Have I been called to ministry? Such a weighty question deserves a considerate and thoughtful answer. This isn’t the kind of thing you would want to answer on a whim, make in haste, or without seeking the wisdom of others. You wouldn’t want to find yourself with your house for sale, your family and belongings all packed up and still not have the calling church officially extend a call – unless you were sure God was calling you. That’s what happened to me. The church hadn’t voted on me, yet, but there was a U-Haul truck parked outside of a Holiday Inn in Duncan, Oklahoma with everything from our home in St. Louis that was freshly placed on a luke-warm housing market. How did we know that this is where I was called as my first pastoral position?
To be sure, my calling to ministry in general had taken place many years prior to this. But the specific calling to a pastorate took shape over several months prior to a formal invitation. In a rapid succession of months, hard conversations, prayer, tears and more prayer, a set of steps and criteria fleshed itself. It was these steps that assured my wife and I that our move across the country was God’s beckoning and not a whimsical move out of the strength of the flesh.
Desire is an oft-overlooked testing and consideration of calling. The aspiration of being an elder or overseer is closely related to this (1 Timothy 3:1). Interestingly, in many stories it is told that the reverse is true, that we need to “not desire” ministry in order for God to call us to it. Though this seems very self-less, ministry isn’t necessarily going to be a “Nineveh” event. Because you don’t want it, doesn’t mean you are supposed to pursue it. For my own part, God began to stir some emotions in me I wasn’t expecting toward pastoring. Now, I’m a very objective kind of guy. I’m uncomfortable with settling for “feelings” and “nudges” so without telling my wife, I prayed and asked the Lord, “if this is what you want for me, fan the flame.” To paraphrase R.C. Sproul, I didn’t want to mistake my desire for what was really indigestion.
My wife and I began to pray. This calling, if that’s what it was, needed to be tested and one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is that He can give unity. We asked for unity between us. If there wasn’t accord, the answer was clear to both of us - I wasn’t called at that time. How could someone say they’re fit to be a pastor if they are at odds with their wife and their marriage is in turmoil? They could not. Not with integrity before the Lord.
Affirmation Inside Our Context
We began to ask mature Christians who knew us within our context what they thought of this stirring. These included seminary friends, our pastor and his wife, all of whom are not “yes-men.” We knew they wouldn’t shy away from telling us the truth. Through many conversations and prayer I was given positive words of encouragement from these trusted friends. “Yes, we see God working in you in this way, Josh.” “You would be disobedient to ignore this.” And other similar things.
Affirmation Outside Our Context
Everyone has a blind spot. Did we have a blind spot when it came to discerning a call? Almost as though it were a control-test, we sought the wisdom of other mature Christians not immediately around us. These included a pastor friend as well as some others who knew my strengths, character flaws, successes and past failures about me. I laid the facts and feelings before them and sought their evaluation. By God’s grace their answers matched those that were in our context with us. This encouraged me to actively pursue a call to a church.
Am I ready and qualified?
On some level, you can’t be ready for everything. There are a million scenarios you couldn’t have imagined that you will face in pastoral ministry. At the heart of this question was more to the marrow of preparation sufficiency. Was it enough that I wouldn’t blunder in either extreme of guns-blazing or oscillating to being paralyzed by self-doubt? I had recently completed my MDiv and had been licensed to the ministry in my church. It was a necessary step for me. Seminary doesn’t automatically make one ready to be a pastor. But for me, the season of seminary had put me and my wife though a refining fire. Our marriage was stronger and I was more equipped and tried in the character and qualifications of a pastor found in 1 Timothy 3.
Blessings in Leaving
Too many people jump from church to church without seeking the blessing of that sending church as to why they are breaking fellowship. I didn’t want the same. I first did what was necessary to honor my duties at my job and make for the best and most peaceful possible transition with whomever would succeed me. I then sought the blessing from the leadership at my church in an official capacity. On my birthday, I was examined, ordained, and my family was sent off in a tearful ordination ceremony as we left for Duncan, Oklahoma. Keep in mind, we were still waiting for FBC Duncan to officially extend the call!
An Open Door
If all of the criteria above had been fulfilled but there was no church to extend a calling, then the answer is clear: you have not been called at this time. I had submitted nearly 50 applications to churches during that season. It ultimately came down between two churches. Both were great fits. Both had healthy contexts and great pastors. Both had generous packages and benefits. Both extended an invitation. Yet, something kept us back from the other church. It was a subjective feeling that wouldn’t settle. In fact, my wife and I agonized for days flip flopping back and forth in our conversations as we prayed, talked the situation to death and prayed. Eventually, we took a step of faith in the process of affirmation and I informally accepted the pastoral position in Duncan.
Though we had begun to unpack our belongings in an apartment, the church still had to call a business meeting to get to know me and make a vote based off the recommendation the search committee had put forward. At that meeting I shared my testimony, my philosophy of ministry, and answered many questions. While the business meeting went into a closed session, my wife and I retreated into the foyer to await an answer. This moment was pregnant with anticipation. If the church, after the phone interviews, visits, and unofficial extension of a call from the committee officially said, “no,” this was going to be devastating. I had said “no” to the other church, already. The stakes were high. And then God revealed to us a special providence. While standing in that foyer I received an email from our realtor. Our house in St. Louis had just received solid offer for it. The doors opened momentarily from the meeting and the words cheerfully came from the lead pastor, “It was unanimous, we want you as our next youth-pastor.”
The Lord was gracious to me and my family during the time of discerning a call. It wasn’t easy, and it ultimately didn’t end up being a “shiver in my liver” or a purely subjective feeling. But he used a stirring in my heart toward pastoring to assure me of his call. And at the very end of the process, he gave that gift of timing that was beyond coincidental. God was in charge of the process the whole time.
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