First off I just want to thank you all for sending your questions into the 'Ask Anything' section of the site. We are in the process of answering them and hope to be able to answer them all as soon as possible.
So, to our first question. Hannah asked: "I'm personally wrestling with and trying to discern if I'm called into ministry. How did you know God was calling you to ministry?"
First, let me just say that this is a very complex and multi-layered topic. No one blog post will be able to answer this question in every facet and I suspect I will miss something or be unbalanced in some form or another. Furthermore, this will not be an exhaustive list. I will be sharing from what I have personally experienced and general things I have seen in others who have been called. It would probably be wise to get the advice and wisdom from a variety of people and perspectives. Truthfully, in many cases this can be unique for every individual--how I knew I was called into the ministry and how someone else might be could be drastically different. Please interact with this post in the comments if I have missed something or just add to the conversation.
That being said, I think there are some principles that one can follow to help navigate this question and let me say, these things will probably only aid in giving better clarity; they will not answer the question for you. I also suspect that the same principles could be used to help discern God's leading in one's life in general when it comes to major decisions or their place in the mission of Christ. We are all called to be something and are gifted and wired somehow.
I wonder what would happen if we as the Church started to ask what our passions were, our giftings and started to use them for HIs purpose and Kingdom. I suspect we would be an unstoppable force. Maybe you are not called to vocational ministry, but God is calling you nonetheless. I hope that these ideas will serve the whole body of Christ.
Let me be clear, this is not a step by step guide that you can finish one step and go to the next and never return to the previous point. All of these principles should be done together. You will rely on some more then others in various situations, but ultimately view this as a toolbox filled with various tools to be used while working this out. Okay, here we go:
1. What does the Bible say?
It should be no surprise that we start here. Before anyone even attempts to journey in search of any big question we should be familiar with the Scriptures and what it says on the topic. It becomes the anchor when we need to slow down, the compass when we need to go one way or another, litmus test of our thoughts and examining if we are asking the right questions or seeking the right answers. Simply put: if what we are feeling, seeing or counsel we are getting goes against what you read in the scriptures, you should be asking the hard question of 'why'?
So, fill your head with the words of God and let them guide you when seeking the direction and decision in this matter. There is much to be said about pastoral calling and the biblical standard and criteria for a pastor in the scriptures, start there (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus would be a good place to start).
2. Seek out the advice and counsel of wise people.
Who in your life do you trust, who has shown to have wisdom, who knows you well and knows the scriptures well? When making any important decision, seeking wise advice and counsel is well... always wise. It not only helps give perspective and collective wisdom, but these people can be helpful to bounce thoughts off of, and they can ask good questions and the right questions, give you the next step or even show why you shouldn't.
Are people who know you and are wise saying things like, "Have you ever thought about going into full time ministry?", "You should go to bible college" or "I see a lot of [fill in the blank] giftings in you"? These kinds of statements may give you some indication that you should be looking further into this.
We are stronger together as the body of christ and this is definitely no exception. The difficult part in this post is that much of answering this question needs dialogue and finding the right people to do this with is essential.
3. What does experience say?
"I truly don't believe you know until you've spent some time in that area of ministry. If you feel like you are called to be a pastor you cannot necessary stand in for a pastor but you can ask to sit down with 3 or 4 different pastors and pick their brains, their experiences and their journey. For something like a youth pastor, worship pastor or children's ministry. Spend time in that area of ministry, volunteering yourself to the current leader. Do the extra work needed, take on more responsibilities. You will find out within a few months whether you would enjoy a position like that. " // Jen VanSteenbergen
Simply put, does your experience in the ministries you are involved in, the people you interact with and the way you are wired give you indication that you should be in vocational ministry? I have two key volunteers that are in the process of seeking these answers out and in hopes to help them figure out if they are called, I have been investing in them, asking hard questions, and ultimately giving them opportunities to test and grow in their giftings and 'test the waters'. The more experiences you have to taste what it could be like, the better indication you will have if you should, could or even want to head in that direction.
4. What does the spirit say?
What is the Spirit trying to say to you, through everything above, but also in your gut? As you work through figuring this out, what is your gut saying? Is there this nagging in your soul that you just can't get rid of? When you think of ministry, does it give you life, does it excite you and get your heart pumping? Obviously this isn't the only factor in this decision, but it should be a big one. Do you feel a pull into the ministry and do you crave to be in it? I am not talking about not having fears, reservations, question or doubts. But, is there this thing in your gut that is driving you to seek it further and is it growing like a hunger that needs to be fed? You may go down that road and figure out that it is something much different then you thought and may not be vocational ministry, but you need to follow that to its final conclusion. Maybe this feeling hasn't grown fully yet and you are not sure; don't give up yet.
