whatever God wants whenever He wants it done? Even if that means you are not called to pastoral ministry? (Mark 10:45; Luke 9:23-26; John 13; Philippians 2:5-11).
- Anointing – Last and most importantly, is there evidence of God’s anointing on you as a pastor? Is it clear or questionable? Can you go through the questions in this Are You Called To Be A Pastor? Study and confidently answer “yes” to these questions? If not, why not? What is the Lord saying to you? Are you rationalizing your responses to bend them in the way you would have them to go? Be honest.
- Existing Ministry –
What area of ministry has God gifted you in? Would God have a person begin ministries only to leave them prematurely? Would God open doors to ministry and not have a person walk through them? If God has given you a gift to do a certain ministry, then that is probably where He is calling you to minister. As an unprofitable servant it would be inappropriate to rebel against and wiggle out of the way God wants to use you (Luke 17:10).
It would be best to test the waters in ministry locally to see where God’s gifting is in your life, rather than embark in life altering plans based on insufficient evidence or feeling. If God blesses and his call is sure, then proceed in that call, but if He does not bless, you will save yourself a lot of heartache and frustration by moving on and discovering where God really does want to use you. (See 1 Corinthians 7:17,24)
- Gifting –
Some have mistakenly used Paul’s inspired words in 1 Corinthians 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 as justifying the use of anybody, regardless of God’s gifting, to enter ministry. The foolish things God uses are foolish from the world’s perspective, not God’s perspective. The ones God chooses to minister are gifted by the Spirit to do the work He calls them to do (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Ephesians 4:11-12). Therefore, if God is calling a person to be a pastor-teacher, they will show evidence of spiritual gifting for such a calling. If God is calling a person to be a pastor then His power working in and through that called person will be evident in such an area. The gifting evidence accompanies the call. A “call” without evidence is suspect. Would God give a person gifts (e.g. Pastor-teaching, evangelism, musically for worship, etc.) that are blessed and spiritually powerful in ministry and then not call that person to that ministry? The calling usually is accompanied by gifts related to the ministry the Lord is calling a person to fulfill. Why would God gift and bless in an area of ministry, seemingly lead a person into an area of ministry, only to have the person “sense” a calling to another area of ministry? Does God give contrary evidence? If you look at the beginnings of the Calvary Chapel movement and the pastors God raised up, (E.g. Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Mike McIntosh, Jon Courson, et.al) they were not initially learned or schooled in seminaries or Bible schools, but they had been discipled under the teaching of Pastor Chuck Smith and when they took over situations such as small group Bible Studies, the fruit that followed made it very clear of the calling of God in their lives.
- Pastoral Perspective –
Do you have a realistic view of pastoral ministry? Ministry is not only teaching, or being in view of a group of people, it is above all serving. It is administrating, shepherding, discipling. It is running to the hospital to be at the beside of the sick and doing so at any time of night or day. It’s uncomfortable situations galore when you are called upon by God to rebuke, exhort, correct and encourage. It’s disciplining those who do not see that ministry is service and not a bully pulpit for their own agenda. It is taking a stand against carnal folly and superficiality when those who indulge in such things often rally the unwitting crowd against you. It is speaking the truth in love, no matter what.
Pastoral ministry is serving the Lord and sacrificing time with your family. Your wife and children will miss you every time you step out to minister and you will constantly be reminded of the cost of such a venture. You will be convicted and torn, but you will continue on because God’s call is on your life and you trust the Lord and His grace to compensate for your failings.
Pastoral ministry is always subordinating your will to the will of God. It is never self-serving and always self-crucifying. It is a life of continual sacrifice. It is living in a fishbowl and being the brunt of accusations, insinuations and outright falsehoods made by people who are really not informed of the entire truth of the pastoral situation. Its receiving comments and criticisms offered in a good-natured way about your ministry and wondering if there is something more substantially meant beneath the surface. Pastoral ministry will drive you to paranoia if you are not called by God. Pastoral ministry is depending upon God to defend you in such situations rather than defending yourself (1 Peter 5:6). It is having people pick at your family, judge you, assess not only your pluses and minuses, but all your families’ as well. It’s not reacting to such “attacks” fueled by the enemy who seeks to get to the pastor through those closest to him.
Pastoral ministry is constantly relying on God and patiently working with people who are often transient, or sitting back, uncommitted, or simply infants in Christ. It is waiting on God in service. In it’s beginnings it is often working a full time job, heading up a family, and being used by God to serve in a work of His that may require you to remain in such a situation for years, with no guarantee that it will ever end, (a pastor may be bi-vocational for their entire ministry). The pastoral ministry is not a means of “great gain” (1 Timothy 6:3-10).
Pastoral ministry is serving in obscurity. It is living in a part of the world that only the pastor and God can fully comprehend, no one else, not a wife, not a friend, not even another pastor at times. It is often a humanly lonely calling solely between the pastor and God.
Even so, pastoral ministry is a joy to the called. It is the only option for the called pastor. If you can find happiness and satisfaction in anything else, you are not called to be a pastor. Pastoral ministry is not an alternative and last resort for someone who has failed in every other area of their life and figures, “Hmm, everything else has failed, why not give pastoring a try?” Beware; pastoral ministry is a frustrating hurricane that will blow down the presumptuous who are not called. Those who enter in with presumptuous perceptions of grandeur, of being golden-tongued orators in front of thousands, will soon learn that the weight of ministry will squash those who enter in by their own strength rather than the grace that comes with the call of God. Pastoral ministry is serving God with no other reward but to know that by relying totally on God, He will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We often casually read the description by Paul of his ministry, but as the pastor matures in their ministry they learn and see the truth of this description more and more. Read what Paul said about his ministry and what it means to have a pastor’s heart – 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; 4:2,8-11; 5:14-15; 11:16-23; 12:11-21. Truly a pastor’s call is expressed by the following words of Paul who wrote:
If you are called to be a pastor, nothing else will satisfy or do for you, and though the road may be hard, God’s call and grace will sustain you. If you are not called, and you venture out haphazardly in your own strength, you are doomed to a life of frustration and folly and will have missed the work God would have blessed.
The words shared above are not to discourage the one who is called by God. In fact, the one called by God will find assurance of their call if they prayerfully apply these questions to their lives. The purpose of such a study is to spare people the frustration and failure that might come by entering into a holy calling presumptively apart from God’s actual call. It is also meant to spare the church any more scorn and poor witness that has come via those who are self-servingly involved in pastoral ministry. When Peter had denied the Lord, Jesus didn’t throw him on the scrap heap, He restored him. But Jesus restored Peter in a way that confirmed his calling and assured him of God’s will in his life. Jesus did this by asking him a few questions:
- John 21:15-17 – “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” 1
Now I do not quote this passage to get a rise of emotion out of the reader; I quote this to hopefully strike to the heart of the situation. Peter was asked repeatedly by Jesus, “Do you love me?” Love of Jesus is the center of our relationship with Him. All decisions should be based on that motivation, our love for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Now the point here is not that those who are actually called by God to be a pastor are more loving of Jesus; not at all. The point here is do you love Jesus enough to do whatever He wants you to do? Even if that means you are not to serve him as a pastor? That’s the point. If you love Jesus, you can serve Him joyfully from the heart whether He calls you to do so as a pastor or not. The answer to that question gets to the heart of the truth and the truth at heart, about your “call” to be a pastor; about your call to be anything God wants you to be. May God guide you and call you according to His will.
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Copyright © 2001 Claude T. Stauffer,
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