the weblog of Alan Knox

Stop using the phrase “called to the ministry”?

Posted by on May 14, 2011 in blog links, service | 17 comments

Stop using the phrase “called to the ministry”?

Over the last few years of reading his blog, I’ve found Dave Black’s writing to be encouraging at times, challenging at times, but always for the health of the church.

Think about that for a moment: for the health of the church. He doesn’t write just to write, just to pontificate on his own intelligence or understandings. He writes to build up his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that his brothers and sisters will always agree with or accept what he writes.

I think that’s certainly the case with this latest challenge (from Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 10:36 a.m.):

I have a question today, a question to which I do not know the answer. When will appeals for vocations to the ministry end? And when, in their place, will the church encourage all of its members to seek God’s will for the area of ministry in which they can most effectively be used by Him? I propose that we never again use the expression “call to the ministry” unless we are careful to apply it to each and every Christian. All this will neither be easy nor popular. Yet at some point it must be done. One of the main reasons for burn-out in the pastorate is that it is often carried out alone. The New Testament never envisaged such a predicament. Ministry needs to be shared. Jesus realized this: He sent out the apostles two by two. Paul realized this when he appointed elders (note the plural) in every church. And it needs to be modeled by today’s Christian leaders. It is not until church members are enthusiastic about their own God-given gifts that we will succeed in being the Body of Christ.

He’s right. We’ve all been “called to the ministry” – that is, we’ve all been called by God to use our gifts, talents, energies, and opportunities to serve one another and the people around us. There is no other type of service.

If you are using “called to the ministry” in a way that separates some Christians from others, then I don’t think you’re helping the church.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-14-2011

    Totally agree with that.

    The times that I’ve discussed getting rid of this phrase with vocational pastor friend of mine have been extremely uncomfortable. I could tell that I was stepping on toes a bit. Because of the idea that there is a certain breed of Christians that are to “do ministry”, those that are “called”, its almost blasphemous among traditional congregations to even mention that maybe pastors aren’t the only ones called to ministry.

  2. 5-14-2011


    I certainly agree with Dave’s words. They bring back many discussions, regarding the subject,I’ve had with folk over the many years.

    About 40 years ago a deacon said I was a heretic for suggesting that the traditional attitudes regarding the clergy/laity divide be reassessed from the Scriptures, especially in regard to what Dave is talking about.

    Comfortable pew sitters have a vested interest in denying Dave’s proposal, “hat we never again use the expression “call to the ministry” unless we are careful to apply it to each and every Christian.”

    I think the size of congregations would shrink considerably.

  3. 5-14-2011

    I concur with Dave, you and the comments. One we say that some Christians are specially “called” to the ministry it assumes that everyone else is not and that has led in large part to the sad state of affairs in most of post-Reformational Protestantism.

  4. 5-14-2011

    Jason, Aussie John, and Arthur,

    Thanks for the comments. How do you think it’s best to talk about this to those who do believe there is a special call for some ministry professionals?


  5. 5-14-2011

    with so many assuming the label “Christian”, being in Christ is going to separate “some Christians from others”. We know He will.

  6. 5-14-2011

    Alan, you asked, “How do you think it’s best to talk about this to those who do believe there is a special call for some ministry professionals?”

    I think we must make our appeal to Scripture. Of course, some won’t listen and will not care what Scripture says. But if we can get people to study the issue with us or challenge them to read the NT for themselves to see what is said or not said about “a call to the ministry” (among other things) we have done well. It is through a study of Scripture that my mind is changing on these things.

    One more thing, it seems to me that many who espouse a “call to ministry” or other traditional ecclesiastical positions do so on the basis of Old Testament Scriptures (i.e. God called Moses or the prophets). I think we need to help people see how the Old Testament is a shadow of things to come and are fulfilled in Christ.

  7. 5-15-2011


    “How do you think it’s best to talk about this to those who do believe there is a special call for some ministry professionals?”

    I am not sure there is anything, or a particular method that any of us can say or do to convincer those who embrace the “special” call to ministry idea; other than being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s direction.

    I ask myself, “What did someone say or do to change my understanding?” I don’t recall in my experience, a person trying to convince me. It happened over a period of time, starting about nine years ago, as I started acting on questions. These were questions I had for years as I saw the disconnect from what scripture said and what we did as the church.

    It was then that I started reading articles on the internet and finding books to read; and then I found blogs. I would be curious to know how others have come to this understanding. This may help us in our approach to those in professional ministry.

