View Cart

Discerning a Call to Ministry

Truth in Love 140

What guidance does the Bible provide for those discerning whether they are called to ministry?

Feb 5, 2018

Heath Lambert: One problem that many people face as they are considering whether they should follow the Lord into a ministry position is whether the Lord actually would have them do that. And I am excited to host this week on the podcast our guest Dr. Jason Allen who is the president of Midwestern Seminary, and who is the author of the book Discerning Your Call to Ministry. Dr. Allen, we are really glad that you’re with us on the podcast this week to talk about a question that is of crucial relevance to so many people who are pursuing ministry in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a question that I struggled with for years before I finally got sorted out, and I know there are many listening to us this week that are struggling as well, so we’re glad you’re here.

Dr. Jason Allen: Thank you, Heath. It’s a delight to be with you. You’re a good friend. I so appreciate the work you’re doing with ACBC. And, man, what a great topic for us to visit for a few minutes today.

Heath Lambert: Well, so what is a call to ministry? How do we take that term out of the clouds and have it really mean something? What is it?

Dr. Jason Allen: Yeah, and that is the million-dollar question and if I could just be a touch personal here for a few moments. I wrote the book two years ago, came out last year, part, obviously, to shepherd, to explain, to bring along young men and young women who are wrestling with a call to ministry, but also, I wrote a touch autobiographical based upon my own life. I grew up in a large Southern Baptist Church, a conservative church, saw many people called to ministry and always was mystified by that process and to complicate matters all the more as an adolescent, as a teenager, I would see people come back from youth camp, what have you, and go pollute with their call to ministry but it never seemed to really take off. I just did not understand any of that. I become a believer my freshman year in college. So, though I was reared in church, I did not personally give my life to Christ until I was a freshman in college. And then over the next couple of years, especially kind of my junior year in college, I was really wrestling with this call to ministry. And that was the word, ‘wrestling’, not because I was afraid or was reluctant to follow God’s call if that was there, but because I didn’t know what the call even meant, what it was. I did not know what one should feel if one was being called to ministry and I had distantly perceived it as really mystical, as really subjective. To me, it was just a big web of confusion. Through steps and through some wise counselors and through just some very kind providence of God, I began to connect dots and understand what was taking place. For me, what was tripping me up most especially was I had this burning desire for ministry.

Heath Lambert: Yeah.

Dr. Jason Allen: And I was even engaging in ministry in my own little lay ways, teaching Sunday school class, doing outreach, preaching in some prisons, but I thought that a desire for ministry, a passion for ministry, may have been prideful or something that shouldn’t be there. And then for me, it was so liberating when I was pointed to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and that first verse, “If any man aspires to the work of overseer, it’s a fine work he desires to do.” That and then shortly thereafter I was given Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students where he talks about the first sign of a call to ministry is this intense, all-absorbing desire. So, for me, man, that was so liberating and then I began to have some local church involvement, began to understand more clearly from the Scriptures what a call to ministry would mean, how my life would be channeled, and it began to clarify itself. I just want to come back and say there are probably some listening to this podcast that have men around them processing call a ministry who are processing call to ministry. And if you’re like me and you were just confused, you were mystified by it all, the Scriptures are indeed liberating when you process them in light of your call.

Heath Lambert: Oh my goodness, okay, so I have never heard you talk about that before but that is very nearly identical to the situation that I went through. And even that very text was just this illuminating text for me as a mentor sat down in his office and opened that up to me and I just thought, ‘Oh, yeah, there it is right there.’ So, that is just so fascinating that the Lord did that in your life and almost the same exact way did it in mine.

When we talk about the desire for ministry as one key element of the call to ministry, what are some things that a guy or a girl should be desiring as they think about ministry? Because we both know there’s plenty of things that you could desire about ministry that are bad. You can have bad things that you want. What are some good desires for ministry?

