Is “Ministry Calling” a Legitimate Concept?

I’ve written previously about why my sense of calling matters. In that post, I described what I believe was God’s somehow capturing my attention and re-directing my life in some supernatural way. I’ve also written about how I understand the breadth of that calling today

I’m also aware, though, that some folks are wrestling with/questioning the concept of "ministry calling" today, and I want to be fair to them. Here, at least from my studies, are some of their questions and concerns:  

  1. All believers are called to love God, love others, and make disciples of all nations. These general calls of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment are for all believers, and any other sense of “call” is more a choice of a role to fulfill those callings than some unique mandate. 
  2. The callings in the Bible are for unique situations. To be sure, the Bible includes dramatic call narratives (e.g., Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul), but these leaders were uniquely situated in God’s plan. Many other people have led God’s people without such potent experiences. The latter would seem to be more the norm. 
  3. “Gifting” more than calling seems to be a primary way in the Bible to identify one’s role in God’s work. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 certainly focus on gifts that the Holy Spirit chooses to give to believers as He wishes. When we faithfully use our gifts, we effectively fulfill our “calling.” 
  4. The qualifications for pastors and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are almost exclusively character-based, not “calling” based. It would seem that “inner compulsion” would have been more pronounced had calling been an expectation for these positions. 
  5. The book of Acts illustrates the church’s role in setting apart leaders much more than leaders experiencing some sense of divine “calling.” The Jerusalem church chose the men to serve widows (Acts 6). The believers at Antioch set apart Paul and Barnabas and sent them out (Acts 13). Scholars debate who appointed the elders in Acts 14, but there’s no sense that they determined their own calling.
  6. The concept of calling has produced an elitist professional ministry. This problem, some argue, at least suggests that any sense of calling to ministry is somehow overstated. At a minimum, calling has been misapplied so that it has become more individualistic than church-centered. 

Some questions:

  • Am I stating these positions fairly? I’m happy to hear corrections as needed.
  • What are your responses to these positions?  


  • John W. Carlton says:

    I had the opportunity to serve for 3 years in a UMC church as their Music Minister/Assistant Pastor. All of their pastors are appointed as you know and a pastor is guaranteed a place to go at the time of appointments. This has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Job security for the pastors is great, but I saw that it also seemed to make some lazy. The Call system that we have in the SBC is better I believe. If I had thought that the UMC way was best I would have stayed with them, but the freedom that we have in SBC churches is so much better.

  • David says:

    I can see a validity to each of these questions, but #6 caught my attention. I can see the validity in it as well , but it is also the byproduct of institutionalization of the church. In any institution there always arises a hierarchy in order for the institution to function. This in turn leads to the elitism mentioned and it is further fueled by human pride. As I see it this elitism is unavoidable no matter the form the church takes or would have taken due to human sinfulness and our falleness. Just my observation for what little it’s worth.

  • Jason Harris says:

    I do believe in calling, but TO a task, or people/community. Character definitely counts and so does gifting, however, listening to the “small still voice” calling someone to a place or task is the still an important way God orchestrates His ministers (all believers) to carry out His plans.

    My question is: are you close enough to Jesus to actually HEAR the call?

  • Ken says:

    Looking at this subject from Scripture, as opposed to experience, Paul says, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Tim. 3:1). Then, Paul tells Titus, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5).

    On the one hand, Paul speaks to Timothy about those who “aspire” or “desire” to be an overseer or deacon. On the other hand, he tells Titus to “appoint” elders in every city. Regarding Titus, the text doesn’t say if he is to appoint elders who aspire to the position, but Paul does provide some criteria that one must meet to qualify for the office.

    I just don’t see the call system explicitly stated in the New Testament; however, God does instill within us the desire and the empowerment to do His work through us (Phil. 2:13). I know some people who sense that God is giving them a heart for a certain people group or for a particular ministry. If this is what people mean by the call system, then that makes sense to me.

  • Randy M. McCown says:

    Forty-two years later I can take you to the spot under the oak tree on my family farm where very distinctly God spoke to my heart and “called” me into the Gospel ministry. It is my opinion that the true call of God upon an individual’s life does not produce an “elite” professional but rather, a humble servant. For there is not one of us worthy to stand and open the Sacred Word of God and expound it to others. The God called servant never forgets, “Without me you can do nothing.” While I know that there are those that have entered the ministry as a “job”, I would rather have one individual who has such a “call” upon their life that they could never walk away from it. I know we disagree on this and that is okay.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Not sure we necessarily disagree. I, too, can take you to the time and place where I believe God called me to preach His Word. 

  • James says:

    I believe in God’s calling of pastors into ministry, and I believe that calling comes not only from God but also from the church. Calling includes many components; an inward call of the pastor; appropriate spiritual gifts; a godly character; a submissive Spirit toward God on the part of the congregation and the candidate throughout the search process; and finally (and very importantly) an affirmation of that call by the congregation. The calling is not complete until the church affirms. If the latter point was not true, then why do we vote in may churches for pastors? Putting it another way, it would be the height of arrogance for instance, for a prospective pastor to claim “I was ‘called’ to be pastor of such and such church, but I did not get the vote!” I’d be inclined to think that the congregation may well have known the Lord’s will far better than the prospective pastor!

    I have seen first hand in our Association of churches (I am a denominational minister) where a candidate’s sense of “calling”, not affirmed by the congregation, caused a split in what was an otherwise strong church. A church staff member and some of his supporters decided for the entire church that it was God’s will for him to become the next Pastor, even though several deacons, elders and search committee members strongly disagreed. The search committee approved his recommendation to the church by a one vote simple majority, and the staff member insisted on a church vote because he believed he was “called.” It was his view, and that of his loyal supporters, that the rest of the church needed to agree that he was called to the position, and agree with their decision that this man become pastor, rather than for each member to pray and to seek the direction of the Holy Spirit and come to his or her own conclusion as to whether or not this man was God’s man for the position. This was a case where the candidate believed the search for a pastor ended with his “calling”, and the the committee felt the “search” ended with their recommendation, and they discovered the reality that the search only ends with the affirmative vote of the congregation.

  • Doug Barnett says:

    There is so much from this good article that can be unpacked. Let me add a resource or two. Kindly visit
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    It seems strange to me that God’s “calling” almost always is in relationship to some kind of vocational religious work (and occasionally volunteer religious work). I struggle with why so little is said about God’s “calling” of people to non-religious work. I firmly believe, and remember the circumstances, when I believe God re-directed my life to an amazing career in a non-religious field. If God only “calls” his people to religious work and the rest of us have no calling, it’s no wonder that we so often see religious vocation elitism in the Body of Christ.

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