Calling: Vocational Choice or Divine Call?

Has the “call” been taken from the ministry lexicon? It’s not something I hear many talk about too often anymore as the driving force behind entering or staying in ministry. Can this de-emphasis on the ascertaining of God’s calling perhaps be part of the explanation for the high attrition rate? I think this is an important question and issue to address if we want to do something about what I consider to be a crisis in pastoral leadership.

In a previous post, I referred to a blog post that shared some “sobering” statistics about pastors and ministry.

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

As I sought to process these sad numbers, I thought back on my time in seminary when I met so many students who were in school to enhance their employability or to meet denominational education requirements, but talked little about being “called” by God to ministry. Is ministry a vocational choice vs. divine calling? What is the difference? I believe Moses’ story provides some great insight in to answering this question.

At age 40 Moses made a vocational choice in deciding that he would lead his people out of Egypt. I think there are several possible motivations feeding his thought process.

  • A love and sense of responsibility for his people. Moses considered the Hebrew slaves as his “brethren” (Ex. 2:1; Acts 7:25).
  • Conversely, perhaps guilt over the disparity between the privilege he experienced and the poverty his people endured (Ex. 2:10; Acts 7:22).
  • An anger over oppression and a passion to right injustice (Ex. 2:11; Acts 7:24).
  • A self confidence in his ability (Ex. 2:12,13).
  • Words from his mother (Ex. 2:9).

When I think back on my own entrance into full-time ministry, I can see elements of each of these motivations in my own experience. These are not bad motivations, but alone, are they enough to justify entering ministry? When you look at the outcome for Moses, apparently, they were not. He failed miserably and left Egypt.

Flash forward 40 years and Moses receives a divine call from God to lead his people out of Egypt. Look at the elements of that call.

  • God breaks into Moses’ life when he is minding his own business, faithfully doing his shepherding job and in no way considering ministry as a vocational option (Ex. 3:1).
  • Events in his life conspire together to sensitize him to the moving of God (3:2).
  • He makes the decision to take some time to explore this stirring (3:3,4).
  • There is an encounter with a Holy God (3:5).
  • God gives Moses a clear call and a God-sized mission (3:7-10).
  • Avoidance, reluctance and rationalization (3:12-4:13). Moses pulled out all the stops in seeking to be released from God’s call on his life. The self-centered, self promoting, self-confident motivations that characterized his initial foray into ministry were conspicuously absent.
  • The evidence from God is so overwhelmingly compelling that it is irresistible (3:18-20).

Again, when I think back on my own entering into full-time ministry, I can clearly see these elements of this process in my own experience as well. It is what has kept me going in prosperity and poverty and, in the words of A. Tate, the “joys and jeers” of ministry.

A few questions come to mind:

  • Do you see elements of Moses’ call in your own?
  • How does your calling impact your ministry?
  • Can you leave or ignore your calling? At what costs?
  • For those of you who have left the ministry, how did you reconcile this choice with your earlier sense of being called?

I ask these questions not in an accusatory or condemnatory spirit, but in a desire to 1) understand the decision-making process and 2) provide instruction for those who are in the process of questioning their own calling.

Scripture to ponder… Hebrews 5:1-4

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3 thoughts on “Calling: Vocational Choice or Divine Call?

  1. Elder Glenn Sterrett

    Pastor J, you have a way of stirring my koolaid and not knowing that it needed to be stirred. So many around us don’t understand a true call of God. Thank you for letting God use you to stir things up and keep the thought process spiritual.

  2. Tony

    Having a divine sense of call is the only thing that gives me staying power the majority of time. Though the grass may seem greener on the other side according to the world’s standards and definition of success, it often crosses my mind that this is merely an optical illusion created by my personal short-sightedness, or the enemies deceptive tactics to cause me to be blind to the truth, or drown out the voice of God. With all of my doubts and personal disturbances in regards to whether I’m walking on the particular road cut out for me, it is the calm assurance from our Sovereign Father that keeps pressing forward where I am, and looking for Him throughout and at the end of the journey.

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