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So, you’ve been “called to the ministry”?

Posted by on Jul 7, 2011 in blog links | 22 comments

So, you’ve been “called to the ministry”?

Josh at “Called to Rebuild” has written an excellent post called “A word to those who are aspiring to preach.”

The post is actually about the “call to the ministry.” This is a phrase that I’ve heard often around the seminary. In fact, for many, this kinds of “call to the ministry” is necessary for someone to become an elder/pastor or missionary.

This is what Josh says:

I had a conversation tonight with some brothers and sisters that sparked something in me. I know there are a lot of people out there who feel this calling from God. Perhaps you are one of them. You have encountered the Lord and have a testimony of Him. You’ve been given special insight into the scriptures, therefore you have a burning desire to proclaim the truth you see there. Yet you feel limited and unable to follow your heart in this way because you’re stuck in a setting where you are not recognized as the teaching pastor or elder-only a “layman”-and therefore you are not allowed to do so. So you feel that the only way to find an outlet for your ministry is to go to seminary or start your own congregation down the road.

Of course, this kind of “call to them ministry” is not found in Scripture. But, what if the “call” from God is actually to something else… something actually found in Scripture.

As Josh further explains:

Might I suggest another alternative?

When all the saints in town came together as the church in the first century it was for the purpose of mutual upbuilding through the functioning of every member. Body ministry was the order of the day. All the saints took turns speaking the truth of Christ to one another in love, or “prophesying” as Paul would call it. They did this regularly….

I dare say that this is what you are seeking. This is where your calling, your gifting, and your passion for the Lord Jesus Christ will find full release and satisfaction.

Something to think about?


22 Comments

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  1. 7-7-2011

    Alan,

    Great post … something that has often crossed my mind. It seems to me that many pastor/elders exercise their “authority” over their congregations based upon the fact that “God has called me to this position, so therefore, God requires you (the church member) to follow my lead.” The reality is that God leaves the selection (“calling”) of elders up the entire church. So, it is more appropriate to say, “Because I have been called by my fellow brothers and sisters, I am serving them/functioning as an elder.” Of course, we are ALL called to minister, one to another!

  2. 7-7-2011

    This is so true. The system of a “teaching pastor” or “senior pastor” is so limiting to the body of Christ. I’ve been in home fellowships where all were invited to share, even at times if it meant one person taking up the bulk of the time (with prior approval, of course) because of something he/she found in his private study. And now in a legacy church, it’s very difficult to know what anyone else is hearing from God except through small groups (and sometimes not even then). More evidence that small groups are actually more church than “church”.

  3. 7-7-2011

    yeppers, I’ve had that “call” several times. It is not easily ignored and unmistakable. I’ve had a call to both teach/preach and do missions. So I started trying to display those gifts and inform other in my church of my calling. I found that unless I asserted myself pridefully, I could go nowhere. On top of that my wife thinks I have a martyr complex and I’m looking for a death sentence so overseas missions where I would put our family in danger was a no go for her.

    So, I decided I must answer the call anyway, not by leaving my family behind or climbing the institutional ladder but by loving and serving others where I’m at: my living room, workplace, laundrymat, grocery store, ice cream shop, Starbucks, and neighborhood.

    it may not be glamorous or make the next edition of voice of the martyrs but it’s who I am, where I am and how I’m becoming who He wants me to be.

  4. 7-7-2011

    Jonathan,

    It’s amazing how often “authority” pops up when talking about the church. But, didn’t Jesus say, “It shall not be so among you…”?

    Dan,

    Even the greatest theologian and orator (even preacher) cannot speak to the church alone on behalf of God. God speaks to his church through his church.

    Bobby,

    Exactly. We are all called into the only full-time ministry that we find in Scripture: humbling serving one another and the people around us.

    -Alan

  5. 7-7-2011

    I visited a seminary shortly before graduating with my bachelor’s degree. After visiting a class, an admissions advisor suggested that my interest in seminary might actually be a signal that God was calling me to ministry (and calling me to attend So-and-so Seminary).

    That’s when the whole “God’s calling” idea really turned shady for me. I certainly believe God calls, but I don’t think he calls believers to obey cultural norms quite as much as that seminary advisor might have believed.

    Many times, people misinterpret feelings of hunger as a signal to start eating, when a big glass of water is all that their bodies are really craving. I think Christian culture has a similar effect on the calls that God puts on us.

  6. 7-7-2011

    Alan, appreciate posting this, will have to look at the blog, my story, thankfully the Lord never let me “finish” seminary but moved us to learning to live by His life relationally with other brothers and sisters organically from house to house.

