Although I talked about several calls in the previous blog, this and the next few blogs will only be looking at the call to a specific ministry, whether professional or not professional, because that is where I see the most problems. A lot of the problems centre around knowing when and how God calls an individual to a certain ministry. One issue is that when Christians believe that only certain people are called to ministry, they tend not to look for their own calling. A second, bigger issue is that in North America, we have tended to make recognition of a specific call a very personal and individualistic process.
To start with, we need to recognize that is all believers are called to ministry, then all believers are probably going to experience one or more calls to specific ministries at some time in their lives. Churches probably need to develop an atmosphere that encourages people to be open to such a call and provide ways for them to recognize such a calling.
That atmosphere of encouragement can be helped by understanding that in the New Testament, God’s call to ministry is not just a personal, internal experience on the part of the individual. A call to ministry is also accompanied by a public revelation of the chosen person and their ministry–and in the New Testament this public revelation often has more weight than the internal calling.
Take the call of Paul as an example. Paul’s ministry in the early church began when he was called to help provide leadership to the new church founded in Antioch through the preaching of some persecuted Christians looking for a safer place to live and preach. As the church in Antioch begins to develop, Barnabas seeks out Paul and brings him to the church as co-pastor. (Acts 11.19-26). Later, the church and its leadership is engaged in worship at one point when they received a message from God that amounted to a call to Barnabas and Paul to take up a new ministry that would take them away from the leadership of the church. (Acts 13.1-3).
What is interesting is that we don’t know anything about Paul’s personal sense of his calling in either case. Given the deep and painful internal struggles many people seen to have over the issue of their call to a specific ministry these days, that is very significant.
I have talked with many people who feel they might have a call from God for some specific ministry. Often, they are having a difficult time–their desire to be faithful battles their desire to be safe; their wish to follow conflicts with their fears; their commitment struggles with their doubts. Nothing anyone else says seems to help in the struggle–in North America, we think we have to understand and validate our own calling.
But the New Testament pattern seems to be that the God who issues the call to a particular ministry gives the call to both the called and the wider Christian body. This is particularly important to understand since one of the biggest struggles associated with calling is that we always feel unworthy and unable in the face of the calling.
We feel that because we are unworthy and unable–God doesn’t call us because we are great, he calls us because he wants us and he will give us what we need. But because we are called in our unworthiness, God also tells the faithful that we have been called–and in the end, we should probably learn to put a lot more faith in that part of the calling than our own feelings. As I have told many people over the years, feeling unqualified for the call is probably the best indication of the reality of the call possible. Our sense of unworthiness coupled with the affirmation of the wider Christian community is probably as close as we are going to come to a complete assurance that we are definitely called to a particular ministry.
It just may be that instead of agonizing about our own call, we need to spend more time with the Christian community, helping each other discover together where God is leading each of us. It seemed to work quite well for the leadership of the early church.
May the peace of God be with you.