MBTS Fall Convocation: Called By God: The Urgency, Gravity, and Necessity of Faithful Gospel Ministry


We will begin reading in verse 1 of Ephesians 4, but the sermon will begin in verse 7.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”

(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;but speaking the truth in love,we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.


This morning marks the formal beginning of the new academic year. The formality of this service of worship serves as a visible reminder of the consequence and the divine stewardship that is ours. Convocation is an ancient tradition rooted in both the church and the academy. The word “convocation” means, literally, “to call together” or “to come together for a special purpose.” In our case, it is a service of worship at the beginning of the academic semester.

We come together this hour to consecrate ourselves anew to the task of theological education for the church. This day, we remind ourselves of the gravity of our calling to be and to train gospel ministers. We remind ourselves of the opportunity before us this semester, and we seek God’s favor; his blessing on students, faculty, and staff; his blessing on all who comprise this seminary’s community and ministry. Yet, we also reconsider that his blessing is tied to our faithfulness. This is a joyous, yet solemn service as we dedicate ourselves anew to the church, the Word of God, Baptist distinctives, the gospel, and the Great Commission as a seminary that exists for the Church.

Spurgeon’s Four Signs

It is particularly fitting that we consider this morning what it means to be called to ministry. This idea of calling is central to the seminary community. Those who serve here do so not merely as employees, but with a sense of calling to undergird and to extend the ministry of this institution. Most especially, those who study here perceive themselves called to ministry. Each one of us here today, enrolled as a student, feels something of a call, more or less specific, but it is a call nonetheless. Indeed, if you are in ministry, you have been called. You are a member of a conscripted, drafted, summoned force. The gospel is announced and whosoever will, may come, but the call to gospel ministry is not so promiscuous. It is a specific, distinct, discriminating call.

Charles Spurgeon, in his famous book, Lectures to My Students, helpfully outlined four signs of one called to ministry. He said the first sign one should have-to know whether or not they are called to ministry-is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work. He played off of Paul’s instructions in I Timothy 3:1, that if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, it is a good and noble work he aspires to do. It begins with a longing and desire for the office. Spurgeon would say, “If one could do something else, he should do something else.” The gospel minister who is called is one who feels as though his life can be given to no other task. Luther referred to this call to ministry as “God’s inward voice, heard by faith.”

Secondly, Spurgeon outlined an aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of a public instructor. In other words, do you have the gifts, abilities, and tools to be a preacher or teacher of God’s Word? They do not have to be fully polished—of course not. Not in comparison to others who are more gifted—of course not. But of the basic, rudimentary skills and abilities to teach and preach, do you have them? If the central role of a minister is a ministry of the Word, then surely God would not call people to the ministry who do not have the capacity to be a minister of the Word.

Thirdly, there should be a measure of conversion work going on under your efforts. Has the ministry you have had—“Whatever degree of ministry that has been,” Spurgeon would say—have you seen fruit from it? Have you seen people converted through your influence? Have you seen disciples mature by your mentoring? Have you seen God work through you heretofore?

Fourthly, Spurgeon would say the one who is called to ministry ought to be acceptable in their preaching to the people of God. In other words, does the local church see in you and sense with you a call to ministry? Do they see God’s hand upon you and that he has indeed set you apart? Do they sense that as you sense that? Do they see that in you as you see that in yourself? Do they encourage and affirm that call?

A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Call to Ministry

Those are good, healthy, and helpful benchmarks, but my aim this morning is not so much to consider the practicalities, signs, or artifacts of one’s call to ministry. As teachers and students, we have sensed and do sense that call. Churches have affirmed that call, and the seminary community seeks to foster, nurture, and serve as a context in which that call can flourish.

Rather, in Ephesians 4, I want to challenge us this morning in broader biblical-theological terms to reframe and reposition, on more elevated ground, your understanding of your call. I think this is a needed corrective to most of us who think of ourselves in ministry because we think of it along practical terms so very often. We think, “What will I do in ministry? What type of ministry will I undertake? Where will I go in ministry?” Those are not inappropriate or irrelevant questions, but they are not the most ultimate questions. The more ultimate questions pertaining to a call to ministry are “Why has God called you to ministry? How has God called you to ministry? And unto what ends has called you to ministry?” My prayer this morning is that from this passage we will re-inject our sense of call with a dose of grandeur of the majesty and romance of what it means to be called to ministry.

