I purposely begin here with this blog, because this issue is fundamental to your entire ministry. I assume here that I am speaking to someone considering ministry as a profession and not a veteran pastor doubting the call. I want to post in the future for such a pastor, but this is not that post.
This is such a great question, and because it has such a tremendous impact on your life and the kingdom, the fact that it can be elusive may worry you. Some have found it so troubling that they maintain a call is not necessary. So, what does the Bible say about a call, and how can you know if you are indeed called?
Here's the thing. There is significant biblical support for the idea of a distinct call. For example, 1 Timothy 1:12, "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry." Christ Jesus our Lord "put" Paul into the ministry. As you re-read Acts 9, how can Paul's conversion and call to ministry be any more distinct?
In addition to Paul, there is Peter, whose restoration in John 21 included a threefold call to ministry, "Feed my sheep," which command is the very name of this blog. Certainly, there are many examples in the Old Testament of a call (Moses, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, e.g.).
So, a distinct call is a real thing. But is it mandatory? 1 Timothy 3:1 says, "This is a faithful saying: 'If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work." Typically, we understand this to mean that it is possible and even noble to desire to be a pastor, even if you have not yet heard a call.
So there's the biblical evidence. Let me speak to you from experience. When you face the inevitable pressures of ministry (conflict, burnout, e.g.), it can be so very helpful to know that you are called. Believe it or not, I think most pastors at some point have thought even seriously about quitting. There are times that the call of God is the one thing that keeps you from throwing in the towel.
Let me give you my own call testimony. Toward the end of my high school career, I was seeking God's face about my future. I had been a personal crisis of belief and had come out as close to God as ever before. I was doing daily devotions and pouring my heart out to God, seeking His direction. In my devotions one night, I read 2 Timothy 4:2, "Preach the word." And no sooner had I read those three words that the Holy Spirit took that command and, like a spear, drove it deep into my heart - "that's for you." That's what I want you to do. My response, "Well, God, I know it's for every believer." "No, that's for you. That's what you are to do with your life - preach the word." I went into my parents bedroom - a little afraid. Mom and Dad had paid thousands of dollars for music lessons over the years, and I wondered if they would be angry and think that their investment was a waste. They were actually very thrilled, and felt that their prayers had been answered. I met with my mentor and pastor, Dr. Bradley Price shortly thereafter, and then made the call public. Here's the punchline - God has confirmed this call over and over again to me through quiet assurances, through the encouragement of others, and through His abundant provision over the years.
If you are called, you will know it. Spend time in prayer. Seek God's face. Immerse yourself in the Word. And even if you don't sense a call yet, if it is something you desire, begin to pursue it, and see if a call comes. God has a way of shutting and opening doors. Search the blog for the word "call" to see future posts that may go into more detail on this important subject.
Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.