In writing this blog post, I am going to be perhaps stepping on the toes of many of my clergy colleagues. In the United Methodist, we will talk about our “Call to Ministry.” The idea expressed by the word “called” is that God has made a specific choice or invitation for a person to participate, whether it be called to
Rather, firstly, they are gifted for ministry. Ephesians 4:7-13 uses this language of gifting to then describe the work of apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers. 1 Corinthians 12 describes things
Secondly, people are formed and prepared for ministry. While Paul talks about the Spiritual giftings the people of Corinth, he also rebukes them for how they fail to understand the right uses of these gifts. Underneath their heart is
However, thirdly, it should be noted that there isn’t the commonly implicit notion that we have that we are bestowed a position that we then use our gifts in. Rather, it seems to me that the reverse is true, we employ and use our gifts in a rightly directed fashion and that can lead us to
Put simply, you are equipped and formed for ministry as you put your gifts into practice. While God makes provisions for the work we do, nowhere do we see the New Testament making a general pronouncement that the positions within the church are gated only for those who have a “calling to ministry.” The closest thing we see to this is Paul’s own expression of his calling to be an apostle. But most likely, this isn’t Paul saying that being an apostle is determined by a specific calling of a person’s life, but rather is a description of how God specifically and specially brought Paul in to be an apostle through his Damascus Road experience, even though he didn’t have the otherwise necessary prerequisites, such as being a disciple of the Lord during His time on the earth and seeing Him resurrected. God’s calling on Paul’s life was a special one in that it broke the apostolic mold and one that still was to be recognized by the other apostles, so God’s specific purposes for the individual person Paul would entail dramatic action by God to make such a purpose realized. But the general role of apostleship wasn’t necessarily a “calling.” So, we don’t need to generalize from Paul’s own calling to a general theory of calling for ministry.
Now, this isn’t to deny the experiences of many people who have felt lead towards the ministry, which they may refer to as a “calling.” People have seen the threads in their life weave together to lead them to work in some area of ministry. People have these strong urgings and inclinations towards more formal work within the Church. These are very real, and I believe to be a result of the work of God in our lives, but I would not call these “callings.” Even though I am not always a good Wesleyan, I do believe that emergence of God’s work in our lives is a result of the synergy of God’s gracious action and our own response, including the responses of our hearts, to God’s grace. These strands and urges can very well be the result of God’s work in our lives. But, I would suggest this is part of God’s equipping and forming of us as we seek to put these gifts into practice in our imagination and in action. The direction towards ministry emerges from this Divine-personal dance of grace and love.
But this isn’t a “calling.” Callings are purposes that are unilaterally defined, such as when God makes a clear command to “Go!” or offers a decisive invitation “Will you go?” This also not simply a feeling laid upon a person’s heart, but God makes it dramatically clear, such as with Samuel, Isaiah, Paul, etc. While a person can say yes or no to God’s calling, the purpose one is directed towards is not chosen by the person; it is determined by God and bestowed to the person. This is also what happens when we are called in Jesus Christ; the life of following Christ isn’t a result of negotiation between God and us, but it emerges from God’s specific call and purpose for us. But, in so far as there are callings to specific people that are not given to other people, Samuel, Isaiah, and Paul are example of God’s calling, where God unilaterally sets out a purpose for their lives. It does not emerge from the Divine-person dance of grace and love.
Sometimes, there are people who have specific callings
So, having tried to elucidate the different between a leading to ministry and a specific calling, there are a few reasons why we should not speak about callings to ministry, as it relates to ourselves as ministers, the positions we take, and the nature of the Church as a whole.
The language of calling forms perceptions that ministry is gated off from the laity – Every time we talk about a “calling to ministry,” we are implicitly and subtly reinforcing a basic notion: you must have had a specific story or a specific feeling that we label a “calling” to be involved in ministry. This only reinforces the difference between the clergy and laity, creating a special class of the “called” and “the rest of us.” But if the pursuit of ministry emerges from the Divine-personal dance of grace and love, then it isn’t that specific people have had a calling, but that certain people have sought to follow Jesus so deeply that the work of God’s grace has
Saying we are “called” can mask our own feelings – Let’s be honest here. There are many reasons people can want to be in a vocational position of pastor or other forms of ministry, and they are not always rooted in the love of God. Perhaps we saw the power a pastor have over the people and we wish we had that power for ourselves. Perhaps we have some deep desire to address some problem of injustice and seek to take on the ministerial role to address this injustice. There are a variety of motivations of different moral values that can guide us into the formal positions of ministry, but they don’t necessarily have the love of God as the center. But when we say we are “called” without offering a clear, dramatic calling experience, we have a tendency to overlook our own reasons for the passion of ministry, but we may be projecting our own desire onto God that we then say that He legitimates in the notion of a “calling.” But when we can’t argue that God unilaterally legitimates our position but rather that we must be equipped and formed for the position, we are challenged to deal with the truth of our own motivations both from within ourselves and those who evaluate us.
Saying we are “called” implies that we have a right to a position – Let me state something bluntly and honestly. You do not have a right or entitlement to any position in the Church of God. Even if you have had a specific and clear calling in your life, you are not entitled to a position. You are either directed and/or called to a purpose, and you seek to learn how to live that purpose in the opportunities and other positions
In other words, when we are not careful
But in the end, remember this: even if you are genuinely called, you are not called to a position, you are called to a purpose. And if you are genuinely called, God will put you through the spiritual grinder. So, my words of hopeful wisdom born in experience is to say this: don’t seek or desire to be “called” to anything other than the life that is within Jesus Christ; answer the call to be part of God’s Kingdom. Do recognize the giftings and desires for ministry that God places and forms upon you and seek to put them into practice, but don’t overstate your claim or feel entitled to anything. Be faithful to the purposes of the leading, or even the calling if God has given you a specific calling, that God places upon you.