The Call to Preach, Part 5

In addition to natural and supernatural evidences, as discussed in the two immediately preceding articles of this series, a third category of evidences of a call to preach involves circumstances. Charles Erdman says that an inner conviction that one is sent to preach, "if a real call from God, must be capable of vindication in the court of reason, and of consequence and of common sense."[1]In my own case I was sure of my calling from the start, but only through the passing of time was my call fully confirmed through an understanding of all it entails, as I have discussed in these articles, including circumstantial evidences.

As to indications of the genuineness of one's call to preach, Erdman writes, "These facts may be classified generally under three heads--personal qualifications, right motives, and providential circumstances."[2] It is the last that we are concerned about here, general circumstances. These include, according to Erdman, "the influences of home, the advice of friends, books, sermons, notable deliverance from death or danger, unexpected opportunities for securing an education, sudden endearments or the hedging up of one's path so that a voice seems to be heard saying, ‘This is the way, walk thou in it.'"[3]

One must be cautious in interpreting the signs that surround one in life, but God does indeed talk to men through circumstances, even adverse ones. The more common categories containing evidences of a call to preach from the things surrounding an individual include the witness of godly people, opportunities for exercising one's ministerial abilities, fruit that follows one's ministry, and the formal approval of the Church.

First, the witness of godly people indicating they sense that one might be called to preach could serve to confirm the genuineness of the call.

 As one's ministerial gifts and graces begin to come out and find embryonic expression, those in whom the Spirit dwells will take notice and say, at least to themselves, "God has his hand on that young man's (or woman's) life." Ralph Riggs declares, "Our fellow ministers and saints in the family of God will become conscious of the call of God which is resting upon us. There will be a confirmation of our call in numerous ways and a general approval of our desire to serve the Lord as His minister."[4]

This seems to have been the case with young Timothy in Acts 16:1-3. Apparently he had been converted under the ministry of Paul during the apostle's first missionary journey. That trip with an associate missionary took the apostle to the young man's hometown. Sometime later Paul and his new partner Silas returned to the same area. During their stay, the attention of the missionaries fell on the youthful Timothy. Indeed, those of his home church as well as believers in neighboring congregations pointed to him as one with promise for ministry. Luke reports, "The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him" (v. 2). After observing him for some days, the missionaries came to agree with the assessment of these godly people. Consequently, Paul and Silas extended an invitation for Timothy to join them in the position of an assistant and understudy as they continued their journey (v. 3).

On two occasions godly people made remarks to me concerning their feelings about my ministry. One was on the night I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Since I did not own an automobile, my pastor drove me home after the service in which I had that experience. On the way he remarked to me, "I have never seen anyone receive such a mighty Baptism in the Spirit as you did tonight for whom the Lord did not have a special work for him to do."

The other came after I had been a traveling evangelist for some time. In one of the churches I served during those years was a godly couple, well advanced in age. They owned a duplex where they lived in one side and rented the other to supplement their meager income. Members of the congregation related to me that through the years there had never been a family living in that duplex with them who did not move out as devoted believers, regardless of their religious background when they moved in. The couple invited me to lunch one day at their house. The visit ended with prayer. Moved in spirit as we sought the Lord, she asked for my hand and simply said to me, "The Lord is going to make you a pastor. You need to get all the training you can before you step into that office. Then God can use you more effectively through the years."

Of course, in neither case did I act immediately on such remarks. Rather, I kept them in the back of my mind. The passing of time proved that both spoke a word from the Lord to me. Such experiences, then, can serve as a confirmation of one's call. It seems safe to conclude that if one is called to preach, the Lord will usually make this fact known to others. The one called will arrive at this conviction, but so will other Christians.

It seems the wisest course of action to place much trust in such remarks from fellow believers only if those remarks are confirmation of a call that one has already received. For example, Charles Spurgeon reports, "I remember well how earnestly I was dissuaded from preaching by as godly a Christian matron as ever breathed; the value of her opinion I endeavored to estimate with candor and patience, but it was outweighed by the judgment of persons of wider experiences."[5] Knowing of his ministry as we do, obviously that lady did not speak according to the will of God for Spurgeon.

Further, circumstances often provide evidence of a call to preach when open doors for ministry present themselves.

