By Terry Shue
When one reads the stories of the Bible it is amazing to see the clarity of the calls from God. And responses are seemingly abrupt. Abram left his family and headed out to the promised land. Having been “called”, Moses went back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and free his people. Paul blinded by the light, and was called to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
But what does a call look like today for persons beginning to discern a call to pastoral ministry. For most of you reading this short article, you have gone through the process of discerning a call for your own life. But the task of leaders who grow leaders is to increase our ability to help budding leaders discern through all of the “noise” to hear God’s call on their lives.
As Anabaptists one of the first things we do in helping a person discern a call to ministry is to keep it in the context of community. A call to ministry is never disconnected from a person’s faith community. We rightly treat with guarded caution the religious leader who proclaims from a vacuum, “God told me!” The track record of such leaders is not only marked by short tenure but a trail of damaged relationships.
The call which will sustain a person through the seasons of ministry is that which come from God, internally as well as externally. Internally the voice of God’s Spirit moves and stirs a person’s spirit in undeniable ways. As important as this is, it is not enough on its own. We believe God speaks also through the church—the external sense of call from people who know and have seen the spiritual gifts at work!
Internally is where a person does the significant work of discerning and listening to God, sensing the movement of the Spirit of God. This process is best understood and experienced as a long and slow rather than as a sudden revelation. For me, it was a process of ten years of wrestling and listening, testing the call with a sense of vulnerability and readiness, humility and courage, faith and fear.
As the pastor of someone walking through this stage of discernment, the task is to help guard against a decision of sudden impulse, just as much as guarding against the thought of such a call being impossible. An important gentle reminder: “God does not call the equipped, God equips the called.” Give them specific ministry tasks, with the first intention not to grow these gifts, but to reflect with the person following these ministry tasks. “What is God doing to your heart as you perform these ministry tasks?”
The other side of a call to ministry is the call, which comes through the church, externally. Here those who know the person become agents in issuing a call from God. It is here in the context of the local congregation, where the gifts given by God are recognized, nurtured, validated and used to build up the church. It is here that persons are called to new levels of leadership. Pastoring a church where this culture of call becomes the dominate culture is marked by:
- encouragement to try
- adequate preparation to predict a positive outcome
- willing for some members to step aside for others to have a chance.
The process of listening to both the internal and the external call is serious and often slow work for a person going through this for the first time. Walking with a person on this journey is a sacred privilege, one among many in the life of a pastor. It may be helpful and appropriate for you to tell your journey in hearing the call. Who were your encouragers? What were your barriers to overcome? What were some of the “giants” you had deal with before you heard the call? When did you finally come to terms with that call upon your life?
As you walk with those who are discerning a call upon their lives, take a moment to reflect and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the sacred honor which is a life of service to the church through pastoral ministry. Is the Church perfect or pastoral ministry easy, certainly not! But, for me, answering the call of God through the church upon my life has been a joyful journey for which I am thankful.