Several weeks ago I received an email from a fellow Kids Ministry leader. He asked, "Can you help me as far as my calling? How did you know you were called? How can I affirm my calling?" Such great questions - and I have to admit, I was a little intimidated. I wanted so hard to give the "right" answers to his questions - so I kept thinking and thinking (and putting off writing about it).
I finally realized that there really isn't a "right" answer. However, I can share from my experience and the experiences of others to share with you some key factors that are definitely in the equation. Here goes:
1) The Desires Of Your Heart
From the time I became a Christian on February 26, 1989 I began sensing in my heart that God wanted me to become a full-time pastor one day. Every time I prayed I sensed this. However, I continued to talk myself out of it. I told myself, "God hasn't called you. You just WANT to become a pastor because you love God and you love your own pastor. This is all in your head. This isn't God." Somehow, I had convinced myself that God wouldn't call me to do something that I WANTED to do. I believed that God only calls people to do things that they would never want to do (like go to Africa). That was the true test of obedience, right? Wrong!
"Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires." - Psalm 37:4
If you focus your heart and your attention on God, seeking His will, He will form and mold your heart's desires into conformity to His will. The reason I wanted to become a pastor was because I was seeking God with all my heart, and He was leading me in that direction. Still, I struggled as to whether this "was just me" or if this was God.
2) The "Call" Of God
After two years of struggling with whether or not I was supposed to pursue the path to become a full-time pastor, I went to Youth Camp with the expressed purpose of gaining clarity on this issue. I told God, "Every other year, I came to Youth Camp for the girls and the fun. This year, I just want to hear from You. I need to hear from You. I need to know whether or not this is your will for me to be a pastor." I prayed all week and never really felt a peace about the situation.
Finally, on the final night of Camp I knelt at the altar and said, "God, I am not leaving until I hear from You." And, I didn't. It got to the point that EVERY person had left the Sanctuary and gone outside for the festivities, but I was still praying. Finally, after nearly an hour and a half of prayer - I distinctly heard God's voice. It wasn't audible, but it was clear. God showed me that it was most definitely His desire for me to pursue full-time ministry as a pastor and that He would equip me to do what He was calling me to do." I was so relieved and energized.
God speaks in many different ways. It is rarely audible. He sometimes speaks through gentle whispers in prayer, through His Word, or through circumstances. But, if you feel like you are called to be in ministry full-time, you had better know that you know you have been called by God to do so. Ministry is tough. Often, it is stressful and unrewarding. There will be moments when the only thing that keeps you going is that knowing deep down that God CALLED you to do this.
Don't pursue full-time ministry merely because your parent or mentor wants you to, because it sounds interesting, or simply because you care about people. There is something that must be more powerful and purposeful within you as you are moved by the Spirit to teach the Word of God, to defend the truth, and to shepherd the people of God. Ministry is not a profession, or a job. It is a calling of God.
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." - Ephesians 4:11,12
Understand, ALL Christians (saints) are called to do "the work of the ministry." We are all called to spread the love of God and share the gospel with the dying world around us. But, there is a definite calling that MUST come from God to pursue one of the five roles mentioned in this passage.
My pastor, Rod Loy, often says, "If you can imagine doing anything else, you need to do it.” If you are called, ministry is not AN option, it is THE mandate. Even on the difficult days, when ministry isn’t fun or rewarding, you have a sense of rightness and purpose – doing what you are supposed to. If you find yourself daydreaming on a regular basis about being a finance manager, you should probably be doing that.
3) Affirmation By Spiritual Leaders
Once you feel that you are called by God to pursue full-time ministry, set up a time to talk with your pastor, mentor, spiritual leaders. Ask them their thoughts about you pursuing a life dedicated to full-time ministry. Those who work closest with you will no doubt sense God's hand on your life and can affirm the calling you feel you've received. If your pastor or spiritual leaders do not feel this is a path you should pursue, spend more time in prayer. It very well may be that you are called to minister to children (or youth or adults, etc.), but just not as your life's sole purpose. There are many volunteer (meaning, unpaid) pastors, evangelists, teachers who are just as much called, but they don't necessarily "make a living" from ministry work. The Apostle Paul is a great example:
"...and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them." - Acts 18:3
If you feel called to full-time ministry, then you should be presently serving in ministry in the local church. Ministry flows out of who you are. If you have the heart of a servant, you will begin serving God's church in whatever capacity you are able. Don't wait to go to Bible College, receive a diploma or credentials, and then start ministering. Ministry is not a destination. Ministry is a calling. Flesh that calling out every day in every way. Remember...
"So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor." - 1 Peter 5:6