The Call to Preach, Part 2

In the first article of this series, I discussed the question concerning the existence of a call to preach. Having established the genuineness of such an experience, I now wish to emphasize the necessity of such a call by God if one is to be successful in the ministry of the Gospel. From the beginning of the Church until this day, Christian denominations have required evidence of such a call before ordaining candidates to preach the Gospel. Gaines Dobbins observes, "From earliest Christian History until now a special call to the ministry has been insisted upon by all the leading bodies of Christians. In nearly all the creeds of Christendom this has been a uniform tenet that ministers of the gospel are divinely called, and that this is prerequisite to ordination."[1]

In the lines below, I will show that one is unwise to try to preach without a call. Wisdom gained through years of experience argues for that view. As a matter of fact, it is forbidden for individuals to preach unless they have been called of God to do so. Scripture makes it clear that the Lord forbids any to go out preaching the Gospel if He has not sent them. It is today as it was with both the priesthood and the office of the prophet in the Old Testament where the call was of the essence. The call of the preachers in the New Testament, as indicated in the selection of the Twelve, serves as an example of those specifically called of God to the ministry. In addition, modern research gives further support for the necessity of a call.

In the first place, then, reason demonstrates that one is unwise to try to preach without a call.

 Preachers who are not certain of their call do not have the confidence and feeling of authority that are essential if they are to be effective ministers. J. H. Jowett concludes:

I hold with profound conviction that before a man selects the Christian ministry as his vocation he must have the assurance that the selection has been imperatively constrained by the eternal God. The call of the Eternal must ring through the rooms of his soul as clearly as the sound of the morning bell rings through the valleys of Switzerland, calling the peasants to early prayer and praise. The candidate for the ministry must move like a man in secret bonds. "Necessity is laid upon him." His is not a preference among alternatives. Ultimately he has no alternative: all other possibilities become dumb.[2]

Further, without a definite call to preach, individuals do not have the courage that it takes to carry them through the disappointments, apparent failures, hardships, and distresses of the ministry. William Martin writes: "A minister that is self-appointed on the basis of the recognition of need on the one hand and of special gifts on the other might do well enough, from the human point of view, if there could be an assurance of fair weather for the entire voyage. But the course of this ministry does not run through such a sea. When the storm breaks, a man needs for a compass something more than an awareness of the evil of the world and a benevolent desire to be helpful. He needs to know that it was God who set him on this journey and that he dare not turn back."[3]

I realize, of course, that you may already believe in the existence of a divine call and of the necessity of experiencing it before attempting to preach the Gospel. Still, it is my prayer that this study will help reinforce these beliefs. Even if you are already reasonably sure that you have been called, this article and those to follow will assist you in determining more exactly that your call is a biblical one.

In the second place, it is forbidden for people to preach unless they have been specifically called by the Lord.

God forbids any to go with the Gospel whom He has not sent.

It is the same with the ministry today as it was with the priesthood in the Old Testament. Regarding that, the writer of Hebrews remarks, "No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was" (Heb. 5:4).

Korah, a Levite, along with Dathan and Abiram, Reubenites, intruded into the office of the priesthood and perished for it. They failed to distinguish between the call to the priesthood and that of serving the Lord in some other capacity. They showed themselves to be among the number who contend that God's callings for all professions and occupations are equal. They charged Moses with folly in holding a different view. The Bible says, "They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD'S assembly?'" (Num. 16:3).

Moses rebuked them for not being content with their own calling and for seeking to usurp the office of the priesthood. He said, "Isn't it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD'S tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too." (Num. 16:9-10).

Their attitude toward the higher calling was despicable to Jehovah. The fate they suffered dramatically demonstrated that. The sacred record explains, "As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions" (Num. 16:31-32).

Repeated warnings follow concerning the need to respect the office of the priesthood, though they do not diminish the high calling of the Levites. Later Jehovah declared to the High Priest, Aaron, "I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the LORD to do the work at the Tent of Meeting" (Num. 18:6). He did, however, signify a division of labor, explaining, "But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary must be put to death" (v. 7).

King Saul provides another example on this point.

On one occasion the king and his army were set to enter a battle in a time of war. The schedule, however, called for the prophet Samuel to appear and pray for the troops before they put themselves in harm's way. While waiting for him to arrive, the king became impatient. His anxiety led him to conclude that the prophet was not coming after all. The Bible explains, "So he said, ‘Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.' And Saul offered up the burnt offering" (1 Sam. 13:9). In doing so, of course, the king usurped the office of the priest.

Samuel appeared on the scene the instant the king finished offering the sacrifice. When the prophet rebuked Saul for his sinful act, the king explained that while he waited for the minister's arrival his army began to scatter from him. Thinking that his religious ceremony would unite the troops, he told Samuel, "So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering" (v. 12b). The prophet responded, "You acted foolishly!" (v. 13). In that moment the man of God prophetically declared that Jehovah would soon strip the kingdom from Saul.

Saul's mistake was falsely concluding that anyone can act as a priest. At the same time he had even lost the humility which had earlier caused him to respect so greatly the high office of king to which the Lord had appointed him. Samuel later reminded him that his was no small assignment as king. In a rebuke he declared to Saul, "Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel" (1 Sam. 15:17).

Another king of Israel, Uzziah, intruded into the office of the priest and became leprous for it. The record of his reign is largely an inspiring one. Somewhere, though, he began to drift away from the devotion he had maintained earlier. The biblical writer says, "But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense" (2 Chron. 26:16).

