The Preacher and His Call
by Dr. Randy White
**This article was previously posted by Dr. Randy White HERE and is used by permission.
For many years, the “call” has been presented as the essential ingredient to a Pastor’s success. Without this call, he would be “…as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. (1 Cor. 13:1b)”. Without this call, discouragement would doubtless set in and he would drift away from ministry because he was never called to it in the first place. Without this call, he would be miserable in the profession of ministry, harming himself and many others in the process.
But what is this call? What is the Biblical basis for this call? How does a young man know if he has had this call? What if a young man wants to enter ministry but never had “the call?” With the modern “call” theology, these questions are almost unanswerable, and any answer we give is one we’ve simply made up, or repeated because we’ve heard it so often that it has become true. What if “the call” itself is actually an extra Biblical concept that has been made up. What if the concept of “the call” has no Biblical basis and actually hinders Christian men from relying on Scripture alone as a guide when considering becoming a pastor?
The Biblical Basis for the Call
If you begin to research material and sermons about “the call,” you’ll find reams of supposed justifications for this inner experience coming from the anecdotal evidence of various calls throughout Scripture. Moses was called by God who spoke to him from within a burning bush, Samuel was called by a voice in the night, Isaiah was motivated by the “Whom shall I send?” question from God, and Paul was called by Christ with a bright light on the road to Damascus. Many conclude then, that all men in the pastoral ministry must have a Call experience.
The problem with all this Biblical justification is that it is a poor use of Scripture. To take a historical incident as a foundation for a normative experience is poor exegesis on any occasion, and is also the ingredient of a thousand heresies. To build the doctrine of “the call” from these historical accounts is a slightly cleaned up version of name-it-and-claim-it theology. For example, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon a group of believers and they began speaking in tongues. This is repeated in _Acts 10:46 when Peter preaches the same gospel as in Acts 2 to Cornelius, and in Acts 19:6 when Paul lays his hands on some who had only heard of John’s baptism. If we make this into a normative practice, we have built a doctrine out of an historical account. We like to pick-and-choose the parts of the historical accounts we want to use. We love to ask people to repent, but never in sack-cloth and ashes. We love to ask a ministry candidate to share his call, but would be alarmed to hear him talk about burning bushes or voices and bright lights from heaven.
What the Bible Really Teaches
Christian practice should be built upon passages of Scripture that give instruction for Christian practice. When one uses this criteria, there simply is no Biblical basis for the inner call to ministry.
In fact, Paul tells Timothy that if anyone aspires the office of overseer, “it’s a fine work he desires to do” (1 Timothy 3:1). This word aspire or desire (KJV) is hardly a spiritual word. It is the same word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 6:10 when he talks about the love of money, and “some people longing for it have wandered from the faith” (NASB).
The only call to the preaching and overseeing ministry of a Pastor that we see in the pages of the New Testament is the selection of Pastors by Paul and Barnabas, and the instruction given Timothy and Titus to do the same. How did these men know they were called to ministry? Chiefly because the church voted on them! In Acts 14:23, Elders (Pastors) are “appointed” (NASB). This word, cheirotoneo, is literally “to raise the hand,” or “to vote.” It is also used in 2 Corinthians 8:19. Literally Paul and Barnabas, and perhaps others in the congregation, voted upon the selection of the Pastors.
The Mystical Nature of the Call
With the creation of a mystical inner call, the call of the local church became secondary. In years past, the “calling out” role of the local church was instrumental in the selection of men who would serve as Pastors, and the ordination council was used to determine the candidate’s qualification. The call was given by the church, through the ordination council. Even in Biblical days, Paul admonished Timothy not to neglect his spiritual gift which was bestowed not by the Holy Spirit in a mystical experience, but by “the laying on of hands by the presbytery” (1 Timothy 4:14).
Today’s ordination council cannot do much outside of asking a candidate, “Tell us about your call to ministry.” After hearing the young man talk about feelings and promptings and eerie coincidences, the council must say, “Well then, you must be called.” In times past, the council looked for evidence of ability, practice, effort, and intellect that was conducive to the fulfilling of the pastoral role, then they tested for doctrine to see if the candidate was fit for the office. If all these qualifications were met, they considered the Biblical qualifications stated in the Scripture. Meeting the Biblical qualifications and having the necessary abilities, the man was voted upon, and a call was given.
A New Look at an Old Call
Let’s rethink the call. Let’s demystify the call. Local churches should be on the lookout for young men in the congregation who have the faith, commitment, Biblically sound doctrine, and the ability to serve as a pastor. Those churches should call those young men out, encourage them to consider entering ministry and, in time, present them before the ordaining council, who will recommend they be ordained. In many cases, the local congregation should make sure these young men are able to be trained in the ministry through Bible colleges and seminaries that are closely associated with the congregation, and after their time of preparation, these churches should be involved in helping to place the young men in ministry positions that fit their skills and experience level.