How do I Discern God’s Call to Ministry?

How Do I know if I’m Called?

The ministry is more than an occupation or a job, it is a call from God. The salary is lower than most other positions of equal responsibility. The demands are great, the hours are long, the burdens are almost unbearable. Ministers are gossiped about and lied about. They are criticized to their faces, and carnal church members connive behind their backs. The pastorate is one of the most demanding positions, and no one man could remain as pastor without the inner assurance that the Almighty God has called him to that office.

What makes a minister give up sleep to prepare sermons and pray for power on his message? The call of God. What motivates a minister to spend all day knocking on doors instead of getting a better-paying job when he knows his family doesn’t have as many nice things as the neighbors or he doesn’t have the freedom to be with his family as much as some others? What possesses a man’s heart to lay brick on a church, to paint old pews, to run a mimeograph, to get on the radio and preach the gospel? The call of God.

A man at the assembly line hears something no others perceive: it is God’s call. He begins to march to a different drumbeat: it is God’s command to go and build a church, even when his friends think he is crazy. A man attempts to do what seems impossible. He speaks in public when his grammar is shoddy; he knocks on doors, knowing he cannot sell. He attempts to teach the Bible when he has little formal education. He tries to build huge auditoriums, not knowing construction or architecture. He manages a large corporation, though ignorant of financing or advertising. Why does a man dream the unthinkable and attempt the impossible? He feels God has called him and all he can do is obey. This minister knows that with God’s calling is God’s enablement and that if God has called him, he can serve the Lord.

The ministry is not something a man chooses. A young man does not look through the want ads and, not finding a position, turn to the pastorate. The New Testament church begins with a God-called man who is willing to make any sacrifice, pay any price, forsake all and build a church in the name and after the pattern of Jesus Christ who said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).

The Biblical View of Call

Even though the term call or calling has a technical use in today’s church, it is used in three ways in Scripture: first, the call to salvation; second, the call to sanctification; and third, the call to full-time Christian service.

1. The Call to Salvation

In Scripture the word call is designated as the invitation of Jesus Christ for a person to become saved. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). In essence, He was calling people to salvation. Later Paul designates this call, “Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6). He also tells us, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We know this refers to salvation.

2. The Call to Sanctification

God not only calls men to salvation, but He also calls them to grow to completion or maturity in Jesus Christ. This is a call to sanctification. Paul reminds the Corinthians, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). He had already indicated that the Corinthians knew Christ as Savior, but he was inviting them to grow deeper in fellowship with Jesus Christ.

The high call for every Christian is to be as sanctified as possible in fellowship with Jesus Christ.

3. The Call to Full-time Christian Service

The greatest honor that can come to any person is to be set aside by the Holy Spirit to serve Jesus Christ with all of his life. These people are identified as those who are in the professional ministry. Today they are pastors, assistant pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Bible teachers in colleges, and others who serve in full-time ministry; by which they are supported financially full-time. In the Old Testament, the high priests were full-time servants. “No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb. 5:4). This verse gives us insight into full-time Christian service. In the Old Testament a priest had to be born into the tribe of Levi, but not every Levite became a priest. Only those who were called of God were set aside for actual service in the temple.

Barnabas and Paul were called of God to full-time Christian service. Remember even at Paul’s conversion it was indicated that he would be a unique servant and messenger to the gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). However, after 14 years of learning and apprenticeship-by serving Jesus Christ in the churches at Damascus, Tarsus and Antioch-Paul was ready to be separated into full-time Christian service. We read the account, “”As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them”” (Acts 13:2). Note that these two men who were called into full-time Christian service were actively involved in serv-ing Jesus Christ. The call did not come to two unconcerned high school boys who were sitting on the last pew in the church. These were active church leaders who were called into full-time service.

A second part of the call is that they were to be separated, indicating they were no longer considered laymen. A third part of the call to fulltime services was accompanied with self-examination and searching the mind of the Lord. Barnabas and Saul were fasting and praying to the Lord when they were called. A last part of the call is that it came from the Holy Spirit. No man can issue the call to himself. He can desire the office of a bishop (1 Tim. 3:7), but the call of God comes from the Holy Spirit.

Illustrating the Call

When Jesus Christ walked along the shore of Galilee, He called Peter and Andrew to follow Him. This illustrates the call of God. They had to give up their nets (occupation) and follow Jesus Christ full-time. Even in this illustration we see the place of a Christian college or a seminary. The call to full-time Christian service includes the call to prepare. They were called to follow Jesus Christ, but for three years they were sitting at His feet, learning how to be disciples.

