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How Do I Know if I’m Called to Pastoral Ministry?

“When did you receive your call to ministry?”

How do I know if God is calling me to pastoral ministry

I’ve been asked this a lot lately. When asked this question, I feel a mild sense of pressure to share a hyper-spiritual experience that will captivate my listeners and validate my calling. After asking the question, the inquisitor leans in with great interest to hopefully hear about that time I was on a holy mountain where I suddenly heard from the sky, “David, I’m calling you into ministry. Quit your job and go to seminary.” Christians love this kind of stuff. Ministry, after all, is a sacred calling, and therefore, the actual call to ministry should have been validated by a cool and spiritual experience worth telling, right?

No, not usually.

Instead, the process is typically more simple than we make it out to be. The imperfect verbiage I use is:

1. What does God say?
2. What do you say?
3. What do others say?
4. What does providence say?

I’ll briefly elaborate on each one.

1. What does God say?

No, I’m not talking about hearing an audible voice from the sky. Instead, I’m talking about hearing God’s voice through his Word. If you want to be a pastor, you have to have godly character; this is both a prerequisite and a non-negotiable. Paul lists these character prerequisites in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, among other places.

A pastor must be:

  • Above reproach
  • The husband of one wife
  • Sober-minded
  • Self-controlled
  • Respectable
  • Hospitable
  • Able to teach
  • Not a drunkard
  • Not violent, but gentle
  • Not quarrelsome
  • Not a lover of money
  • He must be able to manage his household well
  • Keeps his children in submission
  • Must not be a recent convert
  • Must be well thought of by outsiders

Does that describe you?

The only gift required is the ability to teach. If you cannot teach the Bible and apply sound doctrine, you cannot be a pastor. All other requirements, however, have to do with a man’s character. So that means the guy who wants to be a pastor first and foremost must be godly. Not handsome, not cool, not popular. But godly. That’s the first thing you should consider when you consider a call to ministry.

Ask yourself: Does my life align with the biblical prerequisites to be a pastor?

2. What do you say?

Harry Reeder says: “The internal call is necessary to confirm the external call. If there is no internal call, then you must dismiss any and all external calls. In other words, if the Lord is calling you by his Spirit through his church, he will bear witness to that call in your heart.”

“Internal call” is a fancy way of describing inward and irresistible desires to preach, pastor, and be in ministry (1 Timothy 3:1). If other people are saying you should be in ministry, but you yourself don’t have the desire to do so, then you should not entertain any pastoral ministry options. After God, the calling starts with you.

Ask yourself: Do I even have a desire to do this?

The feelings that accompany a man considering the call to ministry are not ones of panic and regret. Instead, they’re more like feelings of excitement and anticipation. It’s not like the child stuck in his room because he’s grounded and wondering if he’ll ever get out. It’s more like the kid on the diving board jumping up and down waiting for the right moment to jump in, and can’t wait until his body hits the water. An inward call should be accompanied by feelings of joy and happiness and a willful desire to be in ministry.

Whenever God calls, God provides. Part of God’s provision is the inward desire to be in ministry. God’s initiative makes this happen.

3. What do others say?

By this I mean getting your calling affirmed by the pastors in your church. This is a crucial step, a step many— especially men in seminary — overlook. Other pastors who know you well should look at your life and gifting and say, “Yep, I can see you being in ministry.” It doesn’t mean you guys will agree on everything, but it does mean the elders in your church have to give you the green light before you move forward. It’s a bad sign when nobody besides yourself thinks you should be in ministry. Get honest feedback from other pastors.

4. What does providence say?

In many ways, this is the hardest one for me to describe. But that’s just the nature of writing about the glories and mysteries of God’s providential government. What do I mean by this? I mean that, in a very real and supernatural way, if you are called to ministry, then the Lord will govern and work in your life and the lives around you to ensure it happens. To make this applicable, what this usually means is that a church wants to hire you.

What to do Next:

You feel called to ministry. Your life matches up with Scripture, you have the desire, others say you should do it, and providence seems to be working in your favor. What do you do next?

Three things come to mind:

1. Tell the elders of your church. Call, text, or email one of them. Set up an appointment for coffee or lunch. Pay for it. Show up on time. After you sit down and take that first sip or bite, look your pastor dead in his eye and say, “Pastor, I feel called to ministry. I want to do what you’re doing.”

OK, maybe it doesn’t have to be that intense or awkward, but you need to tell them.

From there, he will tell the other elders. They will pray for you and put together a game plan to help you move along with the process, which will include character evaluation and serving opportunities. In short, submit yourself to your local elders, and entrust your elders to point you in the right direction.

2. Read a book on calling. I recommend Am I Called?: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry by Dave Harvey. It’s an excellent book. I recommended it to a guy years ago; it confirmed his calling and he is now serving in full-time vocational ministry. It also served me well when I read it several years ago. Consider checking it out.

3. Consider seminary. I recently wrote a post entitled, How to Choose the Right Seminary: 6 Factors to Consider. It’s not for everyone. But if you can swing it, an MDiv from a good seminary will give you a foundation to build upon for the rest of your life.

Hope this helps. Just went through this process myself, so I know what it’s like. I did not enter full-time vocational ministry until about 10 years after I started feeling the inward calling to ministry. The interim between the initial calling until your first start date is often filled with suffering and wondering, but that is part of the process. Trust that God will get you where he wants you on his timing, which is often different from yours.

Note: If you’d like another perspective, you might find this video with John MacArthur on the subject helpful.


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