by Johnathan Arnold
“How do I know if I am ‘called?’” This nonspecific question has been asked by generations of sincere Christians, especially young people who are zealous to do something for Christ. It’s likely that you have heard a senior Christian, afraid to quench the ambition of the asker, offer the counsel, “we are all called.”
In the most general sense, this is true. We are all called to use our spiritual gifts for the edification of the body. We are all called to share a reason for the hope which lies within us by talking to others about the gospel. We are all called to be disciples and disciple-makers. But this is not what most people mean when they ask, “How do I know if I am ‘called?’” The question points to a different kind of calling.
From beginning to end, Scripture is plain that God intends for certain men to officially represent Him and His people with unique authority and uncommon devotion, and that He appoints these men by His own sovereign choosing. Everyone should be missional, but not everyone is a missionary in the true sense of the word; everyone should share the gospel, but not everyone is called to herald the gospel as a preacher. Official appointments such as these are made by divine authority: “he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).
Scripture stipulates that preachers must be spiritual, capable men who are divinely called and corporately confirmed. The first step is always to compare ourselves to God's qualifications in Scripture (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Men should never assume the responsibility of preaching on their own initiative, even when there is a pulpit which needs to be filled. God must first call them, and He never calls those who cannot or will not meet the criterion already revealed in His Word. While it is one of my greatest desires to see more men enter into the full time ministry of preaching, we should not encourage people to take up this sacred calling who we know are biblically unqualified. The most important thing the church can do is pray for the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into His harvest; if we assume full responsibility for the sending, we will certainly spoil the harvest.
If you are grappling with the important but nonspecific question, “what should I do for God?” it is my recommendation that you do not read any further, but rather begin to do what God has already commanded every disciple to do. Busy yourself with serving others. The Kingdom needs dedicated laymen like you. If you are not called to the ministry, it does not make you a second-rate Christian. But if you are really troubled, and think, “I feel that perhaps I should fully devote myself to ministry,” and eagerly ask, “am I called?” then there are several things to consider.
You should not expect your call to be exactly like someone else’s.
Since preaching is about communicating God’s truth through a living, breathing person with a unique personality, the call is almost always as special as the individual. Do not expect God to call you exactly like he called someone else. Not everyone has a moment in time when they receive a “prophet’s call” or hear a divine voice summoning them. Expect God to work with you in His own time and to assure you in a way that is consistent with your personality.
You should expect God to unsettle your spirit.
Martin Lloyd-Jones notes, “A call generally starts in the form of a consciousness within one’s own spirit, an awareness of a kind of pressure being brought to bear upon one’s spirit, some disturbance in the realm of the spirit, then that your mind is being directed to the whole question of preaching. … This is something that happens to you; it is God dealing with you, and God acting upon you by His Spirit.” God often begins leading people into the ministry in this still, small way.
You should expect a growing sense of responsibility for reaching lost souls.
Every believer must cultivate a passion for souls, but it is usually those who are called to ministry who sense a unique responsibility to go to where lost souls are and deliver the gospel. God uses this nagging concern to confirm He is calling someone to devote himself wholly to this end. The man who answers the call must be prepared to embrace the charge of John Wesley: “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.”
You should expect a growing dissatisfaction with other work.
Charles Spurgeon used to tell young men, “If you can do anything else, do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.” He viewed “an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work” as a nonnegotiable mark of genuine calling. A person who answers the call must be able to say, “necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Phillips Brooks said, "If any man is called to preach, don't stoop to be a king.” If you think, “it would be better to be a king,” you are either not called or spiritually unready to profess a call.
You may experience a desire to preach or to be like preachers who you admire.
Most people hear a great sermon and appreciate it for what it is. A few do this, but are also deeply moved by the act of preaching and cannot help but think, “What would it be like to do this myself?” Since God’s preachers must appreciate the nobility of preaching, God often kindles this fascination to prepare their hearts for what He is calling them to do. While God sometimes calls people despite their desires (e.g. Jonah), and desires are not a sure sign of calling, the norm is that God plants holy desires in those whom he calls. “This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1).
You may experience an unusual burden to share what you are reading in Scripture.
Preachers are messengers, so it is reasonable to expect them to love the message more than other men. Most people read for their devotions and are content to go about their daily lives. A few do this, but are also haunted by a need to share what they have learned with others. Those who are called will demonstrate an interest and aptness in sharing the truth. Jeremiah testified, “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).
You may receive a confirmation from specific individuals.
Sometimes a mature believer will ask a young person, “Have you ever considered that God may be calling you to preach?” If someone asks you a question similar to this one, and you have experienced other indications of a calling, do not take it lightly. He probably observes unusual qualities in you which qualify you for ministry, or may have been prompted by the Holy Spirit to ask you.
You should expect a sense of inadequacy for the task, which causes you to doubt or push away your inclinations to be a preacher.
When writing about preaching the gospel in Troas and Macedonia, Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:16-17). Men who are commissioned by God are men who recognize their insufficiency, and go on to preach Christ “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). Initially, this sense of insufficiency will likely cause you to doubt the idea of ever being a preacher. If you do not have any sense of insufficiency, do not enter the ministry, because you will almost certainly rely on “excellency of speech or of wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1), which has no spiritual effect.
You should not be able to silence the call and continue to walk with God.
While God does appoint some men through a definitive, instantaneous call, most acknowledge the divine calling as a result of a strong, persistent sense of responsibility. Lloyd-Jones says, “You are certain of the call when you are unable to keep it back and to resist it.” In George Straub’s testimony, he explains that no matter how he tried to convince himself otherwise, he repeatedly received an internal witness; there was no mistaking God’s voice. If you once felt a strong impression, but are now very uncertain that God has called you, do not rush into ministry or ministry training. Walk in the light, and if you are truly called, God will give you an unshakeable burden.
You should expect doors to open.
If God is calling you to preach, He will provide an opportunity for you to be mentored or professionally trained, and He will lead you to the pulpit or evangelistic field in which you are supposed to preach. If every step you take towards being a preacher feels like a door which you must knock down, it is a possible indicator that God is not at work.
You should expect to be recognized by the church.
While it is God who calls, He has ordained that the body of Christ have an active role in examination and confirmation. God vindicates and commissions His workers through the church, mediated by the Spirit. When considering your call, it is wise to seek as much godly counsel as you can. Ask the most spiritual, candid men that you know, “Do I seem like the kind of person that might have a call to preach?” Most people think, “Who am I to say someone isn’t called?” and are prone to overlook glaring issues in ministerial candidates, so it is important to humbly insist on their honest opinion. If other preachers have serious questions about your calling, you should be hesitant to override their concerns. Once you make known that you think you are called, you should expect the church to examine your character and competency.
Perhaps the question of the call is still foggy in your mind. Lloyd-Jones explains, “This whole question of the call is not an easy matter; and all ministers have struggled with it because it is so vitally important for us.” Retire to the place of prayer, and trust God to reveal His good and loving will in His wise and perfect timing. If you are truly called, God will assure you in the way that is best for your unique personality.
Andersen, Jonathan. “John Wesley’s 12 Rules for Preachers.” Seedbed.
Hedger, Joshua. “Am I Called: Spurgeon’s Four-Point Test of Pastoral Calling.” Plant Midwest.
Mohler Jr., R. Albert. “Are you called?” SBTS.
Lloyd-Jones, Martin. Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).