  7. 7-7-2011

    Thanks for sharing this link, Alan! I soon as I wrote the words “mutual upbuilding” I knew you would like it. :)

  8. 7-8-2011

    I am thinking Acts 13:2 “The Holy Spirit said set apart for me Barnabus and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Even while I can agree with “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.”

    It is extremely sad that modern day Christian society has created and allowed a division of life and work from ministry as if they cannot be mutually exclusive.

    Still I think there is a place for the recognition that there is a difference between working for someone else in a secular job and starting a ministry as an entrepreneur.

  9. 7-8-2011

    Joel,

    I’ve heard the same type of rhetoric, and unfortunately, I’ve also heard it used to put down other seminaries and universities.

    John,

    I’m not opposed to seminary… obviously, since I’m working on a PhD from a seminary. However, I have a different understanding of seminary than when I started.

    Josh,

    It’s a great post… and not only because you mentioned “mutual upbuilding.” :)

    ToscaSac,

    I completely agree that God can and does “call” people to do certain things, like traveling to different places to proclaim the gospel, or even to remain in one place.

    -Alan

  10. 7-8-2011

    Alan, thanks for this thoughtful, insightful post. Dan, my thoughts exactly! The “top-down pecking order” of “authority” common to most ICs seems to focus more on exclusivity and control than on inclusivity, where EVERY believer is free to minister according to their gifting and calling.

  11. 7-9-2011

    I like and agree with this post, with a couple of exceptions.

    1. “Of course, this kind of “call to them ministry” is not found in Scripture.” Admittedly, you didn’t really define what is meant by ‘this kind of call to the ministry’, but God’s calling on people is very much scriptural. Have we distorted it? Sure we have. But just because we’ve distorted it doesn’t mean we should throw the whole thing out. Ephesians still says that God calls some to be pastors and teachers, among other things.

    2. “All the saints took turns speaking the truth of Christ to one another in love, or “prophesying” as Paul would call it. They did this regularly…” The suggestion that all should prophesy (and thus be prophets) is not only naive, but is itself unfounded in scripture.

  12. 7-9-2011

    I’m a so-called “full-time cross cultural missionary”. To get where I am today, I had to discern a “call” to missions, which necessitated that I attend a seminary in order to get a degree in Theology, which gave me credibility in the eyes of my church, which “confirmed” my calling by “commissioning” me. At the time I was doing what I thought was the spiritually correct thing. As I look back on it though, I see that I was merely jumping through the hoops that man put there and ticking the correct boxes.

    As I understand Acts 13 and a wider reading of the NT, it seems clear to me that the apostles were “sent”. The Holy Spirit made it clear to the church community who to send out – the apostles did not put themselves forward to go.
    Elders are appointed based on the natural outflowing of their gifts as they function within the community of believers.

    In my experience, there are many missionaries on the mission field today who aren’t really apostles/church planters – they’re not sent, but they chose to go – and many elders in churches are elected based on their status and standing in society and not on gifting. There are also many “pastors” who don’t have the gift of shepherding, thus making the word “pastor” a misnomer. All of this can be linked back to the so-called “calling to ministry”. I think its a fiction created by man. It totally subverts the NT Biblical principle that we are all priests, that the Spirit gives gifts to the whole body which are needed to help the body build itself up and that every believer has a role to play within the body depending on their gifts.

    The clergy/laity distinction which emphasizes office, rather than function based on gifting, is probably one of the most grievous harms done to the church.

  13. 7-10-2011

    ((The clergy/laity distinction which emphasizes office, rather than function based on gifting, is probably one of the most grievous harms done to the church.))

    Well said, Alan. Concur.

  14. 7-10-2011

    My bad. Should be well said NICK. :) Sorry.

  15. 7-10-2011

    Kristine,

    I’ve seen house church leaders exercise authority based on the same kind of “call.” It’s sad to me.

    Tim,

    1. “This kind of ‘call to the ministry'” refers back to what is described in the original post.

    2. According to Paul, all CAN prophesy, so I would say that it is very scriptural. (1 Corinthians 14:31)

    Nick,

    I believe that we are all “called” to ministry and we are call “called” to missions when God calls us to himself. The question is: Where has God called us to go in order to minister to others and to proclaim the gospel. Wherever God calls us, we are to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

    But, I agree that God gifts people in different ways. Those people tend to spend more time/energy/resources functioning through those gifts. But, I don’t think we should serve exclusively within those gifts.

    I agree 100% with what you said about the clergy/laity distinction.

