It has become traditional for the personal, subjective sense of 'calling' to be the determinative factor in people offering themselves for full-time Christian ministry. Perhaps it is a longing for the dramatic personal commissioning experienced by Moses at the burning bush, or by Elijah in the temple; or perhaps it stems from a desire to anchor our decision to pursue ministry outside ourselves in the call of God. Whatever the reason, it is common to wait for someone to say to us that they 'feel called to the ministry' or that they 'think that God is calling me to be a missionary' before we stat to assess their suitability.
The Bible does not speak in these terms. Search as we may, we don't find in the Bible any example or concept of an inner call to ministry. There are some who are called directly and dramatically by God (like Moses and Elijah), but it is not a matter of discerning an inner feeling.
Almost universally in the New Testament, the recognizing or 'setting apart' of gospel workers is done by other elders, leaders and pastors. Just as Timothy was commissioned in some way by the elders (1 Tim 4:14), so he was to entrust the gospel to other faithful leaders who could continue the work (2 Tim 2:2). Likewise Titus was given responsibility by Paul for the ministry in Crete, and he in turn was to appoint elders/overseers in every town (Titus 1:5-9).
Perhaps it is right in this sense to speak of people being 'called' by God to particular ministries or responsibilities - so long as we recognize that this 'call' is mediated through the human agency of existing recognized ministers.
Some additional observations:
- Marshall and Payne are speaking specifically of men being called into full-time vocational leadership/ministry. So we need to understand that context before discussing these ideas. Regardless of that context, there is an application of these thoughts to leaders in all areas of the church. 'Human agency', as opposed to a subjective feeling, is the vehicle for calling leaders in the church.
- So, even though the New Testament indicates that leadership is a gift, that gift (and the degree of that gift - Rom. 12:6 and Eph. 4:7) is verified in the eyes of other leaders through testing and evaluation.
- This is not to say that many Christians will never lead. We all must lead our own lives into joyful worship and obedience (Titus 3:8,14). Husbands lead their families (Eph. 5:22-24). Parents lead their children (Romans 8:14, Col. 3:20). God will apportion the grace required for each responsibility (2 Cor. 12:9 and 1 Peter 4:10-11). Still, because it is not mandated for all, when it comes to leading others in the church, testing and evaluation are essential in discovering the kind and degree of leadership to which an individual is called (1 Timothy 3:10). (Incidentally, the best leaders often can't see their own potential. Testing and evaluation is as much for the prospect's benefit as it is for the prospector's benefit.)
- The gift of leadership is subject to the character of the leader. The requirements for elders and deacons in the New Testament are character-based (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). I take that to indicate that character is the predominant prerequisite for all leaders in the church. Gift does not a fruitful leader make. Character matters more - the headlines verify that all to often.
- Therefore, for the sake of the church (1 Tim. 5:22), we must carefully evaluate the character and the effectiveness (the apportionment of grace) of a leader before giving them an official responsibility in the church.
- Because we are not omnipotent, it seems reasonable to openly and aggressively invite potential leaders into ministry apprenticeships and other testing experiences to objectively discover their effectiveness as leaders. I believe this is a critical part of the process of "entrusting" described in 2 Timothy 2:2.
Leaders, let us then aggressively pursue the next generation of leaders and be careful in their testing. And may God continue to raise up this precious commodity through our agency.
A Pastor and Theologians Forum on Selecting Elders - though this article from 9 Marks is in the context of selecting elders, it is loaded with principles that would apply to leadership of all kinds in the church.