How Do I Know if God Is Calling Me to Vocational Ministry?

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Typically, anyone considering going to seminary asks the following questions: Is God really calling me to vocational ministry? Does God want me to be a pastor, a missionary, or some other type of minister? How can I really be sure?

These are great questions! Questions that certainly should be asked. Fortunately, Christians pondering these questions have three guides: The Word, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. When these three are in agreement, we can confidently move in the direction they point.

Those called into the ministry have a heart for the work that is clearly evident.

1. The Clear Guidance of the Word

In 1 Tim 3 and other places, Scripture clearly spells out the qualifications of a minister of the Gospel. In addition, the Bible provides numerous examples of those who have been called by God—prophets, apostles, and others—and we can learn much about traits and characteristics expected of vocational minister.

In addition to qualifications, the Bible has a lot to say about spiritual gifts. Preaching and teaching are gifts given to believers by the Holy Spirit. A primary reason to attend a school like Southeastern is that a person so gifted can be trained and equipped to best utilize the gifts God has given him or her. The Holy Spirit will never guide in ways that are contrary to the Word of God, so first consideration must be given to the teachings of Scripture.

2. The Inner Witness of the Spirit

In his instructions for those called into ministry, the Apostle Paul declares, “If anyone aspires the office of overseer, he desires a noble work.” (1 Tim 3:1 CSB) Here he indicates that one of the traits of a God-called minister is a God-given desire to serve in the ministry. When God calls, even though there may be initial reluctance, He reshapes and “rewires” a believer’s heart so that “He will give you your heart’s desires.” (Ps 37:4)

This is admittedly a subjective and internal experience. One way to know that this is an inner working of the Spirit and not just a personal thing is that it persists—it’s inescapable and tenacious. This means that the inward call of the Spirit is not simply an impression one has only while attending a conference, a revival, or some other spiritual retreat. Rather it is an unshakable and certain sense that God wants you to say yes.

For us called to vocation ministry, there is an inexplicable joy that comes from fulfilling that role. Whether it’s preaching or teaching, counseling or directing, the Holy Spirit gives a deep sense of satisfaction. The ministry has more than its share of disappointments, weariness, discouragements, and anxieties. But despite and throughout these challenges there is also a profound sense, a confidence, that this is the will of God for your life.

3. The Affirmation of the Church

One clear sign that you are called into vocational Christian service is that you don’t wait for a fulltime position to open up in order to serve. You are eager to serve in whatever capacity you can. Such eagerness doesn’t go unnoticed by fellow believers. Those called into the ministry have a heart for the work that is clearly evident.

In addition to an eager disposition, your gifting also is apparent to those in the church. Other members can tell when one displays remarkable abilities in preaching or teaching. If an older, more mature believer draws you aside to ask, “Have you ever considered going into the ministry?,” then you need to think about it seriously. The primary purpose of the ordination process is to give the entire Church an opportunity to examine a candidate and then affirm God’s call upon him.

If the Bible, the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, and the Body of Christ all give their stamp of approval—then launch out!

God’s will is not a needle in a haystack; discerning His call is not a puzzle to be solved. As the testimonies of many Christians demonstrate, the Lord calls a remarkable variety of people in a number of ways. However, what they all have in common is the threefold witness of Word, Spirit, and Church. If the Bible, the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, and the Body of Christ all give their stamp of approval—then launch out!

  • Calling
  • Church Planting
  • Great Commission
  • Opportunities
  • Pastoral Ministry
Dr. Ken Keathley

Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture

Dr. Ken Keathley is Senior Professor of Theology, occupying the Jesse Hendley Chair of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina where he has been teaching since 2006. He also directs the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, a center that seeks to engage culture, defend the Christian faith, and explore its implications for all areas of life. Of his writing projects most notably he is the author of Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (2010), co-author of 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (2014), co-editor of Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation? Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (2017), and editor of The Historical Adam and Eve: An Evangelical Conversation (forthcoming). Ken and his wife Penny have been married since 1980, live in Wake Forest, NC and are members of North Wake Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. They have a son and daughter, both married, and four grandchildren.

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