I used to wonder if I was supposed to work in full-time church ministry. Should I be a pastor, I’d ask myself? Was God calling me to the ministry? Several years of prayer, using my gifts, and discussions with my elders eventually led me to conclude that the answer is probably not. And once I made peace with that, I started being pretty content.
But just because I’m probably not supposed to be a pastor, doesn’t mean I’m not supposed to be in ministry. In fact, I’ve spent most of my career to this point in vocational ministry—just not pastoral ministry.
That’s an important distinction, one that Jason Allen makes in his recently released book, Discerning Your Call to Ministry (Moody Publishers, 2016). Allen, the President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, spent a number of years in pastoral ministry prior to joining the seminary. He’s wrestled with the question of calling, and helped others gain an understanding of it as well. And his short book serves as a diagnostic tool to discern what type of ministry to which they are called.
Not “if”, but “what”
And, again, that’s important. Allen makes the point from the outset that it’s not a question of if, but of what kind. All Christians are called to minister, to actively build up the body of Christ. But others are called to ministry—work that “has a direct ministerial component to it,” he writes (20). Others still are “called to the ministry”, the formal category of pastor or elder.
Depending on your background or your experience, this distinction might seem odd. Is it even possible to differentiate between each of these areas as Allen has done? As I read the book, I wondered about that. Did this distinction risk creating a class system? I’m sure some could twist it into that, but Allen doesn’t go there. He stresses the value of every member ministry, even as his goal is to protect people from pursuing what God has not intended for them. And truthfully, the more I considered it, the more helpful it became.
What I appreciate about it is that it opens up opportunities for believers. It helps those who want to work in organizations or fields that have an overt ministerial component to see the value in what they do. To not feel like they’re second class.Just because we might answer no to certain questions doesn’t mean our value and contributions are diminished. Quite the contrary! It’s liberating for the church member called to minister but doesn’t desire a formal ministry role, to be able to focus on what they’re built for: representing Christ and serving others in their day-to-day.
I believe this is what Allen wanted, and from my point of view, he accomplished his goal. For me, that means I don’t have to wring my hands about whether or not I’m doing what God’s called me to do. I know I am, and I can enjoy the fruit of it. I get to serve my local church in every-member ministry, but I also serve beyond our walls through writing, blogging, speaking and my day job. Whether that changes someday, only God knows. But I do know I want to use my gifts to their fullest in the capacity to which I’ve been called.
A valuable tool for churches
Allen strives for a delicate balance throughout this book, seeking to both dissuade those who aren’t called to pastoral ministry while encouraging those who are to pursue it with full vigor. And I do believe he’s succeeded in this, and in doing so, provided a worthwhile resource for church leaders and those exploring their calling.
There aren’t many books on this subject I would encourage reading. Called to the Ministry by Edmund Clowney and Am I Called? by Dave Harvey are two I believe are particularly beneficial. Discerning Your Call to Ministry is one more I would put in an individual’s hands without hesitation. If you’re asking the question of calling, you should strongly consider this book.