the shape of leadership

Recognizing the Call to Full-Time Ministry

Three keys to discovering God’s plan

Brian Dollar on June 25, 2018

I once received an email from a fellow children’s ministry leader. He asked, “Can you help me as far as my calling? How did you know you were called? How can I affirm my calling?”

Such great questions — and I have to admit, I was a little intimidated. I wanted to give the “right” answers to his questions. So I kept thinking and thinking (and putting off responding).

I finally realized there really isn’t a right answer. However, I can share from my own and the experiences of others three key factors that are definitely part of the equation.

The Desires of Your Heart

From the time I became a Christian on Feb. 26, 1989, I began sensing in my heart that God wanted me to become a full-time pastor one day. Every time I prayed, I sensed this.

However, I continued to talk myself out of it. I told myself, God hasn’t called you. You just want to become a pastor because you love God and you love your own pastor. This is all in your head. This isn’t God.

Somehow, I had convinced myself that God wouldn’t call me to do something I wanted to do. I believed God only called people to do things they would never want to do on their own. That was the true test of obedience, right? Wrong!

Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

If you focus your heart and attention on God, seeking His will, He will form and mold your heart’s desires into conformity to His will. I wanted to become a pastor because I was seeking God with all my heart, and He was leading me in that direction. Still, I struggled with the question of whether this was just me — or a true calling from God.

The Voice of God

After two years of struggling with whether I was supposed to pursue the path to become a full-time pastor, I attended youth camp with the express purpose of gaining clarity on this issue. I told God, “I need to hear from You. I need to know whether it is Your will for me to be a pastor.”

I prayed all week and never really felt peace about the situation. Finally, on the last night of camp, I knelt at the altar and said, “God, I am not leaving until I hear from You.”

And I didn’t. It got to the point that every person had left the sanctuary and gone outside for the festivities, but I was still praying. Finally, after nearly an hour and a half of prayer, I distinctly heard God’s voice.

It wasn’t audible, but it was clear. God showed me that it was most definitely His desire for me to pursue full-time ministry as a pastor and He would equip me to do what He was calling me to. I was so relieved and energized.

There will be moments when the only thing that keeps you going is knowing deep down God called you to do this.

God speaks in many different ways. It is rarely audible. He sometimes speaks through gentle whispers in prayer, through His Word, or through circumstances. But, if you sense a calling to full-time ministry, you had better know you are hearing from God.

Ministry is tough. Often, it is stressful and unrewarding. There will be moments when the only thing that keeps you going is knowing deep down God called you to do this.

Don’t pursue full-time ministry merely because it’s what your parent or mentor wants for you, because it sounds interesting, or even because you care about people. There must be something more powerful and purposeful within you as the Spirit moves you to teach the Word of God, defend the truth, and shepherd the people of God.

Ministry is not just a profession or job. It is a calling from God.

The apostle Paul reveals that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Understand, all Christians have a calling to do the work of the ministry. God calls every member of the Body to spread the love of Jesus and share the gospel with the dying world around us. But, there is a definite calling that must come from God to pursue one of the five roles Paul mentions in this passage.

My pastor, Rod Loy, often says, “If you can imagine doing anything else, you need to do it.”

If God has called you to ministry, it’s is not an option; it is a mandate. Even on the difficult days, when ministry isn’t fun or rewarding, you should have a sense of rightness and purpose — of doing what you are supposed to do. If you find yourself daydreaming on a regular basis about being a finance manager, you should probably be doing that.

Affirmation by Spiritual Leaders

Once you feel God is calling you to pursue full-time ministry, set up a time to talk with your pastor, mentor and other spiritual leaders. Ask them their thoughts about you pursuing a life dedicated to full-time ministry. Those who work closest with you will no doubt sense God’s hand on your life and can affirm the calling you feel you’ve received.

If your pastor or spiritual leaders do not feel this is a path you should pursue, spend more time in prayer. It may be that God is calling you to minister in a particular area (to children, youth, adults, etc.), but not as your life’s sole purpose.

There are many volunteer pastors, evangelists and teachers who have a definite calling on their lives, but they don’t necessarily make a living from ministry work. The apostle Paul is a great example (Acts 18:3).

If you feel called to full-time ministry, you should be serving in ministry in the local church. Ministry flows out of who you are. If you have the heart of a servant, you will begin serving God’s church in whatever capacity you can. Don’t wait until you go to Bible college and receive a diploma or credentials.

Ministry is not a destination. Ministry is a calling. Flesh that calling out every day in every way.

Humbly submit to God, and trust Him to bring about His plan for your life in His time. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).


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