Andy Stanley wrote that he never experienced a sense of call. I’m sure he’s not alone, but I’ve yet to meet another minister who didn’t have a sense of call. It's a sense of call the keeps me in the game. It’s what my wife and I go back to when things get tough. You can always find another job, but another call?
A sense of call isn’t necessarily unique to ministry, in that I think God calls all of us to some vocation or another. As my children grow I see their passion for particular fields of academics converge with their giftedness. They work hard on what they care about and are starting to narrow down the field of possible occupations they might enjoy. We pray for them and talk things over with them. In all of this we are ultimately seeking God’s call for their life.
The Quakers have a much more structured approach to this in their Faithfulness Groups. People come before this prayerful group of leaders who ask them questions to help discern their gifts, experiences, and passions. They pause to listen for God’s voice and share with them how they feel God is leading. Everyone would probably benefit from this type of clarity - this type of ordination to any vocation.
Andy Stanley may have never “heard” or “felt” God’s call, but the people who ordained him must have. Ordination is a spiritual act of discernment, whereby a church acknowledges someone’s calling into ministry. This communal discernment of call is vital to a healthy pastorate. Many people hear and feel things that they think must be from God. They find out later it was their own desires or feelings. A third party, a community of faith, is needed to verify a minister’s call.
I’m thankful for the group of elders who met with me and my wife. They took the time to get to know us. They prayed for us and with us. They took the time to discern God’s call in our lives and then publicly affirmed it in my ordination service. Their careful examination was an exception to how ordination is practiced in many other churches from my tradition.
I am thankful for this extra work they did and made me do! I’m thankful because times came when the people I tried to help turned on me and hurt me. I struggled and wondered, “Why am I doing this? Am I cut out for this?” Then I would remember my ordination. I would look at the photo of the church praying for me and I would say, “I heard God’s call. They heard God’s call. God is calling me to this work. I must remain faithful.”
The sense of call is vital to ministers because we (occasionally) need a reminder of why we do what we do. This is probably felt in other helping professions during times of stress and hurt. I know it’s felt among ministers. Ministers with a strong sense of call are able to tap into a well of resiliency. They can look back at the beginning and say, “I am called by God to this ministry. He will see me through it. I must remain faithful.”
For further thought if you’re in ministry...
- Can you remember your call? How did you discern it? Did your ordination or certification process help you with this?
- Can you describe an encounter or event when you knew you were called? It was likely a time when you felt God's power flowing in you and you knew you were right where God wanted you.
- Can you describe a moment when you needed to rely on your sense of call because ministry was tough?
For further thought if you’re considering ministry...
- Do you have a sense of call? Have you felt or discerned God’s leading to ministry in your life? If so, share or journal what led you to believe that.
- Take some time to gather a group of faithful people you respect and share what you believe God is calling you to do. Ask them to pray and discern whether or not they perceive the same call for your life.