The Urgency of the Call

Look with me in Ephesians 4. I see first, in verses 7–10, the urgency of our call. Now, those in the room who are familiar with the book of Ephesians, and I trust most are, understand this book in a classically Pauline way—laid out with theology largely on the front end and the practical aspects on the back end. It is a theologically rich book. Woven throughout this book, like woven throughout the New Testament, is an emphasis on the local church. The book is rich in theology but also rich in mission and in local church dynamics. Paul is writing here to the believers about the church and about strong and sound doctrine for the church, but he is also writing about how the believers at Ephesus should think of the local church and its ministry.

Here we see this section, suspended in the middle of a grand book, about spiritual gifts for ministry and established offices for ministry within the context of a healthy church. Notice verse seven.

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”

(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

These four verses are puzzling. The foremost question is, “Does this refer to Christ descending to earth from heaven in his incarnation—his humanity—or his descending to the eternal abode of the dead and some pronouncement?” It certainly is true that Christ’s incarnation did include a descent, but I think the reference here is the further descent into the abode, not as a last-minute gospel witness, but as a declaration of conquest and victory over death, hell, and the grave. It seems an odd prelude—an odd insertion in this chapter, frankly. You notice verse 1 of chapter 4 begins with this call for unity in the church and what a healthy church looks like. Then, verses 7–10 almost read like an odd digression before we resurface in verse 11, reading about the gifts and offices for the church. It seems disjointed and almost out of place.

Here is the reality that I believe becomes clear as you consider this chapter. The power Christ has for his church, and the servants of his church, is directly tied to the power that he demonstrated over the cross, death, and the grave. He has declared his majesty, authority, and victory, and now he is saying to the church, “Based upon my authority and my victory over death—my triumph over the full forces of evil—I give my church these servants and offices.” You see, that is why only Christ can call and only Christ can empower a minister. The stakes are too high, the warfare too intense, the spiritual struggles too dangerous to meander through ministry with no sense of calling, not sure if you have been called and not seeking to make clear that you have been called, and just strolling through life and ministry as though it is some other vocation one can undertake. Rather, Jesus is saying, “I gave gifts. I am empowering and equipping my church through ministers, who will minister under the auspices of my name and with the full power and authority from me as channeled through them by my Word and Spirit.”

We tend to associate Christ’s death and resurrection with our redemption, and that is good and right, but you should also associate it with your ministry. We minister in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it ought to reposition our sense of call with a profound sense of urgency because we see Ephesians 4 situated in a broad New Testament narrative that began in Matthew 16, where Jesus promises to build his church. It is launched in Acts 2 at Pentecost, and we see it unfold throughout the Epistles. It is the great metanarrative of his church. He says to us here, “My power is channeled to the church. My victory and strength the church will know and minister from.” Folks, this should put our call to ministry on much more solid footing.

The Grandeur of the Call

It is so easy to get bogged down in life and ministry and rack your brain over the best way to organize AWANA, the best way to do a visitation program, the best way to do a church potluck dinner, how to recruit a new Sunday school teacher, and all of these other things that are not inappropriate or irrelevant. It is so easy to get bogged down in the practicality of how you do ministry and how you make it work day-to-day that you lose sight of the grandeur of the call—the romance of the call that he is building his church, and he has chosen to do it by his Word, his Spirit, his gifts, and especially though the equipping of the saints via these offices he has given these called ones.

We took a road trip this summer as a family. Through a combination of seminary work and personal vacation time, we wound up driving from Kansas City to Baltimore, all the way up the Eastern Seaboard, through New England, all the way back down the Atlantic Seaboard to Charleston, S.C., cutting through the Gulf Coast, and coming back to Kansas City. Our total road trip was about 6,300 miles. There were five kids, two adults, a lot of luggage, and a little bit of yelling. People ask me, “Did you preach any?” And I say, “No, I didn’t preach any. I was using that time for the family, but I did get to yell a lot.” When you are in a car with five kids for 6,300 miles, you occasionally have to raise your voice to subdue the energy in the back seat.

I wanted to take our kids to some places of church history, and we did that. We took them up and down the Atlantic Coast and went to places like the grave of Jonathan Edwards, the burial site of George Whitefield, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to show and teach them what once was. I took them to First Baptist Providence, the first Baptist church in North America. I took them to First Baptist Charleston—the mother church of Baptists in the South—and Richmond for a couple of days to learn more about the IMB and to learn more fully what it means to be a missionary and why we exist. All throughout that, I was seeking to incrementally remind them what God has entrusted to us.

One stop was particularly challenging. I had long since wanted to visit the grave of David Brainerd, the great missionary to the Indians. Many of you know the story of David Brainerd, who died after seeing barely three decades. Jonathan Edwards wrote his biography, and it became famous and positioned Brainerd at the fountainhead of the modern missions movement. Brainerd is buried at Northampton, Mass., where Edwards pastored for many years with other members of the Edwards and Stoddard family. I was really wanting to visit the grave, and when you go there—let’s just say it is a sad thing to see where so many giants of the church are now buried. The cemetery is in a very rough part of town. The grass is largely overgrown and not well cared for. There is about a six-foot tall fence around the graveyard, and it is all locked.

I tend to be a task-oriented guy at times, and we had driven all that way, so I was not going to let a little chain link fence stop me. My wife was in the car with the kids and I said, “This will only take a minute,” and I see a horrid look on her face when she sees me attempting to scale the fence. I have not attempted to scale a fence since I was a teenager. Let’s just say, scaling a fence in your mid-thirties is not like scaling a fence in your mid-teens, but I made my way over it. After much searching, I finally found the grave of David Brainerd.

Why would a father scale a fence with his kids and wife waiting in the car? Maybe it is because he is a little off his rocker, but maybe it is because he understands something of the stream of tradition that we are wading in. Do not think too localized and temporal about your call to ministry. If you have been called, you are a part of a called force. You are an heir and steward of the legacies of Edwards, Whitefield, Spurgeon, and all of the greats we have referenced and we know. Think of your ministry not in a prideful way, but in God’s eyes no less consequential or intentionally than these great giants we celebrate. There is an urgency to all of this as we see the backdrop of Christ’s victory and what he is doing for his church.

The Gravity of the Call

In verses 11 and 12, our passage picks up momentum, and we see a reflection of what I would refer to as the gravity of our call. I believe there is a direct correlation between our view of our call and our view of our ministry. Hold that thought. Verse 11: “Christ came, he has given some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors, some as teachers.” I, like the church in the main, understand “apostles and prophets” to be offices that are reserved for the first century and have since ceased. But, given ongoingly is the evangelist, the pastor, the teacher. Do not restrict this word to a person who has a few suits and sermons and who travels about. There is much more here. Nor should you think of it as a person who is specially given to personal evangelism. That is not a gift. That is called a way of life for Christians. Rather, think of the missionary; think of the church planter; think of the person who is uniquely gifted and capable to draw the net, to reap a harvest of souls. Christ has gifted his church with ones such as this. He has gifted his church with pastors—those who especially are given the leadership role of shepherding the flock of God and a minister of the Word, who are called to serve and lead local congregations, and as a teacher. To put it simply, every pastor is a teacher—I Timothy 3—but not every teacher is a pastor. Much more could be unpacked within these titles, and there are more nuances and niches of calling within these broad headings, but basically, that is what you have: three broad categories under which Christ is building and serving his church.

Notice verse 12, which is the punch. He has given evangelists, pastors, and teachers “for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ.” What is Christ’s secret strategy for the church? Take a deep breath. You are. What is God’s divine playbook for the church? We are. If someone ever says to you sarcastically, “You just think you are God’s gift to the church.” You can humbly, but accurately say, “I sort of am.” Jesus said he gave his church pastors, evangelists, and ministers, but it is anticlimactic. All of the authority, power, and victory we see—the declaration of conquest—then rolls into the church. His great plan for the church is to build his church with the weapons of his Spirit, and his Word, and his gifts, as stewarded primarily and channeled through pastors, ministers, teachers, and evangelists. You mean the great God of the universe, who created all, designed all, and holds everything together? You would think he would have a more substantial and impressive plan than this. His church has persisted for 2,000 years. He is building his church now, and even as the church faces certain challenges and limitations, especially in the West, we see it flourishing in places like Africa, China, and the Far East. Christ is building his church.

I’ll tell you, I cannot read these verses without being struck with a profound sense of gravity over God’s call. I remember so clearly when I began to sense God’s call to ministry. My wife and I were just dating then. She thought she was dating a kid going to law school because that was my desire then. I began to sense God’s call to ministry and began to do the things you do to ferret that out—talk to godly men, read the Scriptures, pray, seek wise counsel. I remember going to her one day and saying, “I think God is calling me to ministry,” and seeing her process that and immediately feel that call too and believe that call was real.

My understanding of the ministry was so imbalanced at that time. I tended to presume one called to ministry as one who was signing up to go live in Africa and never be seen again. That often happens. Please hear me; I am not making a joke here, that was just my understanding. It was almost like this really eccentric thing that someone did but I would never do. Then, beginning to understand how Christ builds his church and what this looks like, I realized he could be calling me.

I will tell you, quite frankly, the things that brought full clarity and commitment on my end. One was a love for the Word and a love for the gospel; one was a love for the church; one was an all-intense, all-absorbing desire Spurgeon talked about; one was the affirmation of wise counsel and my pastor; one was a sense of seeing some fruit from my ministry as Spurgeon referenced. I will tell you one factor that I am not ashamed to say factored in, then and now, is this: I am afraid not to be in ministry because I understand biblically that my call is not my call. It is God’s. I understand biblically I did not cook this up or engender this. I say this humbly, but I believe with all my heart this was God’s plan for my life. Who am I to discard his plan for my life? Who am I to play fast and loose with my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer? I am afraid not to submit to that call, and I pray that you feel something of that same trepidation, given how we see the call to ministry pictured here.

The Necessity of the Call

Notice with me, thirdly, the necessity of your call. This steamrolls into the church and what is to take place through the ministry. I say this not to puff us up, but the bottom line is the church needs these offices. It is so very evident here. Notice what he says. There is a necessity of the pastor, evangelist, and teacher as presented here. A church without these offices would be like a ship without a rudder. The church will be left perilously unguarded. It needs these offices for strength, stability, direction, and buoyancy. Verses 11–12 say, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

In verse 13, we be begin to have this fleshed out a bit. It is for gospel unity. Verse 13: “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith.” That is a noble aspiration, the unity of the faith—gospel unity. I am proud of my Baptist distinctives. I do not, shall not, and will not equivocate on those Baptist distinctives. We are a Baptist institution, and we have a humble pride in that. But we seek harmony within the Baptist family. We seek harmony within the broader Christian community inasmuch as we can without violating or compromising biblical principles. This is not simply a reference to the church at large, but a local congregation. By the way, if you have ever pastored a church, you know exactly what Paul is referring to here. You have to work for unity in a church. Fallenness is everywhere. It does not just happen; you have to work and strive for it. This is a unity of doctrine, as we will see momentarily, but a unity of spirit as well.

We labor for gospel unity and spiritual maturity. Notice what he says in verse 13, “The knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Here is a haunting reality: whatever ministry you serve is a trickle-down enterprise. In a college ministry, youth ministry, church or church plant, the people you lead and minister to will begin to reflect your convictions, personality, interests, piety or lack of piety, your passion or lack of passion, and your sin or lack of sin.

We have within us a stewardship to be moving people along and advancing them in their knowledge of the Son of God in spiritual maturity, which is tied to doctrinal stability in verse 14: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” Poor “doctrine.” That poor word gets so beat up. We need to feel sorry for the word “doctrine.” People are down on doctrine these days, and people are always cautioning about being too doctrinal in your preaching or thinking. Let me tell you, you cannot read your Bible without coming across doctrine or the concept of doctrine about every other verse. It is a good word, and a part of your stewardship is to bring doctrinal stability to those whom you minister. Why? Because you will need it for unity, maturation in Christ, and get this, you will certainly need it to protect the flock from so much of Christian radio, Christian television, Christian literature, and all of this other garbage that snags the name “Christian” and tries to use it.

It also leads to Christian charity, as opposed to scheming and errant doctrine in verse 14.

But speaking the truth in love,we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

A part of our stewardship is to see more and more of our ministry marked by Christian charity and love. We are, and ought to be, the people that there is no scratching of heads as to whether or not the love of Christ is in them.


Your call is bigger than yourself; it is bigger than this seminary; it is bigger than your studies or your degree. Therefore, let me give you a few parting words of exhortation. First, never forget who called you. You received a Trinitarian call. God foreordained you and it; Christ gave himself for you and it; the Spirit called you to it. There is a divine intentionally to your call, and there is a romance to it all. Never forget the stewardship that is yours. God could have called anyone to ministry. He chose to call you. Resolve to steadfastly kindle afresh your call. Seminary is not and cannot be a panacea, but we intend to be and work to be a context wherein that call can flourish and grow deeper, more pronounced, and more obvious in you. Recurrently, kindle that afresh; prioritize the Word, prayer, your devotional life, and your church; ponder anew the drama of ministry; understand the macro-level of Scripture. We think of it in the broadest terms of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation—those great big headings that flow from Genesis to Revelation, and central to that story is this thing called the church. Central to the church and that story are these people called pastors, ministers, teachers, and evangelists. Do not forget the drama of that.

I remind you, finally, in the words of John Newton, “None but he who made the world can make a minister of the gospel.” We do not credential you for the ministry; God does. We do not call you to the ministry; God does. We do not affirm your call to ministry; the church, seeking the will of God, does. We do all that we can to the best of our ability, but in the end, it is not that much when you compare it fully to what God has done. Make it your ambition to live your ministry and pursue your studies constantly. “None but he who made the world can make a minister of the gospel.”


topicsEphesians 4SermonSpurgeon

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