When Paul wrote to the Romans, he identified himself as “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle” (Rom. 1:1). In a similar manner, every minister of Jesus Christ should be able to identify himself as one who is called to serve Jesus Christ.

Sometimes God calls through another person. As the elderly prophet Elijah stood before God on Mt. Sinai, God called him to go and anoint his successor, Elisha. We have the record in 1 Kings 19:19-21 of Elijah throwing his mantle across young Elisha’s shoulders as he plowed. God uses his servants to extend a call to young men.

If a church is effectively preaching the gospel and teaching the Word of God, then young men will be called into full-time Christian service. If a church doesn’t have young people going into the Lord’s service, then something is wrong with its ministry.

A Definition of the Call

Every Christian should preach the gospel to all people. That is the basis for the call. But the call to full-time Christian service is more than the command of Scripture. It is a unique experience that only those who have been set aside by Jesus Christ have received. The command of Scripture is to everyone. The call of God is more particular. It is only to the recipients.

Then the candidate gave a second basis for the call of God. He said the call of God was the need of people to hear the gospel. He went on to indicate that there were thousands of needy people in the city who needed to get saved. Once again the candidate had to be corrected. The need is an obligation upon every Christian, but the need alone is not the call. Every Christian meets needy people every day of his life, but this does not constitute a call to full-time Christian service. The call is based upon the need of people to hear the gospel, but the call of God to full-time Christian service is a unique experience that goes beyond the obligation of every Christian.

Therefore the call to full-time Christian service can be described in three ways: first, burden; second, desire; and third, by fruit.

1. The call of God begins with a burden

Several of the Old Testament prophets indicated that their message was the burden of the Lord (Mal. 1:1; Hab. 1:1). A burden is an obligation or a compulsion. A young man who is called into full-time Christian service has a burden or a compulsion to serve Jesus Christ. The need of lost people adds to the burden he gets from Scripture, but the burden is a unique and inner awareness that he must serve Jesus Christ with all of his life.

The call to full-time Christian service has no alternative. God does not say to a young person, “I will call you to serve Me full-time if you cannot get a better job.” The call to full-time Christian service carries the weight of “ought” or “must.” When a young person is called into full-time Christian service, he must obey. There is no alternative.

2. The call to full-time Christian service involves desire

A man knows he is called of God when his greatest desire is to serve Jesus Christ with every part of his life. This involves his will; it is surrendered and he wants to spend all of his time serving Jesus Christ. Usually the call to full-time Christian service comes to those who are actively involved in some kind of ministry-working in bus ministry, teaching Sunday school, serving as a deacon. They want to serve God with all of their heart and their time.

Jeremiah experienced the burning desire to preach the Word of God. Someone told him he could not preach. He responded, “But His Word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was very weary with forebearing, and I could not stay (keep quiet)” (Jer. 20:9).

3. The call of God is evidenced by fruit

When God has put his hand upon a young man and separated him to full-time Christian service, there will be corresponding fruit. Therefore, before a council ordains a young man into the full-time ministry, there should be some evidence that God has used his preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Jesus noted, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). The word ordain means to lay hands upon, and Jesus was indicating that He had chosen people to put His hands upon them to bring forth fruit.

The symbolic laying on of hands at an ordination service indicates that God has put His Spirit on the ministry of a young man. When he has preached, people have gotten saved. When he has taught the Word of God, people have become better followers of Jesus Christ.

Characteristics of the Call

Some people are called immediately when they are converted. They know when they pray for conversion, God also wants them to be a minister of the gospel. Some people receive a sudden and clear call to the ministry. They have been serving Jesus Christ, but in one experience, such as during a youth camp, or in a sermon, God impressed upon them to be a fulltime Christian servant. Their call became a life-changing event. And from that moment on, they were no longer the same.

On the other hand, the call of God has come gradually to many others, much as the light of a new day gradually lights up the sky. They begin to feel a burden for the ministry as they serve the Lord. Each time they preached or taught, their desire grew to preach or teach again. Their call to full-time Christian ministry was gradual.


The call of God into full-time ministry is not the call to salvation, although it includes that. The call into full-time ministry is not the Great Commission to go into all the world, although it includes that. The call of God into full-time ministry is not the knowledge that all men are lost and need salvation, although it includes that.

The call of God into full-time ministry is exactly that. It is God calling a person to win souls, build churches, teach the Bible and serve Jesus Christ. A man knows he is called because of the burden God gives him to reach the lost. He knows God has given him a desire to preach. He has the inner assurance that he is to serve God. Just as he knows that fire is hot and up is up, so he knows God has called him to preach the gospel and build a church. He responds as did Isaiah, “Here am I, send me.”

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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