In his First Corinthian letter, the Apostle Paul addresses Christians at least 15 times as those who are “called.” He uses this term because in matters of salvation, God must always be seen to initiate. But the Apostle, who already has been called to be a believer in Christ, refers to himself in an additional way — he is “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:1). It was like a call within a call.
It is both sobering and joyful that genuine Christians are in a relationship with Christ because God called them to put their faith in Christ and they responded. And if within that relationship he sets them apart with a special assignment it is because again they are “called” in a more particular way.
But that special call does not come to all in the same way. Or when it comes it sometimes needs helpful clarification.
The Apostle Paul was called on the Damascus Road through a direct encounter with the living Christ. So dramatic was that call that he was stricken with temporary blindness (Acts 9:1-9). By contrast, Timothy, his son in the gospel, appears to have been called into full time ministry more mundanely, by the recognition and assignment of the Apostle Paul himself (Acts 16:1-5).
God does sometimes call through the voice of humans. John Wesley’s call to holy orders was at the urging of his own father. John Wesley allowed that urging to be God’s call and the results were amazing.
This leads to the question: how can I know if God is calling me into full time ministry?
Here are some questions to help you clarify whether the call you are sensing is Christ’s call to full time service or whether what you feel is simply a strong desire to follow the Lord fully as a lay person.
1. What do my senses tell me when I am closest to the Lord? During a time of heartfelt devotion, for example, does the Holy Spirit’s urging in the direction of an explicitly Christian calling seem more pressing and real?
2. Is the question of a call fleeting or persistent? When the Lord calls, he makes his voice heard with a certain persistence. In this way he may give us time to test the call. If the question of whether I am called or not is only occasional it is not so likely to be a call to full time ministry.
3. Does the Lord confirm his call by the comments or questions of others? Someone may ask, “Have you ever considered the ministry?” This may be only one of several signals he gives us to work into a pattern for our prayerful reflection.
4. When you are given opportunity to serve in some public way, like leading a prayer group, or accompanying a pastor on a call, do you sense the Lord’s blessing in that experience? Do other believers notice it?
5. Do providences that the Lord sends across your path fill you with thoughts of a special ministry? For example, suppose you are unexpectedly given opportunity to go on a mission trip, and through that experience the Holy Spirit challenge you in a more particular way.
6. Do I see needs that I sense I could meet? Some full time ministries have developed simply out of a believer’s awareness of need accompanied by that believer’s willingness to attempt to meet that need. That kind of signal is enhanced when the church also recognizes it.
The special call to full time ministry ought not to be rare in vital Christian circles. The late Paul N Ellis once said that before all young Christians choose a vocation for themselves they should ask the Lord prayerfully and seriously, “Do you need me for full time service?”
And if they are not called to full time service they should prayerfully ask the Lord to lead them into a vocation in which they can serve Him faithfully and with joy. In that broader sense, every Christian should live under a sense of divine vocation (Rom. 12: 1,2).