Are You Called to Ministry?

How to discern your calling and what to do next

How do you know if you are called to ministry? The path of vocational ministry is a hard one. You shouldn’t jump in lightly. What if you find out that you aren’t cut out for it? What if you pursue the path of ministry and find that it’s not your calling?

Questions like these make it easy to see why I get this question all the time: Am I called to ministry?

Not long ago, somebody sent me this message:

“Hey Pastor Brandon! Hope you’re doing great! I’m not sure whether you’ll see this message, but I feel like the Holy Spirit brought me to contact you. I wanted to ask you how you got called from the Lord to become a pastor? I’ve been thinking about my calling for a while and it seems like I got this nudging so to speak in my spirit. … Thank you! 🙂 ”

Essentially, they were asking, “How do I know if I am called to ministry?” It’s a good question. So I shot back a quick reply. But since I get this question often, I thought it might be helpful to you and others if I dive a little more in-depth here.

All Christians Are Called to Ministry

If you are questioning your call to ministry, first, you need to recognize that all Christians are called to ministry. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20 is not only for professional pastors and missionaries. It’s a command for all believers.

So congratulations, if you believe in Jesus, you are called to ministry. So the question is not really if you are called to ministry or not, because we all are. But the real question that most people are asking about their calling is whether you should pursue ministry as a full-time job, bi-vocationally (part-time while also working somewhere else), or as an unpaid volunteer.

The good news is that all three calls to ministry are valid. A full-time pastor is not on some higher level with God than a volunteer or bi-vocational minister.

Pauls talks about being paid for ministry in 1 Timothy 5:17–18, saying:

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” 

Paul again says in 1 Corinthians 9:13–14:

“Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

So there’s nothing wrong with a pastor/elder being paid for their labor of preaching and teaching.

However, Paul himself didn’t always make a living solely from the work of preaching. In the verse before and after, he says in 1 Cor 9:12, “We have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”

And then, in 1 Cor 9:15, he says, “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.”

So even though there is nothing wrong with being paid for working in ministry, Paul was hesitant to collect money in any way that might become an obstacle for the spread of the gospel. You don’t want to emphasize making money with the gospel so much that it turns people away and makes you look like you’re just preaching to make money.

In the book of Acts, we see that while Paul was in Corinth, he worked along with Aquila and Priscilla as a tentmaker. Acts 18:3-4 says, “because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.”

Paul worked as a tentmaker to pay the bills while still laboring to teach and preach the gospel to anyone who would listen in the synagogue.

So whether you are working in full-time or bi-vocational ministry, both are honorable paths.

Two Confirmations of a Call to Ministry

To answer this question about calling to vocational ministry, I believe there are two callings that you should confirm.

From Outreach Magazine  7 Steps to Overcome Church Hurt

There are two ways that God calls people to ministry:

1. The Internal Call to Ministry

The internal call is simply a desire and aspiration to an office of ministry.

We see this in 1 Peter 5:2, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.”

And we also see it in 1 Timothy 3:1, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”

If you must aspire to be in ministry and desire it willingly, not under any feeling of compulsion. So don’t go into vocational ministry if you’re only doing it because somebody else is pressuring you into it or because you feel like that is what a “good Christian” is supposed to do.

My call to ministry wasn’t an audible voice from heaven or anything sensational like that. It began as more of a deep feeling in my soul that I could not shake that God wanted me to pursue a life of ministry. I first noticed it when I was 15 years old, and it still burns in me over twenty years later.

Internally, God confirmed my call through an inward desire that has not wavered through numerous trials. I’ve had plenty of opposition and reasons to quit, but deep inside, I have a desire to work in ministry. And I believe that this desire comes from God.

Charles Spurgeon used to say that if you can do anything other than be a pastor, do that. But if being a pastor is such a passion and burden on your heart that it is all you can do, then give your life to it.

No matter how often I’ve been tempted to leave ministry and do something easier, the Lord has always pulled me back. I love the church too much. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Nothing excites me more than helping others grow in their faith. There’s nothing I’m more passionate about than teaching the Bible and preaching the gospel. This inward desire to serve God keeps me going, even when times are tough and quitting would be easier.

You need a strong internal desire, or you won’t make it long in ministry. If you’re only doing it because it sounds fun or you feel pressured, go do something else.