    The simple answer might just be prayer. Ultimately, it has to be the Holy Spirit who pricks our heart to lead us in truth.

  8. 5-15-2011


    I only use the term “Christian” for those who are in Christ. But, yes, some use the term who are not in Christ.

    Scott and Jack,

    I love your answers and I agree with both of them. We must both make our appeal from Scripture, then pray and trust God alone to change people’s hearts and minds – ours as well.


  9. 5-15-2011

    i was just called to ministry Wednesday night..
    phone rang,
    i answered,
    was asked, “can you do my wedding.. ”
    wife said “nuther ministry call?”

    (just needed to say something folks..)

    be blessed

  10. 5-15-2011


    Yes, I get calls to ministry (service) all the time. And, if any of God’s children would listen, they would here him calling them to serve (minister) as well.


  11. 7-8-2011

    I sure hope everybody out there gets the point that “God-given gifts” doesn’t mean ushering, greeting, sweeping, mopping, mowing and keeping the nursery. God’s people have been passive specatators for long it’s going to take a lot of “building up” to help them step into their true ministries.

  12. 10-21-2011

    I fully agree with this blog post Alan! Thank you.

    My comment relates both to the original post and a question you posed during the commenting.

    To use an example from my life, I believe I have been “called to this ministry”. I have an area in which I can use my talents and serve the Church and the wider world. Now, if I didn’t believe I had been called to do this, I would have given up long ago. Indeed, I have been near to doing so at times. But note the wording that I used at the beginning of this paragraph:

    I have been called to this ministry.

    Yes, a leader at my church may be equally “called” to that which I am and every believer is. But the particular calling varies in nature, but not in vitality.

  13. 10-21-2011

    Cool. post. I understand the main thrust. Got a question. When the church in Acts 6 laid hands on the ones chosen to take care of the widows, and when Paul chose elders in the churches, how would you phrase their “calling”?

    I kind of like Mark of faith’s comment on “called to this ministry” cause every believer is called to serve. How do you think we should say it? Since all are to serve, yet there are clear “positions” in Scripture of deacons and elders, how do you make identification without created a division?

  14. 10-21-2011


    Yes, every child of God is given real gifts that are necessary for the growth (maturity) of the church. Plus, God often gives us opportunities to serve him and others in ways in which we may not be particularly gifted, but in which we must serve anyway.


    I agree that we are often called to specific types of service, as long as we don’t let that service become a type of “blinder.” In other words, God often gives us opportunities to serve that are outside our normal areas or giftings.


    So, what was Phillip’s “ministry”? Was it serving food as in Acts 6, or was it serving by proclaiming the gospel as in Acts 8? Or could it be that Phillip (and others, whether elders or deacons or not) simply saw themselves as called by God to serve him by serving others in whatever opportunities God gave them?


  15. 10-21-2011


    I believe Phillip’s “ministry” changed depending on how God led him to serve. I like what you said to Mark’s comment and I totally agree. But, with it being clear on some being led by God to serve as elders and deacons, obviously needing to be qualified to do so (even though all believers should be qualified), how does the church make the needed obvious identification without causing division?

    In other words, just because someone says God has “called” them to serve as an elder, does not mean they can serve as one. There are qualifications as well as a need for the church to recognize them as one. But how do we keep that from causing division between the “called to be elders” and those “called to serve” in another format. I think elders need to be recognized, but in doing so it automatically opens the door to clergy/laity division. Do you recognize every single member in how they serve?

  16. 10-22-2011


    Thank you for your comment. Yes, I agree that we should be careful not to neglect other forms of service even though we are “called” into one particular area of ministry. Yet I think I agree with Ron in that every believer should listen to what God specifically calls that believer to do – some to be elders, some to serve as deacons, some to be evangelists and so on.

    The evangelist is perhaps a good example to use. For example, Reinhard Bonke is very well called to perform the ministry of the evangelist. Yet, if he sees a man going hungry do you think he would then neglect to provide food because he is “an evangelist not a helper”? And then, there are many in the Church that are not specifically called to be evangelists. But should they then neglect to tell the people in their daily lives about Jesus and the Gospel? Clearly not!

  17. 10-22-2011


    I don’t consider being an elder or being a deacon as service (ministry). Although, I do think that churches should recognize people as elders or deacons only if they are serving others in different ways as God provides them opportunities to serve.


    I think your example is a good one. For example, I think (and others have verified) that God typically uses me to teach others (i.e., I’m gifted to teach). However, I cannot use my gift and/or ability to teach as a reason to NOT serve in other ways.