Accordingly, Edmund Clowney urges that a ministerial candidate quickly walk through the nearest open door that appears. He writes, "Here you must begin; indeed, here you must be willing to remain until other doors of opportunity are perceived and opened. The surest way to miss future opportunities is to ignore present ones."[6] They may include such openings as an invitation to teach a Sunday school class, to lead a boys' group, to speak to a youth group, or to lead a prayer meeting in the pastor's absence.

Spurgeon joins Clowney in his counsel. He writes, "It is needful as a proof of your vocation that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God. God usually opens doors of utterance for those whom He calls to speak in his name."[7] Thus, if God calls a man to preach, He will call somebody to hear him, and somebody will want to hear him, and somebody will be helped when he hears him. C. E. Colton cautions, however, that this does not mean "that one will be immediately called to a church the moment he surrenders to preach. However, a degree of success over a period of time is evidence of a genuine call."[8]

Fruit that follows one's ministry also provides evidence of a genuine call to preach. For example, among the four things that Spurgeon lists as evidences of a call to preach is seeing people come to Christ through that ministry. He writes: "Vain are their talents, their philosophy, their rhetoric, and even their orthodoxy, without the signs following. How are they sent of God who will bring no men to God? Prophets whose words are powerless, sowers whose seed all withers, fishers who take no fish, soldiers who give no wounds, are these God's men? Surely it were better to be a mud-raker, or a chimney-sweep, than to stand in the ministry as an utterly barren tree."[9]

The final circumstantial evidence of a call to preach should come in the formal approval of one's denomination.

That God calls before the Church confirms and approves is self-evident. W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, "The Church can only echo and authenticate the call, and unless the minister is ever conscious that he is where and what he is, because God has called, placed, and equipped him, his ministry must necessarily suffer in power and blessing."[10] Washington Gladden concludes, "No minister ought to undertake the work unless he believes that he has a divine vocation; but he ought to submit this conviction of his to the approval of his brethren."[11]
Though God "ordains" one to the ministry before the church does, both are required in full evidence of one's call to the ministry. Riggs writes of this as "double ordination." He says, "The ordination which the Lord Himself has given us in the first place will later be confirmed by the ordination of the church and its appointed leaders."[12] God has authorized the church to examine ministerial candidates for fitness as vessels for bearing the precious food of the Word. The qualifications the candidate must have are listed in the Book of 1 Timothy, chapter 3, and the Book of Titus, chapter 1. If candidates cannot pass this final test of the Word, as the church administers it, they would best withdraw from the ministry. They would honor God more in living by His Word in these two passages than by preaching it in defiance of its precept in this area.
This official recognition by a godly organization provides a most necessary standing for ministers in a community. Its sanction, its agreement with them in the conclusion that the Lord has indeed called them to preach, provides a certain and much-needed authority for them. As August Strong says, "Of his call to the ministry, the candidate himself is to be first persuaded; but, secondly, the church must be persuaded also, before he can have authority to minister among them."[13] Reaching a similar conclusion, Clowney offers thought-provoking reasons why the church must confirm one's call to a preaching ministry. He writes, "Public recognition is necessary, for the reason that the stewardship of Christ's Word must be exercised with authority. Those who declare the way of life . . . must be heard and heeded, and this means that their gifts must be openly acknowledged."[14]
This public recognition by one's denomination declares that a responsible body of believers recommends him or her as one whom they know to be living a good life and preaching a pure Gospel. This includes an implied declaration that the credentialed minister is in agreement with the teachings of that segment of the Church. Spurgeon concludes that "men are not called to the ministry who have no knowledge and no definite belief. When young fellows say that they have not made up their minds upon theology, they ought to go back to the Sunday school until they have. For a man to come shuffling into a college, pretending that he holds his mind open to any form of truth, and that he is eminently receptive, but has not settled in his mind [on basic church doctrine is a] perfect monstrosity."[15]
In conclusion, this series of articles has demonstrated that the Bible fully sanctions the concept that the ministry should be reserved for those specifically called of God to preach. I have presented evidence, both logical and reasonable, as to why such a call is necessary for the success of one in the ministry. I followed this by seeking to explain what a call to preach is. Flowing out of that explanation was discussion of evidences by which one can determine whether or not he or she has a call into the Gospel ministry--natural, supernatural, and circumstantial evidences.
Potential ministers may or may not have every one of these evidences in full detail, such as the phenomenal experiences of Isaiah and Paul, but they should have enough to convince them that they have a scriptural call to the ministry. They should come to the place where they exclaim with Paul, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16). As Riggs explains, "All things are turned to ashes. There is no joy, no peace, no satisfaction in any other occupation or service. With this divine compelling, we are thrust forth into His great harvest field and go forth with this certain conviction that He goes before."[16]
Once a person is convinced by the evidence of the call to preach, he or she should gladly accept it. As to the tendency to resist the call, W. W. Melton writes, "Many think they are supposed to fight against God for a period, long or short, before they give in to Him. This is erroneous. Men who fight against God do so to their own hurt. Some have wasted their best years; then late in life they bring the ragged end of a misspent life and offer it to the Lord."[17] One must keep in mind the fact that it is impossible to say, "No, Lord," because the moment a person says, "No," Jesus ceases to be his or her Master.
Rather than resisting the call to preach, believers should respond with a hearty, "Yes, Lord." After that surrender, they should determine not to be guilty of "putting [their] hand to the plough and looking back" (Luke 9:62). Singleness of purpose is one of the greatest contributors to success in any work in life. In the ministry, once they are as certain as possible of their call, they should think of doing nothing else in this world. William Martin warns, though, that, regardless of the genuineness of the call, "this high vocation can be invalidated on the human side by laziness, avoidable clumsiness, or the demons of envy, lust, and pride."[18] To accept a genuine call, to remain true to it for a lifetime, and to avoid disqualifying oneself for continuing service in the ministry are all of the essence for the man or woman of God.