However, if you have an unshakable desire deep in your soul to pursue a life of ministry, no matter the cost, then you need to confirm the second part of your calling.

2. The External Call to Ministry

The external call is the affirmation of godly leaders who see the attributes, characteristics, and fruit of a godly leader in you.

Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

The Bible is clear that there is wisdom in the counsel of others. Seek it out.

When Paul converted to Christianity after being a major persecutor of Christians, many were rightfully skeptical. Look at Paul’s first return to Jerusalem after his conversion in Acts 9:26–27.

“And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.”

The disciples were afraid of Paul. They were skeptical of not only his call to ministry but whether he was even a true believer. But what happened? Barnabas affirmed Paul’s call. He vouched for Paul’s salvation and his effectiveness in ministry.

Paul had the external call to ministry through the affirmation of Barnabas and eventually through the other leaders of the church too.

Externally, God confirmed my call through the affirmation of godly men and women.

Pastors and other leaders in the church noticed leadership traits in me and invited me to serve at greater levels of responsibility. Everywhere I have served, whether as a volunteer or paid staff, people have told me that I am gifted to do ministry. My ministry produced fruit.

From Outreach Magazine  Today's Moment of Truth: Created in the Image of God?

Before I pursued a life of ministry, I made sure to ask godly mentors if they believed that I was called to ministry, and they all affirmed that they saw God’s calling in my life. As I have faithfully served the Lord, my level of responsibility has increased.

Almost every week, I hear stories of how a class I taught, a conversation I had, or a sermon I preached has helped someone. These are all external signs of a call to ministry.

If you are called to ministry, God should have given you some spiritual gifts that align with the call. Now, these gifts may be raw and unrefined early on in your life, but people will see signs of it as you exercise your gifts in serving the church.

Through the opportunities the Lord has provided me, the way that I have studied and prepared for years to be equipped to serve, and the internal desire I have to serve the Lord and external confirmation of godly leaders, I believe that my call to ministry is undeniable.

So if your calling has not been affirmed by godly leaders, either you haven’t been exercising your gifts to serve the Lord and need to get started, or you may not be called to ministry. Have a brutally honest conversation with some godly leaders who know you well.

Ask them, “Do you think I am called to vocational ministry, or would I be better serving the Lord while working some other job?”

What to Do If You Think You Might Be Called to Ministry

If you think you might be called to ministry, there are four things you should do:

1. Pray: Get on your knees. Ask God to help you know if you are called to ministry. Don’t just pray once. Pray every day until God gives you a clear answer.

2. Look Internally: Examine your heart. What’s your motivation for wanting to go into ministry? If it’s money, fame, power, expectations of others … or anything other than to bring glory and honor to the Lord in proclaiming his Word to people no matter how much you may suffer, then you should seriously reconsider.

3. Look Externally: Seek wise counsel. Do others affirm your calling? Have you been serving anywhere? Have your efforts in ministry produced spiritual fruit in others? What gifts has God given you that might help you in ministry?

4. Get Training: Get trained and equipped for the work ahead. You need basic training before you ship out to war. Get a mentor or two. Start serving in the church. You’ll never be able to lead if you can’t serve. Jesus said the greatest leaders serve (Matt. 20:25–28). Read your Bible a lot. Look into going to school to study the Bible and pastoral ministry. Read a lot of books related to ministry. Check out some online courses and other resources to help you too. You can see mine at ProPreacher.com/store.

Pray, study, read, and start as a volunteer before you jump into the deep end of paid leadership. See if your calling is confirmed in your experience.

Perhaps, most importantly, don’t fall into the trap of pride and getting a big head. Don’t think that you have everything you need to succeed. You don’t have all the answers. You’re not God’s gift to the church.

You need to come to a humble realization of how far you fall short so that you become wholly dependent on God. You’ll fail without God’s help.

You can serve God even if you aren’t paid to do ministry. But you won’t be serving God well if you go into ministry with the wrong motive or attitude.

There wasn’t a voice from heaven or anything like that for me, just a deep feeling in my soul that I could not shake that this is what God wanted me to do, and Christian leaders in my life affirmed the call to ministry that I felt.

Confirm that internal and external call to ministry, and then stay humble as you labor to serve God with all of your heart, mind and strength.

Read more from Brandon Hilgemann »

This article originally appeared on ProPreacher.com and is reposted here by permission.