Pray! Ask God to show you this and give you a burning heart for this if He wishes for you to pursue it further. Don't dismiss any level of this. If you are asking the question maybe there is a reason why. But I would hope that you have some sort of desire and drive to want to be in ministry or some kind of draw and pull, even if that be something others see in you that you can't yet and you need to explore that further to see if that means vocational ministry.
5. Does it help the church's vision?
Will you entering vocation ministry help with the vision and mission of Christ and His church? In the end being a 'pastor' is about being a bridesmaid to Christ's bride. We are called to prepare the bride for the return of her bridegroom and this means ultimately we need to ask the hard question: Will me pursuing this help the Church and those in it. I recommend you read Philippians 2 and have that spirit in mind when journeying through this.
6. Am I excited about this?
I am not saying we wait until it is 100% or that we never have any questions or doubts when going through with it. But, does the idea of vocational ministry excite you? Does it get your heart pumping? Not devoid of uncertainty, fear, doubts or trials, but do you actually want to be a pastor or have some pull towards it?
Much to often we have this false humility on the church that says, wanting something makes it bad. That I need to be doing something that I hate to make me holy. That isn't true. Do you love it? Then maybe that is because you are wired to do it. That could be anything. Maybe it isn't pastoring, but maybe it is.
Another good question to ask would be: "Can you see yourself doing anything else?" Pastoral ministry is hard work, it brings great trials in some seasons and because we interact with broken people, it will usually get messy and the statistics have shown that many pastors have become the main casualties of the church ministry.
What I am not talking about is being in ministry and having bad days, weeks and even months were you think I could probably do something else or even dream of other jobs. But, when you get into those seasons (and you will) will you be able to say: No, I am compelled to do this! I was called to do this! I was made to do this!
This is a serious question, because many people who were genuinely called into the pastorate left, not because they were wrong about their call, but because they burn out and lost that vision. So, ministry can and in many cases is not for the faint of heart, so make sure you are called.
I would recommend these articles to read over as they will help give some preparation, thought and hard reality of the pastorate that you should consider before entering the ministry
THESE 9 THINGS COULD REVOLUTIONIZE YOUR MINISTRY
THESE 7 PRACTICAL TIPS WILL KEEP PASTORS ENCOURAGED AND HEALTHY IN MINISTRY
WHY DO SO MANY PASTORS LEAVE THE MINISTRY? THE FACTS WILL SHOCK YOU
Now, let me encourage you after some of those sober words. Ministry can be one of the most fulfilling things anyone can do with their life. Like anything, if you are wired and called to be in vocational ministry, then you will be doing what you were made to do. In the same way that a school teacher must teach, a writer must write and a painter paint, I feel compelled to be a pastor and know this is what I need to be doing.
Times do get tough and there are trials and rough seasons, but I know I am doing what I am called to do and I can't wait to get to work and do it and be it. I had all the criteria listed above in my life and maybe others will have more and others less. This isn't a perfect science, but wrestle with it, while not over-thinking it.
It is about being confident about this decision, rather than having absolute certainty. There will be doubts, fears, uncertainty, and questions. There will be days you will question that calling and you will need those moments to remember when that verse came to you and pointed you towards this place, or those people who spoke into your life and confirmed that call and ultimately that the Spirit drew you to the ministry. It will be a stake in the ground that you can look back at and say: No, I know I was called this is what I was built to do.
Maybe that calling will take different forms in different seasons, and maybe they won't always be paid positions. Maybe you will have to tweak your job description, position or even church to better fit your skill set or even find an environment that you can thrive in, but you will be confident about that calling.
In the end you will simply need to make a choice. You can wrestle with this until the cows come home, but you need to move in some direction and let God direct you and you direct yourself. I hope this encourages you, helps give clarity and also brings some soberness to help weigh it all in figuring this all out.
To everyone reading, please feel free to ask more questions in the comment section, add some thoughts and wisdom and share this on twitter and facebook and lets keep the conversation going.
CONNECT WITH US
SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL
Privacy: We hate spam as much as you, so we will never share your e-mail address with anyone.
SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOGS RSS FEED
AND GET ARTICLE UPDATES