Bibliography for the Series

Carter, Charles W. "The Acts." In The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, ed. Ralph Earle, J. S. Blaney, and Charles W. Carter, 475-741. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964.

Clarke, Adam. Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 4. Nashville: Abingdon Press, n. d.

Clowney, Edmund. Called to Ministry. Phillipsburg, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1964.

Colton, C. E. The Minister's Mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1951.

Dittes, James E. A Manual for the Use of the Theological School Inventory. Dayton, Oh.: Ministry Studies Board, 1964.

Dobbins, Gaines S. Building Better Churches. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1947.

Erdman, Charles R. The Work of the Pastor. Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1924.

Gladden, Washington. The Christian Pastor and the Working Church. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1921.

Harris, Charles. "The Use of Selected Leadership, Personality, Motivational, and Demographic Variables in the Identification of Successful Ministers." Ed. D. diss., University of Tulsa, 1972.

Hoppin, James M. Pastoral Theology. New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1901.

Jowett, J. H. The Preacher, His Life and Work. New York: George H. Doran Co., 1912.

Martin, William C. To Fulfill This Ministry. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 19.

Melton, W. W. The Making of a Preacher. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1953.

Riggs, Ralph M. The Spirit-Filled Pastor's Guide. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1948.

Spurgeon, Charles H. Spurgeon's Lectures to His Students. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1945.

Steinberg, Hardy W. "The Pastor and His Lord." In And He Gave Pastors, ed. Thomas F. Zimmerman, G. Raymond Carlson, and Zenas J. Bicket, 1-36. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1979.

Stoughton, Clarence C. Set Apart for the Gospel. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1946.

Strong, August H. Systematic Theology. Old Tappan, N. J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1907.

Thomas, W. H. Griffith. The Work of the Ministry. New York: Hodder and Stoughton, n. d.

Tidwell, Josiah B. Concerning Preachers. New York: Fleming H Revell Co., 1937.

[1]Charles R. Erdman, The Work of the Pastor (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1924), 7.

[3]Ibid., 9.

[4]Ralph M. Riggs, The Spirit-Filled Pastor's Guide (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1948), 16.

[5]Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Lectures to His Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1945), 33.

[6]Edmund Clowney, Called to Ministry (Phillipsburg, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1964), 38.

[7]Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Lectures to His Students, 34.

[8]C. E. Colton, The Minister's Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1951), 19.

[9]Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Lectures to His Students, 33.

[10]W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Work of the Ministry (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, n. d.), 6.

[11]Washington Gladden, The Christian Pastor and the Working Church (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1921), 69.

[12]Riggs, The Spirit-Filled Pastor's Guide, 16.

[13]August H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, N. J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1907), 919.

[14]Clowney, Called to Ministry, 51.

[15]Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Lectures to His Students, 37.

[16]Riggs, The Spirit-Filled Pastor's Guide, 16-17.

[17]W. W. Melton, The Making of a Preacher (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1953), 19.

[18]William C. Martin, To Fulfill this Ministry (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 19), 18.