The Call Of God To Preach

(On Mondays, The Preacher considers the vitally important subject of The Call – how God calls a man into a pastoral and preaching ministry. Each week we look at some scriptural principles and some practical considerations, as well as learn from a wide range of individual testimonies.)


It takes quite a lot to put me off reading a book on preaching, but the following words nearly succeeded in doing just that.  The author recalls a conversation with his father which went like this:
 
“Dad, does a person have to be called into ministry or can they just volunteer?” He thought for a moment, “Well, I guess it’s okay to volunteer.”  “Good,” I said.  “I would like to volunteer.”  So I did. [i]
 
In my experience, that reflects a current prevailing mindset among many Christians, but one which is so clearly at odds with biblical teaching and examples and is the cause of some terrible casualties in Kingdom work.   I spent some years heading up an international mission agency and was struck how wholescale had been the abandonment by most of my counterparts, both within my own organisation and outside, of the need to look for a call to ministry and service.  Repeatedly I was advised not to be so restrictive in considering workers, after all if there is a need and someone is willing and able to meet that need, what else are you looking for?  Over the years, when we turned down a few good, competent and able people who we were not convinced had God’s call on their lives, we were met with astonishment.
 
As I read the Scriptures, I am, again and again, struck by the emphasis on God’s appointing, commissioning and setting apart of his messengers.
 
Paul begins most of his New Testament letters by reminding his readers that he has been called to his apostolic ministry by God –
 
…called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (Romans 1:1)
 
…called by the will of God to be an apostle (1 Corinthians 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (2 Corinthians 1:1)
 
…an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (Ephesians 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (Colossians 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Saviour (1 Timothy 1:1)
 
…an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (2 Timothy 1:1)
 
Indeed, almost a dozen times in his letters Paul uses such expressions as “by the will of God”, “called”, “appointed”, “commissioned” and “set apart” when referring to those with the high calling of being ministers and servants of the gospel message.
 
Paul is not simply ‘pulling rank’ as he writes to the churches; he is stressing his divine authority.  He writes as the appointed herald of God and speaks with all the authority of the one who called him into the ministry.   To hear God’s appointed messenger is to hear God himself and, conversely, to reject the message of God’s appointed messenger is to reject the message of God.
 
As far as I am aware, Exodus 3 brings us the longest record in Scripture of God’s calling someone to do a job and you could hardly find someone less keen on volunteering than Moses!   Five times he makes excuses and expresses his reluctance to obey orders.
 
I cannot find a single record in God’s Word of a man volunteering for service.   As I write that, I can almost hear someone say, ‘What about Isaiah?’.  Well, what about Isaiah?   I have heard numerous valedictory and commissioning messages expounding Isaiah 6:8, pressing home God’s earnest question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  But I have yet to hear such a message setting that well-known verse in its context.   I suspect that if verse 8 was actually verse 1 of the chapter, Isaiah’s answer would have been very different;  probably something along the lines of, ‘certainly not me!’. 
 
The point is that Isaiah’s response to God’s call was the response of a man who has just had the breath sucked out of him by the heart-stopping, jaw-dropping vision of an indescribably glorious and sovereign God; who has been reminded of his own innate sinfulness and that of the rest of humanity; yet reassured of his own forgiveness.  In response, Isaiah cannot but obey when called.  This isn’t offering himself as a volunteer, this is the obedience of a servant.
 
This matter of the call is of great importance because, among other things, it has to do with authority.    If a man – not to mention a woman – stands on a platform or in a pulpit, having volunteered to preach but not having been appointed by God, then they have no authority.  
 
No man should preach without the call of God on his life, any more than I would turn up at the White House and claim to speak in the name of the UK government.
 
Here are some examples of God’s call on men’s lives as recorded in Scripture:
·     Moses (Exodus 3)
·     Joshua (Numbers 27:15-18; Joshua 1)
·     Isaiah (Isaiah 6)
·     Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1)
·     Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1-3)
·     Jonah (1)
·     Paul (Acts 9)
·     Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13)
 
Now, of course the Bible calls all believers to be ambassadors for Christ and to be gossipers of the gospel – that’s part of what it is to be a Christian; but it is also clear from Scripture that God calls men and women to specific roles and ministries. (Matthew 9:38; Ephesians 4:11
 
By call we mean the unmistakable conviction that an individual possesses that God wants him to do a specific task.[ii]
 
God’s call could come to anybody!  Among those he called in the Scriptures were a farmer (Amos), a priest (Ezekiel), a tax-collector (Matthew), fisherman (several), a Pharisee (Paul).  God often surprises us with the men he chooses for ministry – 1 Corinthians 1:26-30)
 
In the context of these studies, we are thinking of the importance and nature of that call with regard to the call of God on a man’s life to the pastoral ministry.
 
“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…Lutzer has spoken of the difficulty of ministry as follows: I don’t see how anyone could survive in the ministry if he felt it was just his own choice. Some ministers scarcely have two good days back to back. They are sustained by the knowledge that God has placed them where they are. Ministers without such a conviction often lack courage and carry their resignation letter in their coat pocket. At the slightest hint of difficulty, they’re gone.” [iii]  (MacArthur, 1960, pp. 83-4)

This is a subject of such importance that it would be almost impossible to overstate it.  The Bible carries numerous warnings from God about those who claim to represent him and speak with his authority but who do not.  This seems to have been a particular problem in the days of Jeremiah given the frequency with which it is mentioned in his prophecy.  See for example Jeremiah 14:14-15; 23:21, 32; 27:15; 29:9; 35:15
 
I have lost count of the number of examples of men, personally known of or known to me, both in pastoral ministry as well as in other spheres of work such as cross-cultural mission, who have, albeit with probably good intentions, entered into the work without any confirmation of the call of God on their lives and this has resulted in disaster for themselves, for their families, for their churches, and for the communities among whom they have been working.
 
I don’t see how anyone could survive in the ministry if he felt it was just his own choice. Some ministers scarcely have two good days back to back. They are sustained by the knowledge that God has placed them where they are. Ministers without such conviction often lack courage and carry their resignation letter in their coat pocket. At the slightest hint of difficulty, they’re gone. (Wayne Lutzer)
 
Brothers, we should have a holy fear of stepping into a call as high as that of pastoral ministry, the highest of all callings, without being utterly sure that we do so at the call of God.
 
This whole subject is of immense importance, not only for individuals who may be questioning whether God is calling them into ministry, but also for those already involved in pastoral ministry, because we should be looking for the men within our congregations who may well have the call of God on their lives.  When in pastoral ministry, it should be our frequently repeated prayer, ‘Lord, is this man…is that man…suitable for the ministry?’   We should not be afraid of putting them in situations where their ability could be tested, for example, and challenge them to bring the possibility before God in their own prayers.
 
So, what are the steps through which God normally calls a man into pastoral ministry?  Well, there are two main areas, each of great importance and both of which must be addressed with all seriousness.  There is an internal or subjective call which must, at all costs, be confirmed by an external or objective affirmation.  In the next study we will consider the first of those.
 

[i] Stanley, A. a. (2006). Communicating for a Change. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Press.  P9
 
[ii] Prime, D. (2003). Pastors and Teachers. Hants: Christian Books. p18
 
[iii] MacArthur, J. (1960). Pastoral Ministry. Nashville: Nelson. Pp83-84
 

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