Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Call of God


I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be “called” by God. In a general sense, God calls all Christians to serve Him. No Christian is saved so they can just sit in the pew and soak up the music and the sermon. Instead of being called to sit and soak, Christians are called to serve. I think most Christians understand this, even if they are not living it out.

But I also believe that some Christians are called to deeper service. Some Christians have an inescapable sense from the Lord that they should serve as a pastor, a missionary or in some other vocational ministry role. For some Christians, such as myself, that calling comes at a specific moment of time. I still vividly recall the moment in which God called me to ministry. I was sitting on a porch in front of the “Lobster Trap” cabin at Treasure Island Camp in Lynchburg, VA. The Spirit spoke to me and told me that I was to devote my life to Christian ministry. That has been the focus of my life since that moment. For others, the calling of God to special service comes over a period of time and is less easy to identify, but the pull to ministry in those situations is no less compelling. Though many Christians many not understand this call to deeper service, those who have experienced such a call understand exactly what I am talking about.

The calling of God to ministry is very real, both in a general sense for all Christians and in deeper sense to those Christians called to some kind of special vocational ministry. That part is easy to understand. The more challenging part of answering the call of God is to know the WHERE and the WHEN of one’s calling. Should a lay person who wants to serve teach Sunday School, or be a deacon, or join the choir? He or she may not be able to do all three. How do they know which one? And how do they know when it is time to end one’s involvement in one kind of lay ministry so more time can be devoted to a different type of lay ministry. For those called to vocational ministry, how do they know if they should become the pastor of church A or church B? How does the missionary know if they are to go to Africa, Asia or post-Christian Europe? These life altering questions can be hard to answer.

In my efforts to recruit church planters and pastors to Vermont, I attempt to help men determine the answers to those very questions. It is not always easy. Though I am still sorting out my own thoughts on this subject, it seems to me that God typically uses a verse of scripture, often coupled with some unique experience, to speak to people in very specific ways. For example, a young man I am currently working with realized God wanted him to be involved in church planting through his study of scripture. But a chance encounter with a childhood friend in a restaurant led to a conversation that convinced him that Vermont was the place he was to plant that church.

I hear similar testimonies from many who are seeking a place of special service for the Lord. I would like to hear from some of my readers about how God showed them the specifics of a calling they have in their lives.  If you have such a testimony, please consider leaving it in a comment below. Let each us seek God’s will and plan for our lives, whether that be through the general service that all Christians owe the Lord, or through some deeply level of service that God calls us to.

5 comments:

  1. Thank's Terry! Well said! I'm working on serving my co-workers and encouraging others on FB. "He who loses his life gains it" We are to give everything we have.
    Brian Ling

    ReplyDelete
  2. To answer your question:

    Several years ago, after a terrible time of suffering I determined to step away from ministry and pursue other vocations. It seemed the best as I and my family suffered greatly.

    In a time of prayer I said to God that unless He told me specifically that He wanted me to remain in ministry, I was going to take an offered position with an international company. Literally, just as I stood off my knees, the phone rang and it was a church who wanted me to come in view of a call to serve them as their pastor.

    To make this long story short, six-plus years later, I am still serving in ministry, in the church that called me that very day. God's grace is there for everyone who is willing to receive it - and I am living proof that "the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast" (1 Peter 5:10).

    I still pray for all who are serving in Vermont. God has placed you on my heart, and especially Dr. Dorsett for his work as the Director of Missions.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Neal Laybourne, pastor, Barre Evangelical ChurchSeptember 19, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    Excellent question! Here are some of my thoughts on the call of God ...

    1) The HIGHEST call of God on anyone's life is "Christian" - every true Christian has this call and it calls us to join God in His work to bring the gospel to everyplace in this world through the situations & resources we have, at the location we are at. Our highest VOCATION is Christian!

    2) The call to pastor, missionary, etc. is a SECONDARY call. It is not a greater call than the first one, but a subsequent call. Everyone who thinks God is calling them into these specific areas (pastor, missionary, etc) should already BE LIVING the first call. Otherwise we confuse the two. Many, who think they have the call to be a missionary, only really are waking up to the excitement of the call of God to do His work right where we are (#1).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Neal Laybourne, pastor, Barre Evangelical ChurchSeptember 19, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    3) God will usually provide some kind of confirmation of His call to become a pastor, missionary, etc since the opposition will be great at times, we need to empty ourselves of ego for this call, and we must genuinely put Christ first in ways others won't understand at times.

    For me, while I was working at a Christian camp after my HS graduation, I kept getting this idea that God wanted me to go into the ministry or be a missionary. I didn't know what to do with that, especially since I was headed to the University of Illinois to study Chemistry. So I called my Pastor (church size 400) and youth pastor and asked both of them to drive 1 1/2 hours one way on a Sat afternoon to talk with me on my only time off. I did NOT tell them what it was about. I didn't realize the sacrifice I was asking of them. They never hesitated. After I told them what I was thinking, they both smiled, looked at me and said, "We have seen certain gifts in you and have been praying that God would call you into the ministry." That was my conformation - I have never looked back. He has confirmed it several times since and given me scripture at times which really define my call - but this is how it started.

    4) God always gifts His servants for their call. This gifting is not the outward or in all areas (Paul probably stuttered - He definitely had eye and health problems), but it is something that impacts people. Those outside should be able to see at least some gift or ability that would help the call, ie outward conformation by others! So if God calls a person to be a pastor, there should be some indication that people actually follow & that he can rightly handle the Word of God before he ever pastors. If God calls as a missionary, there should be some indication that the person can be comfortably in a different cultural environment and be able to freely share the gospel. Again, too many who think they are called for a secondary, more specific role (like pastor or missionary) actually confuse this with the exciting call that every Christian has to be Jesus' witness right where they are with all kinds of different people AND that all Christians are to have a burden for some far off land (people group).

    5) I believe someone called to be a missionary or pastor is called to greater personal sacrifice - just as the prophets were in the Old Testament. Again this is something we can objectively see ahead of time whether the person is doing this without complaint or not. Again too many are going into these fields to meet their ego needs and that is a disaster waiting to happen.

    6) Finally I believe the call of God to this secondary vocation is a life-long one. I do believe God calls people to specific tasks for short periods like He did in the OT but that is a very different call that what I have been speaking about.

    So if someone claims to have a call of God to be a pastor or missionary ...
    - I first ask for evidence that they understand and are living out the universal call of God for all of us to have the VOCATION of Christian! If they aren't, I encourage them to do that first.
    - Second I ask for their own confirmation of this call from God. That is where people often speak of a verse or situation God used to confirm
    - Third I look for some object evidence of a gift of God at work that would help that ministry.
    - Finally I look for clear evidences that other people recognize God working through them, some spiritual gifts, good grasp of the word of God and willingness to sacrifice and live at a lower lifestyle for the benefit of God's work.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Jane Shortsleeves, Brandon, VTSeptember 20, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    When I was in college, the Lord told me I was going to be married to a pastor but I didn't marry a pastor, either time. Obviously God's plans were just not in the order I thought they would be. I married my wonderful husband and then God called him to the ministry. I felt called to be a pastor's wife. By His grace and in His timing He made it happen.

    ReplyDelete