Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
[Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB95]
Recently, I have committed to visiting with a lovely church about their pastoral vacancy. Our conversations over the last year have been interesting, having taken a variety of twist and turns. Nevertheless, our conversations have reached a point where we need to meet face to face in order to discern any further if our conversation should continue.
This process is fairly normal in ministry. There is a tightly held belief that those in vocational ministry are there by 'calling'. In other words, we believe that God has called us to serve the Kingdom personally and particularly. Ultimately we serve God, not the institution nor necessarily the particular place to which we have been called: we go where we are called to go and serve where we are called to serve, whenever that may occur. Some men and women serve only one group, church or organization his or her entire life; some serve many different churches or groups.
There are many factors that contribute to the call: God's will, our personal situation and of course how we understand or perceive God's call from our perspective. I've been serving churches in a variety of capacities since about 1987, in part-time, full-time, or interim capacities. I've been a music minister, a youth minister, a revival speaker, a revival worship leader, a professor and a pastor. I've done each of those things because I perceived and believed that I was called by God to do so. Yet perceiving, discerning or understanding God's call in your life is not that easy at times. Especially, when there are many factors to consider.
What are the considerations?
1) The covenant with your family.
If you have a family, the minister believes that the covenant between husband and wife, as well the covenant between parents and children, is the priority. That covenant and those people are your priority. When Genesis 2 speaks of marriage and the relationship that reflects and Paul details to Timothy what the character of the 'servant' of the Lord is to be like, it becomes obvious quickly that the well-being of your family is crucial to the process. They must be included in any decision making, for if those basic family covenants are violated, our service to the Lord is crippled.
2) The nature of the call.
It is my conviction that God equips the minister to fulfill the requirements of the call. This is one of the great lessons of the stories of Moses, Deborah, David, Peter and Paul. God equipped each of those men and women uniquely to fulfill the task to which he or she was called.
Moses was given his brother to help him; Deborah was filled with wisdom and Barak stood to help her; David was given wisdom, courage and resolve; Peter understood that his strength was very simply in God's presence - he had no skill or learning outside of his fisherman's talents and love of Jesus. Of course Paul was a trained Rabbi, a man soaked in the scriptures; but even Paul knew that his strength came from the presence of Jesus in the Holy Spirit and his knowledge of the Greek culture to which he was sent.
The call is thus unique to us. It is obvious that God has equipped us through experience, skills - and most importantly His 'presence' - to fulfill the call.
Does this mean that God cannot use us in ministries for which we are not 'equipped'? Of course not. There are unique stories of God using men and women to accomplish specific ministry goals with little or no training. That is because the most important aspect of any call is "God's empowering presence." Peter's ministry is a case in point. Nevertheless, the real miracle of the call to ministry is that quite often God equips us for a ministry before we are called! I have several physician friends across the nation, who serve as medical missionaries. They bring healing, love and share the gospel in simple acts of kindness with but few words; nevertheless the ministry of healing has paved the way for the power of those few words to change lives.
Thus I ask myself: "Am I equipped to fulfill this call or not?" or "Am I the one God has chosen for this unique task and can I trust that God will use me to fulfill the mission?"
If I am not a person of prayer, it really won't matter. If my connection with God is weak, how can I ever truly know that I am called? Constant, vigilant, heartfelt prayer is crucial.
4) Conditions, Family and Friends.
As I consider a call, I am constantly observing to see if my call to my present ministry is coming to an end. I carefully examine those who are calling me to see if this is a good 'fit'. I examine my life to see if the 'timing' is right for such a move. I seek the counsel of those I trust the most to hear my heart and to look at the situation. This is an important part of the process.
A call is not a 'call' unless it is issued by a group of people who believe that God has lead them to me. I may sense a desire to serve, but until it is clear that I must go, I cannot go. I am reminded of Paul in Acts 16:9, where the "Man from Macedonia" bid Paul come. Or in Acts 13:1-3, where the Church in Antioch set aside Paul and Barnabas for ministry. In other words, there is a confident confirmation of that calling.
So here I am, seeking God's will - "trusting in the Lord with all my heart" - praying, listening and seeking to discern God's call.
But I know that this process is not just about vocational ministers. It's about all of us called to the body of Christ. He has a calling in each of our lives for ministry of some type or sort. The question is, "will we attempt to discern that call?" or will we be satisfied with being Sunday morning Pew-potatoes? At the very least each one of us is called to use our spiritual gifts in the local body of Christ. Each parent is called to disciple his or her children and every believer is called to be the gospel wherever they are.
I ask for your prayers as I discern and please know that you have my prayers as you seek to find and embrace God's call in your life!