Pride seems to have been the only reason for the king's actions. As he blatantly rushed into the Temple to step into an office that was not his, Azariah, the High Priest, and eighty other priests resisted the king. The spokesmen for the ministers confronted him with the words, "It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God" (2 Chron. 26:18).

In anger, however, the king rushed on with his unlawful plans to take a priest's role and burn incense. Suddenly, to the horror of all present, leprosy appeared on his forehead. At that, both king and priests rushed out of the house of God. It was too late, though, for Uzziah remained leprous until the day of his death. For all practical purposes his reign ended, since from then on he was quarantined in an isolated house (v. 21).

Stipulations for Christian ministry today also correspond with those for the office of prophet in Old Testament times. Early in the history of Israel, Jehovah warned self-appointed prophets about speaking presumptuously in His name. He said, "But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death" (Deut. 18:20).

Again, repeatedly during the days when the ministry of the prophets was prominent in the nation, God warned the false prophets who prophesied in His name. For example, through Jeremiah, He said, "‘Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,' declares the LORD. ‘They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,' declares the LORD'" (Jer. 23:32). Through Ezekiel, Jehovah declared, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing. . . . Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, ‘The LORD declares,' when the LORD has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled" (Ezek. 13:3, 6).

Even through the psalmists, God warned the unqualified about trying to carry His word. Speaking for Jehovah, Asaph wrote, "But to the wicked, God says: ‘What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips?'" (Ps. 50:16). Since they don't live by it, hypocrites can serve no useful purpose in spreading His Word. They must practice it before they try to preach the message of the Lord. His plan is that only those who are called and who qualify according to His standards preach the Gospel.

It is with the ministry today as it was with the New Testament apostles, as well.

 Jesus Himself spoke of the call to ministry when He explained to the Twelve, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last" (John 15:16). This concerns the matter of their service, not their salvation.

Hardy Steinberg draws attention to the fact that as Head of the Church, Jesus Himself places its ministerial leaders in their positions. These include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Eph. 4:11). He declares, "These people have not placed themselves in positions of leadership. They have simply responded to Christ's plan for their lives."[4] Paul declared himself to be among such. He wrote, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service" (1 Tim. 1:12).

In addition to scriptural injunctions, recent research gives credence to the necessity of a call.

 For example, my own study for the doctoral dissertation at the University of Tulsa sheds light on the subject.[5] The purpose of the study was to determine the usefulness of a selected group of leadership, personality, motivational, and demographic variables in distinguishing between more successful and less successful ministers. The population of the study included all male graduates of a selected Bible college over an eight-year period. These totaled 309. Data were collected on 215 of this number. The 215 became the sample in the study.

The design for the project called for classifying the graduates as more or less successful on the basis of scores obtained on the Harris Ministerial Rating Scale, which I developed in the early stages of the study.[6] Then, I examined statistically the means of the two groups of ministers on the selected variables with respect to which among those variables distinguished between the more successful and the less successful ministers.

The conclusion in the study was that those graduates who hold more strongly to a belief in a God-called ministry tend to experience a greater degree of success than do their fellows who are less convinced of that fact.[7]

In conclusion, the above discussion presents evidence to support the view that one is unwise to try to preach without a call. Wisdom gained through years of experience argues for that view. As a matter of fact, it is forbidden by the Lord for individuals to preach unless they have been called of God to do so. Scripture makes clear that the Lord forbids any to go with the Gospel whom He has not sent. It is the same today as it was with both the priesthood and the office of the prophet in the Old Testament, where the call was of the essence. The call of the preachers in the New Testament, as indicated in the selection of the Twelve Apostles, serves as an additional example of those specifically called of God to the ministry. Finally, even modern research gives strong support to the necessity of a call.

Selected Bibliography

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

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

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.

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.

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.

[1]Gaines S. Dobbins, Building Better Churches (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1947), 297.

[2]J. H. Jowett, The Preacher, His Life and Work (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1912), 12.

[3]William C. Martin, To Fulfill This Ministry (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 19), 15-16).

[4]Hardy W. Steinberg, "The Pastor and His Lord," in And He Gave Pastors, ed. Thomas F. Zimmerman, G. Raymond Carlson, and Zenas J. Bicket (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1979), 7.

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

[6]Ibid., 52-56, 128-131.

[7]One of the variables in the study concerned the "Concept of the Call." The instrument I used to collect data on that item was the Theological School Inventory. Its creators declare that they designed it to help the ministerial student examine motives for entering ministry (James E. Dittes, A Manual for the Use of the Theological School Inventory (Dayton, Ohio: Ministry Studies Board, 1964), 1). However, they excluded subconscious psychological needs from consideration. The inventory's Concept of the Call scale measures a belief in an unusual, mystical, and supernatural experience that separates a person to God's work. A higher score indicates a belief that one should be "called" of God to preach.

The general mean for preachers of all denominations on the Concept of the Call scale is .9 of a possible 70. The findings regarding the Concept of the Call in my study found the More Successful with a mean of 60.64 and the Less Successful with an average of 58.08. The difference is statistically significant at the highest possible level of confidence. Another obvious finding is that even the Less Successful from the particular Bible college under consideration were much more convinced that the ministry should be reserved for those with a specific call from God to preach than were ministers in general. The average for preachers of all denominations on the Concept of the Call is less than 50 while that of both categories in my study was much higher. The comparison was between less than 50 out of a possible score of 70 for preachers in general, and graduates of the Bible college, whose average range was from 58 to 61.