Every sincere believer will at one time or another wonder whether they are called to the ministry. Although each one must hear the voice of the Lord for themselves, there are some guidelines given in Scripture that may help steer us in the right direction in the process of seeking God’s face for our individual lives.
It is important to make a simple, yet profound statement before we discuss this any further: Everyone is called to ministry, but only some are called to the ministry.
Call to ministry
Every Believer, no matter how old or young, qualified or seemingly unqualified, are called to minister to others and make disciples. It does not matter whether you are a doctor or a nurse, a business owner or employee, a well-known celebrity or housewife; anyone who has surrendered their life to the Lord Jesus Christ, has a call by God to minister to and serve those around them, and to testify about Jesus. That is the purest, simplest definition of ministry.
Call to the ministry
What then does “call to the ministry” mean? For a believer sensing God calling them to ‘the ministry’, it means devoting themselves to full-time service in a local congregation (e.g. as a pastor), in a missions organisation (e.g. as a missionary), or a non-profit organisation or para-church organisation (e.g. as head of the organisation). Such individuals may also keep a part-time job to generate an income, while their primary focus is on the ministry.
How is someone called to the ministry?
The way in which God works in someone’s life looks different for each person. Following are a few examples from Scripture of how God called people to serve Him.
1. The Damascus Road Call
In this example, the religious leader of the day – Saul – in full pursuit to oppose the Early Church, experienced a head-on encounter on his way to Damascus when he received a vision and the Lord Jesus spoke to him directly, asking: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Usually when God calls someone in this way, it is accompanied by a sign, a miracle, an event, or someone hearing God’s audible voice. You will know exactly what God wants you to do with your life. You will not wonder whether it was a Damascus call. You will know beyond a shadow of a doubt. Those called in this manner, will often find the call and requirements are very costly and difficult. It may even lead to the person’s death in the course of ministry. Remember, the Damascus Road call is one of the rarer ways God calls individuals to the ministry.
2. The Progressive Call
This involves a gradual sequence of events in your life, until it finally dawns on you that full-time ministry is what God wants you to do. For most, it starts with growing up in the church, having a passion for people and loving to tell them about God. Over time you may end up in leadership, for example, in a youth group. The more you get involved the more you realise how much you love serving God in this way, which could lead you to become a pastor. Another person will have a love for and fascination with people in other nations, and a love to read about them, and then perhaps visits them on a prayer journey. Eventually, they may realise the call of the Lord to enter into full-time work as a missionary in that nation. One pitfall to watch out for, because the call is gradual, is that you can easily slip into doubting your calling and question if this is truly what you’re supposed to do with your life. At such a moment, it will be important to ask a trusted friend or two to pray with you that God will continue to reveal His will and way for your life. Once you are certain about His call, obediently step into that place of ministry.
3. By prophecy, from the womb
In this case we can refer to the example of John the Baptist. His birth was foretold by an angel to his father Zacharias. (Luke 1:13). There are more examples. Jeremiah was called to ministry before he was formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5), and Samuel’s mother dedicated him to serve the Lord, even before his birth (1 Samuel 1:11). This type of call is also rare, but does happen. Bible characters called in this manner, were established in God’s ways from childhood and they were devoted to God. It is important to pray for such a person to remain faithful all their life, to finish the race despite any disappointment or challenge they may face.
4. Sent out by the Church
Since the Early Church was founded after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, believers were sent out on different missions by the Church community. A particular church community would then take care of that individual, pray for them and watch over the work of their ministry. Missionaries who were sent out, returned to report back to the community of believers in Jerusalem. (Acts 15:27). Such ‘sending out’ can be in the form of a short mission trip. Someone can also be set apart for a specific task or project under the covering of a congregation, or be sent into foreign missions and remain there for the rest of their life. It is very important to provide effective training and equipping to those sent out by the local church, thus enabling them to finish their assignment to the glory of the Lord.
5. The Open Door Call
While a believer serves in a local congregation as best they can, it might remain their desire to do more for the Lord. Then suddenly, a door may open for them in an unexpected way. They may, for example, be invited to help on a project in another nation with the drilling for and sanitising of water. While faithfully applying their skills, they fall in love with that nation and the favour of the Lord opens a door for them to become involved in full-time ministry among the people there. Another person may be helping at a local hospice, and then receive an invitation to become involved in such ministry full time. There are many examples like these – those who are desirous to serve the Lord with all they have, will certainly be rewarded by the Lord with an open door of opportunity. What is required, is humility and a willingness to do whatever is needed, rather than insisting on only serving somewhere where your spiritual gifts can operate. God will enlarge your territory in due time.
How do I know God is preparing me for the ministry?
However desirous you are to pour out more of yourself in serving the Lord, it may feel to you that your turn for full-time ministry is just not ‘coming’. If you want to know if you are close to your breakthrough, prayerfully consider these signs of preparation for ministry!
1. Challenges keep coming. Does it seem like you are bombarded by problems lately? Do you feel as if something or someone is stopping you from moving forward? The way we respond to these challenges teaches us how to remain faithful and true. It will help us later when challenges in ministry come. God is busy purifying you and moulding you to be more dependent on Him.
2. You are at breaking point. Pride and a strong mind will cause us to make mistakes and do our own thing once we are in full-time ministry. It may be that the Lord is allowing several tests to teach you to surrender. Complete surrender is needed to be sure we remain humble when in ministry and able to wait on God’s timing.
3. God seems silent. Are you in a season when it seems like God does not hear your prayers? Or maybe you do not feel His presence the way you did before? Why is this? Again, the Lord is testing your character. He is moulding your patience, trust, faith, maturity in Him – stretching you to take Him on His Word regardless of what you feel or experience. When under pressure in ministry, you will look back on this training ground and season with gratitude.
4. God suddenly removes certain people and things from your life. A breakthrough is normally preceded by a process of purification. God knows who should walk with you in the next season. He also knows which current activities and projects will become a burden or distraction to you in the next season. Keep giving thanks for sudden changes – God is preparing you and you will receive more than what seems to be a loss at this moment.
5. Discipline. The Bible is clear that God disciplines those He calls sons and daughters. Such discipline comes in different ways for different people, but perfectly chosen for each individual. This does not happen because God hates you, but because He loves you. Believe that God loves you as His child, and just as a good father disciplines his children, the Lord will discipline you, too, if needed. He knows that you cannot experience His full glory unless you mature in your faith. (Hebrews 12:5-6)
6. Your desire after God increases. As you come to a place of deciding to give all your time in serving God, your hunger and desire after the Lord will increase. You might find yourself wanting to worship for hours on end. You might find an increasing hunger to spend time in God’s Word and just praying about the matters He puts on your heart.
This last point is a sign of a tipping point to your breakthrough. When HE becomes more important to you and not what you can DO for Him, then you are ready for full-time ministry. Then you will do whatever He asks, go wherever He sends, pay whatever price is needed. Such a person will do great exploits for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven.