I well remember the swirling emotions that filled my heart as I processed God’s call to the ministry. Though I grew up in a Bible-believing, Southern Baptist church, I resisted the gospel throughout my childhood and adolescent years. It was not until my freshman year in college that I committed my life to Christ. After many months convicting my heart, the Spirit of Christ invaded my life, saved me, and redirected my life’s ambitions.
Yet, for me, God’s call went beyond His summons to salvation. Over the next three years I increasingly sensed His call to ministry as well. Looking back now, it seems so clear, so inevitable, and so right. Then, however, it was much more confusing, even daunting. Spiritually, I felt as though I was navigating my way through a maze, incrementally gaining clarity and direction, but unsure of what would be my final destination.
I spent some two years in suspended animation, feeling called to ministry but unsure how that was supposed to feel. I desired the ministry, but I wondered if that was an appropriate desire. I felt at once wholly unworthy of the call, yet disobedient if I did not pursue it. I heard the testimonies of others who had surrendered to ministry and I could identify with them, but only in part. From a distance, the whole process looked imperceptibly mystical.
Further complicating matters, I had watched others publicly declare their intent to pursue ministry, yet never follow through. Every time this occurred I felt in some small way that God’s reputation was sullied. I did not want to jump the gun and add my name to the list of those ministers who failed to launch.
Moreover, certain questions kept haunting me:
How could I know for sure this was not just a temporary zeal for Christ?
What if my passion was only a phase of life—like many experience during their college years—which would wane with age and other responsibilities?
Might God simply be calling me to be a committed layperson?
How, exactly, does God issue His call?
Would surrendering to ministry mean a life of sacrifice and hardship?
If I spurned God’s call, was I inviting His punishment?
Wanting answers, I searched the Scriptures and sought wise counsel. I daily devoured the Pastoral Epistles and intuitively sought out opportunities to minister. I taught Sunday School, led evangelistic outreach, became a summer youth intern, ministered in prisons, preached in half-way houses, and went on an overseas mission trip, sensing that if God were indeed calling me, I would increasingly desire the work.
My desire to do other things withered, and my desire to serve Christ flourished. My appetite for ministry became insatiable. The more I preached, the more I longed to preach. The more I served, the more I desired to serve. The more I witnessed, the more I wanted to be Christ’s witness.
Ultimately, Paul’s air-tight argument on the necessity of gospel preaching sealed it for me: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15).
If my deliberative process had been a set of scales weighing divine confirmation, it was as though God placed his finger on the side of ministry, pushing the balance down with overwhelming, irrefutable consent. Fear gave way to confidence, answers displaced questions, and doubt was replaced by assurance. God was indeed calling me to the ministry.
Now, nearly two decades later, I find myself on the other end of these queries and conversations. As a seminary president, I regularly visit with those wrestling with a call to ministry—and they are experiencing questions and feelings I know all too well.
Like I did many years ago, most Christians have an undeveloped, insufficiently informed understanding of what it means to be called to the ministry. They are often in their own state of suspended animation, seeking certainty and assurance yet feeling ill-equipped to follow God’s call.
Then, I desperately needed a roadmap. Now, I want to offer you one. If God has indeed called you to the ministry, clarity should crowd out confusion. Assurance will displace doubt. Consider these ten questions, which serve as ten indicators God has indeed called you to ministry.
1. Do you desire the ministry?
2. Does your character meet God’s expectations?
3. Is your household in order?
4. Has God gifted you to teach and preach his Word?
5. Does your church affirm your calling?
6. Do you love the people of God?
7. Are you passionate about the Gospel and the Great Commission?
8. Are you engaged in fruitful ministry?
9. Are you ready to defend the faith?
10. Are you willing to surrender?
These are urgent and consequential questions. After all, what could be more unsettling than to embark on the ministry unsure if God is indeed leading you? Even the best of ministries can be challenging enough, but to undertake ministry without a clear sense of God’s call, accompanied by God’s power and God’s favor, is too much to bear.
At the same time, God’s call is too noble, too consequential, and too glorious to neglect. You need to know for sure whether or not God has called you. And you can.
*This article was originally published September 2016