By Daniel Webster
My call to ministry was not all that exciting—quite mundane, actually. Growing up, I was led to believe that when you were called to preach, such a calling would come when you least expected it. Perhaps during an emotional high at church camp or mission conference, and probably during the seventh verse of “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” And, if you were really called, you would give a tearful testimony and immediately announce your call to preach publicly.
That’s not how it happened for me. I don’t actually remember a specific moment I was “called.” No tears. No altar. No sinking feeling in my chest. No burning bush like Moses. No running like Jonah. No voice in the night like Samuel. Thinking back, since my early teen years I always desired to be in ministry. Maybe as a pastor, maybe not.
As a teenager, I was heavily involved in my local church. I sang in the choir, led worship for our high school group, helped with inner-city ministry, shared devotions, and many other things. This level of involvement in the local church came about due to youth leaders who encouraged, emphasized, arranged, and trained us to do these things.
Fast forward a few years to age 21. I was graduating from Bible college. I had spent every Sunday of the previous five years of my life doing upfront, local church ministry. Along the way, people would say things like, “I truly feel like God is going to call you to preach one day.” I would usually answer something like, “Well, I suppose that’s not too different from what I’m doing now.” Sometimes, they would come back with something like, “Well, you’re not an actual ‘preacher boy,’ though.” I would laugh it off with something like, “Well, I don’t even know what that is.”
After college, I took a full-time position as music director at my home church. The word director was used for my title rather than minister or pastor because I was not ordained. I thought this was probably a fine thing. But I also decided I should share my desire (as I read in 1 Timothy 3:1) to be ordained as a minister of the gospel with other ministers. I knew this was not solely an internal calling, and I should also seek the confirmation of the church (1 Timothy 4:14).
One particular meeting took me by surprise. With nervous joy, I explained how I desired to lead the church through preaching and teaching, sharing in pastoral care of hurting people, and assisting in administration of various ministries. I explained how I had examined the Scriptures diligently and pored over Teacher, Leader, Shepherd by Robert Picirilli.
“So, are you saying you’ve been called?” this minister asked.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but he eventually asked basically the same question: “But have you been called? Have you been called to preach?”
I’m sure my answer wasn’t this eloquent, but I responded something like: “I don’t know what exactly ‘called to preach’ means (I had not encountered this exact phrase in Scripture), but I desire the office of overseer. I meet the qualifications in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. Several other pastors and church leaders have affirmed and noticed the gift of leadership and the ability to teach and preach. I would like to be ordained. I don’t know if I will ever be a lead pastor, but I desire to do pastoral work in the church.”
The reply was earth-shattering:
“When you know without a doubt that you’ve been called to preach, then you should seek ordination. It doesn’t sound like you’re ready.”
I would not be ordained for another few years.
God Opens Doors
I’ve often thought back to that conversation. Maybe I should have just agreed: “Yes, I have answered the call to preach!” Perhaps I was too literal, and this was really a matter of semantics. But maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps we have over-mystified the call of God to ministry, and in doing so, we
are confusing many young men.
Is God calling laborers? Absolutely. Does this happen during church camp or mission conference? Certainly. But perhaps we should not emphasize the moment of surrender, but rather the process by which the Holy Spirit cultivates desire in the heart of a man. (Of course, this cultivation sometimes culminates at church camp or mission conference.)
Thankfully, God had placed other voices in my life who advised me to continue diligently in my role and to let God work out the details. I did just that. I preached, taught, witnessed, worshiped, counseled, and discipled while working full time at the church. And sure enough, in God’s timing, the door opened for me to be ordained.
Since that time, God has allowed me to serve in a variety of pastoral positions. Before coming to Welch College, I pastored as a lead pastor for four years in North Carolina. Currently, as the director of enrollment at Welch, I minister to students through preaching, teaching, and mentoring. I coordinate and lead the worship in college chapel and at Immanuel FWB Church, and I am also the moderator of the Northern Quarterly. I am humbled that God would use me.
Whether full-time, bi-vocational, associate, or pastor with no title, I am a pastor until the day I die or no longer meet the biblical qualifications.
Advice for the Church
The church needs to be ready to give scriptural answers. I’m not recommending we abandon the term “called to preach.” I think the concept of “calling” in terms of a vocation is a good one. But I would like to see the church examine the Scriptures and be ready to explain to young men what this “calling” entails, and how they can know if God is leading them to ministry. (I also don’t think we should hold fast to any terminology not found in the New Testament text.)
God’s call to ministry is not necessarily an individual experience. I believe I am in step with the historic, Protestant position when I suggest the call to ministry is as much external—a combination of divine guidance and affirmation from the church—as it is internal.
The church needs to hold young men accountable. Every young man in the church who shows fruit of being a true believer and manifests a sincere desire to follow Christ needs to be challenged to consider ministry as a vocation. I suggest something like this:
- The men of the church pull a young man aside and let him know they are praying the Spirit cultivates the desire in him to become an ordained minister of the gospel.
- These same men meet regularly with him to invest in him.
- The young man is held accountable and shown the biblical requirements for a minister so he might cultivate spiritual habits and flea youthful lusts.
Throughout the process, which may stretch from several months to several years, this young man should be challenged to consider a life of ministry.
The church needs get on mission with God. Teen and young adult men are not the only ones who need to consider God’s calling on their lives. The church needs to challenge young women, children, and older adults to give up their worldly ambitions and answer the call to the work of God.
Truly, the fields are ready for harvest! But, oh, how the laborers are few. Let’s be faithful to pray that God would call laborers; let’s be diligent to prepare laborers; let’s be listening and waiting for God to send us as laborers.
About the Writer: Daniel Webster is director of enrollment and adjunct instructor at Welch College. He also serves as moderator of the Northern Quarterly of the Cumberland Association and as music director at Immanuel FWB Church in Gallatin, Tennessee. Daniel and his wife Kimberly have three children. You can read more from Daniel at his blog: AThingWorthDoing.com.
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