Last Monday we began to look at and deal with the call of God to ministry. I am more convinced each day that it is of first importance that God-called men serve as pastors and ministers in the local church. I do not say that lightly, but only after considerable thought and observation of the current condition of the modern, and primarily, American church. In fact, I believe that one of the main reasons why we see so much sin and silliness in the modern church comes from a decline in the conviction, caliber and calling of the men filling the pulpit and leading local congregations.
I have a hard time accepting that a man who was “nothing” before the call and is “nothing” apart from the call would lead churches to do the things and to accept the rampant carnality that is now so prevalent in our churches. It seems that what we have far too many men today who think more of their abilities and achievements than they should who are attempting to use their intellect and personality to accomplish that which can only genuinely be achieved through the power and Spirit of God.
The difference, I believe in a Spirit-filled, Gospel-focused, Jesus-exalting ministry and what we sadly see so often today begins with a man who, without a doubt, has the call of God upon his life leading and loving the flock he’s called to pastor according to the truth of God’s Word. It all goes back to the call.
Last week I gave a definition of the call. I wrote, “The call is the undeniable, unmistakable, unavoidable conviction that comes upon a person that God wants him to spend the rest of his life serving in the Lord’s ministry.”
Let’s look now at the elements that make up the call.
1. It is certain. It is an “undeniable, unmistakable, unavoidable conviction.” The pastor must be sure that he has the call of God upon his life. Without this absolute assurance, the pastor will lack power, passion, and persistence. W.A. Criswell once said that the “first and foremost of all the inward strengths of the pastor is the conviction, deep as life itself, that God has called him to the ministry.” This is so true. For the pastor to minister “in season and out of season,” there must be the confident assurance that he has been called by God to the ministry.
As you read the study the scriptures, there is a recurring theme, one that we find especially in the writings of Paul. Paul refers to the urgency and the unambiguous nature of his call to the ministry. He wrote to the believers in Corinth, “… necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9;16)
The word translated “necessity” refers to the compulsion of his call. It was powerful and persistent. Paul says that it was “laid upon” him. This vivid imagery refers to the urgency of the call. In fact, it was so urgent that he refers to it in the present tense. It was something that was, even right then, being “laid upon” him.
I remember when I began to sense the call of God upon my life as a young college student. It was very much like a weight, and the more that I resisted, the heavier that weight became until that night when I finally surrendered to the call of God upon my life. The urgency and necessity remain, but now there is the supernatural power that comes from the Spirit of God in my life that enables me to carry that weight and fulfill my ministry. Erwin Lutzer describes the call as “an inner conviction given by the Holy Spirit…” You see, God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips, enables and empowers the called!
Warren Wiersbe once wrote that the “work of the ministry is too demanding and difficult for a man to enter it without a sense of divine calling. Men enter and then leave the ministry usually because they lack a sense of divine urgency. Nothing less than a definite call from God could ever give a man success in the ministry.”
2. It is personal. The call “comes upon a person that God wants him…” God calls men to lead his church and to fed His sheep. There is something very personal about God selecting a man for the ministry. Now, again, there are those who deny this individual call. They say that “everyone is called,” but if the Bible is to be our authority, then there can be no doubt that there is a particular, personal call that comes to some and not just a general call to all.
This personal call is special, and it enables a man to do more than he could do through his particular personality or ability. Resist with all your might the common thought that would seek to explain away the high calling that God has placed upon your life. Do not allow it to become something that is common because it is not. The call is something that is very special and absolutely personal.
When I first felt the call of God, I must admit that it was overwhelming. Yes, there was the weight and the urgency and the necessity that Paul describes. But, there was also a great sense of unworthiness. Why would He choose me? I felt kind of like Moses. There were others who would no doubt be better speakers, organizers or leaders. Surely there were others at the University who were smarter, had applied themselves more, or who were gifted in areas that I wasn’t. But, when the call came, with it came everything I have ever needed to accomplish the ministry to which He has called me. The same will prove to be true in your life if He has indeed called you.
3. It is irrevocable. The call of God on a man’s life is “to spend the rest of his life serving in the Lord’s ministry.” There is no expiration date. There is no statute of limitations. Once the call comes and you have surrendered your life to the call it doesn’t end. Surely, there are different areas of ministry, and these may change from time to time, but the call remains.
I have to admit that it bothers me to see those who have espoused a call and even given evidence of it come to a point in their life where they in essence “walk away from the ministry.” Now, there are events and issues in the life of a man that would disqualify him from continuing to serve in the ministry, and we will discuss these things more at a later time. But, for a man to burn out, throw in the towel, give up and forsake his calling is something that is unbelievable to me and foreign to what I read in scripture.
Paul wrote the Roman believers that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) The word translated “irrevocable” means “not to be taken back.” Just like salvation is not on one minute and off the next, but is forever, the call is not something that comes at one point in a man’s life and is taken back at another. The call comes, and it comes to stay. It is this way; I believe, because of the unchanging nature of God. God is unchanging and so are his purposes. Once God calls a man it is His purpose to accomplish his will in the world and eternity through the one He has called.
There have been many times in my life as a pastor where it would have been much easier to give up and do something else. In spite of what many church members may think, the life of a pastor is not all glitz and glory. Often there are burdens a pastor has to bear and many times it would be a blessing if we could take off the mantel, lay it down and just walk away. But, it doesn’t work that way.
I remember one particularly dark time in my life as a pastor. I had been at my first pastorate for about a year and a half. The Lord was blessing and we were seeing people come to know Christ and the church was growing. I thought that things were great. Then one Saturday I was asked to come to the church for what was supposed to be a regular Personnel Team mtg. We had discussed working on our Personnel Policy Manual and I thought that was the reason for this meeting. What I didn’t know was that some of the “charter members” of the church were upset with all the “new people” coming into the church and they had influenced the members of the Personnel Team. This small group had met for three months with another local pastor without my knowledge, working on their version of a personnel manual. The meeting lasted for eight hours. It ended with them considering the office of the Pastor as nothing more than a secretarial worker and began a period of great turmoil and hurt in the church. I was devastated.
I will never forget a call I received later that night from Steve Gaines. It was comforting, reassuring and emboldening. Two statements from that phone call stick out in my mind. First, he told me that “every pastor will be a paschal lamb at least once in his ministry.” And, then he asked me the question. “Has God called you?” The answer to that question was the answer to my situation. I couldn’t cut and run. I had to stay and lead and do my best to love this flock that the Lord had called me to, even if some of the sheep knew how to bite.
The call comes, and it comes to stay. In fact, it is the call that will sustain you through bad business meetings, being forsaken by your friends, mistreated by church members and mocked by society. The call is the inner prompting that will not let you wash your hands of the whole thing when you’re going through the valley. Oh, that doesn’t mean that you have to be a door mat and allow others to walk all over your and your family. It does mean though that you may have to turn the other cheek, go when you’re not wanted, smile when you’re hurting, give a drink of water when you are dry and endure taunts and sneers – for the sake of the Gospel.
Make no mistake about it. The ministry is not for sissies. It is not for the faint of heart or those who are easily hurt or offended. But, if the call of God is upon your life, then there is only one thing for you to do – surrender, smile and be satisfied that He has considered you worthy of the ministry