    -Alan

  16. 7-10-2011

    Alan said: “According to Paul, all CAN prophesy, so I would say that it is very scriptural. (1 Corinthians 14:31)”

    Honestly, I didn’t intend to debate here – but this is just sloppy. In ch. 12, Paul writes, “And in the church God has appointed… second prophets… Are all prophets?” (vv. 28, 29). The obvious point is, no, not all are prophets. God gives different gifts to the church, prophets being one of them. All are not, in fact, prophets. The verse in 14 that you quoted refers to the “two or three” (v. 29) prophets who should speak in a meeting, as he has just described. “You all (i.e. ‘you 2 or 3′ can prophesy in turn…” That’s what he just described in vv. 29-30. And why? Verse 32 – “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Imagine the chaos and disorder of everyone prophesying.

    And you should know – I’m an organic church planter :) I’m as quick to call out the errors of the legacy church as the next guy. I just don’t think we always have to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

  17. 7-10-2011

    Tim,

    I agree that Paul says that all are not gifted as prophets, just as all are not gifted as teachers or encourages or contributors. However, we see in Scripture that all are to teach, encourage, and give. There is a difference between being spiritually gifted in a certain way and God using someone in that way from time to time. I think we see both in Scripture. I’m sorry that you think this is sloppy… I think it is consistent.

    For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:31, Paul writes, “You all can prophesy so that all can learn and all can be encouraged.” You suggest that the first “all” only applies to the 2-3 mentioned previously. What about the 2nd and 3rd all in the same sentence? Can only the 2-3 mentioned previously learn and be encouraged? It seems to me that adjectives “all” refers to the same group throughout that sentence.

    Again, I’ll go back to my previous examples. Only some are gifted as encouragers. In Scripture, who is responsible for encouraging? Only those gifted, or all believers? Also, only some are gifted as contributors/givers. Who is responsible for giving? Only those gifted, or all believers? What about teaching? What about service? What about helping? All of these are spiritual gifts that are only given by God to certain believers. But, we can see in Scripture that all believers are to teach, serve, and help, whether or not they are spiritually gifted in those areas.

    I understand why you might think this is sloppy. I hope you can understand why I think it is consistent.

    -Alan

  18. 7-11-2011

    Just found your blog by following an old link from Kinnontv. What a breath of fresh air. Thanks so much for this! This is the first blog I have found that even the commenters, for the most part, believe in the members of the Body actually functioning together.What a blessing.

  19. 7-11-2011

    Alan said: “There is a difference between being spiritually gifted in a certain way and God using someone in that way from time to time. I think we see both in Scripture.”

    Agreed. 100% agreed. Eternally so. I think we’re on the same page here. But I’m left wondering how we get from that idea to “all the saints should/could prophesy when the church meets together.”

    Alan also said: “For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:31, Paul writes, “You all can prophesy so that all can learn and all can be encouraged.” You suggest that the first “all” only applies to the 2-3 mentioned previously. What about the 2nd and 3rd all in the same sentence? Can only the 2-3 mentioned previously learn and be encouraged? It seems to me that adjectives “all” refers to the same group throughout that sentence.”

    You’re right – it does no injustice to the original language to understand it in either of the ways you and I have described. Given the overall context, though, of a discussion about gifting and the immediate context of 2 or 3 prophets speaking so all is in order, I take the first ‘all’ to refer to those 2 or 3 prophets and the subsequent ‘all’s to refer to everyone. “You all (you 2 or 3 prophets I just mentioned) can prophesy so that all (everyone) can learn and all (everyone) can be encouraged.”

  20. 7-11-2011

    Lydia,

    Thank you. Feel free to join in the discussions here anytime.

    Tim,

    Oh! I think I understand what you’re asking now. (If not, please correct me.) All the saints should have the opportunity to speak – whether in the form of teaching, encouragement, prophesy, etc. – when the church meets together. This does not mean that all of them should speak each time the church gathers together.

    -Alan

  21. 7-11-2011

    Alan said: “All the saints should have the opportunity to speak – whether in the form of teaching, encouragement, prophesy, etc. – when the church meets together. This does not mean that all of them should speak each time the church gathers together.”

    Exactly.

    It also means that not everyone who speaks “prophesies”. Some teach, others encourage, still others evangelize, etc.

  22. 7-11-2011

    Tim,

    I agree. I did not mean to suggest otherwise. Thanks for asking these questions and sticking with the discussion. There may have been others who thought I was saying that all believers should only prophesy each time the church meets.

    -Alan