Dr. Jason Allen: Yeah, so, in my book I unpack this pretty thoroughly and I think in helpful ways. I’m not going to try to repristinate all that here, but let’s just go back to one main desire. And that is a desire and an ability to teach and/or preach the Word. So, as you know, Heath, when one looks at, let’s say, the qualifications of the pastor, 1 Timothy 3, you contrast that list, compare that list, to the qualifications of the deacon. They’re very similar as far as the character expectations and so forth but one gift, one ability, every elder must have, every pastor must have, is this ability to teach. Now, I don’t take that in the most narrow sense that you have to be able to preach to a thousand people, but you have to have a desire and a facility to open God’s Word. Whether it’s to teach it more in a counseling ACBC setting, to teach it more to students in a student ministry, or to preach the Word to the multitudes, you have to have this facility, this ability, and this desire to actually want to get into the text and bring it to bear. I want to just add a footnote here, I think it’s really two-pronged. Some guys really like to preach; they don’t like to study. Other people kind of like to study; they don’t like to preach. It really is both. You need to have a desire to want to know the text, to exegete the text, and then a desire to teach that text and to bring it to bear.

Heath Lambert: Okay, so you struggled through your own call to ministry. Now you preside over a seminary with thousands of people who are struggling through a call to ministry. What are some common misunderstandings that you see that are out there that ought to be corrected about a call to ministry?

Dr. Jason Allen: Yeah, Heath, I think one word that’s been both a sweet word but also at times a confusing word over the years has been the word ‘surrender’—surrendering to ministry. So, for me, to go back to my own story, this was very confusing. I would hear that phrase thrown around, “Surrendering to ministry.” And as a 14, 17-year-old boy, I thought that meant that ministry was something you did not want to do, but God kind of tracked you down, and finally, ultimately, I relent, I surrender, I’ll take on this life I don’t want to do. Now, I don’t think that’s what my pastor meant, and I don’t think that’s what a lot of people of goodwill meant nor do I think that’s a biblical concept. What I understand now they meant, and what I experienced personally, is surrender doesn’t mean I’m undertaking a life I don’t want to undertake it means I’m surrendering my agenda. “God, I’ll go where You call me to go. I’ll do what You call me to do within this context of ministry.” So, I think clarification around that. Again, it’s healthy to desire the ministry, surrendering doesn’t mean a life that I really hate, but I’m going to do it because God won’t let me up. But, surrendering my rights, my ambition, my goals, my future to what God would have me to do.

The other thing I would say here, Heath, just quickly is specifically as relates to Seminary. One of the things that I find on our campus occasionally is young men or women who are studying for some sort of ministry and it’s not crystal clear what that is. And they may feel a little inadequate or a little like they should have this clarity that in 18 months I want to be pastoring, in two years I want to be planting a church, in three years I want to be on the mission field. And I tell our students, “Look, relax. I mean, that’s okay if in your first semester at seminary, you don’t have ultimate clarity as to what this call to ministry will mean.” That’s a part of seminary and a part of being mentored for ministry is your self-awareness grows, you have elders and older wise counselors speak into your life as to what your gifts are and help to refine that calling and so over a period of years, then you get a greater sense of clarity as to specifically the role in ministry God has equipped you for.

Heath Lambert: Good, somebody’s listening to this and it could be that what happened to you when calling started to get clarified in your mind and heart and what happened to me when calling started to get clarified in my mind and heart, and there’s just clarification happening, and that desire is starting to just pierce through a lot of confusion, and they say, “This is something I want to do.” What would you say to that person are some next steps they need to take?

Dr. Jason Allen: Yeah, I would say three things and in this order. The first would be to approach your pastor, or a staff member, an elder in your local church. The call to ministry gets refined and affirmed in the context of the local church. So, go talk to your pastor. This doesn’t mean you’re signing up for ministry. It just means that there’s something going on in your heart and you want his input. So, seek a pastor or staff member or an elder in your church.

Secondly, and I don’t mean this self-servingly, I would encourage you to grab my book Discerning Your Call to Ministry put out by Moody Press, you can get it at any Christian bookstore, any LifeWay has them because it deals with all these practical issues.

The third thing I would say is if this is really beginning to take shape and you believe this is more than a passing interest but based upon your heart assessment and your pastor’s assessment and your personal investigation you believe God may be indeed setting you apart for ministry explore seminary, explore training. I lead Midwestern Seminary. Our website is We’re not the only seminary out there. Praise God there are a number of healthy seminaries, but I have to say there aren’t that many healthy seminaries. So, be intentional about the institution you choose to study at.