Previously, I considered how a man can discern whether God has called him to pastoral ministry. I write on this subject from personal experience, since I have wrestled with this call over the years. But a lot of confusion disappears when we realize that Scripture reveals how we recognize God’s calling through a desire for the ministry as well as through a confirmation of your gifts and maturity. Historically, this desire has been referred to as the “internal call” whereas the church’s recognition and confirmation has been known as the “external call.”
At the same time, when we consider both aspects of this call, it seems as if the external call is far too often neglected today. If a man believes that he is called to the ministry, he simply starts to prepare his resume and look for open pastoral opportunities. But this approach is not faithful to God and neglects a vital aspect of a true ministry calling. God’s Word provides a safer and wiser path to pastoral ministry.
The External Call is Biblical
Why do I place so much emphasis on the external call? Because it is biblical. When Scripture lays out the qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, the Apostle Paul does not do so merely for men who believe they are called to do a quick self-assessment. After all, Paul is writing to two of his close ministry associates about the need to recognize men whom God has called to pastoral ministry. So Timothy and Titus were directly involved in evaluating potential men for the ministry. Furthermore, the churches were not left out of this process. It was not as if Paul entrusted this responsibility to Timothy and Titus apart from the churches they were serving. When he finishes writing his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul ends with “Grace be with you” where the you is plural. This means that he was expecting Timothy and Titus to pass these letters on to local churches where they would also be involved in assessing and affirming men for pastoral ministry. So this external call of confirmation must not be neglected.
The External Call is Beneficial
Furthermore, the external call is greatly beneficial. It is about far more than waiting patiently for the church to confirm your calling. You have the opportunity to be mentored and coached by experienced and godly pastors. As they engage in ministry, you will learn so much about the practical reality and servant-hearted leadership of pastoral work. You also have the opportunity to gain experience in serving the body of Christ. As we all know, your hundredth sermon will be much better than your first. And the more you are able to minister under the oversight and guidance of your pastors, the better prepared you will be when you are called to shepherd the flock of God. Finally, you have the opportunity to grow in Christlikeness. All believers are in the process of sanctification, but pastors are called to be examples of spiritual maturity to their congregations. With this in mind, see these as days which the Lord has given you to become more like Him.
The External Call is a Blessing
When God calls a man to pastoral ministry, it is a humbling responsibility as well as a wonderful opportunity to serve and glorify Christ. But it is not an easy calling, and those who are called will face much opposition. As I have heard over and over again from pastors with years of faithful service behind them, when times have gotten tough, the confirmation that they received through their external call was what encouraged them to keep going. You can begin to question our desire for the ministry in the midst of hardship and suffering. But when you know that a church has come alongside you and affirmed that God has called you to serve Him as a pastor, it is an incredibly encouraging reminder. What a blessing the external call is for those serving as pastors!
Much more could be said, but I have personally found my time of assessment in receiving an external call to be richly rewarding. Rather than seeing it as a hurdle or a delay in fulfilling my desire to serve as a pastor, it has been the means through which the Lord has more clearly shown me what is required in a true pastoral ministry call. While it has been a challenging and sanctifying experience, in God’s providential wisdom I have become better prepared to serve Him. May the same be true to all those who desire to serve Christ in pastoral ministry.