Distinguishing Marks of a Call to Gospel Ministry

steve_lawsonSteve Lawson: Original source: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/6-distinguishing-marks-call-gospel-ministry/

If there is anything else a man can do other than preach, he ought to do it. The pulpit is no place for him. The ministry is not merely something an individual can do, but what he must do. To enter the pulpit, that necessity must be laid upon him. A God-called man, he believed, would rather die than live without preaching. Lloyd-Jones often quoted the famed British pastor Charles H. Spurgeon: “If you can do anything else do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.” In other words, only those who believe they are chosen by God for the pulpit should proceed in undertaking this sacred task.

“Preachers are born, not made,” Lloyd-Jones asserted. “This is an absolute. You will never teach a man to be a preacher if he is not already one.” It was clearly the case in the life of Lloyd-Jones. He realized he was not joining a volunteer army.

What constitutes this call to preach? Lloyd-Jones identified six distinguishing marks of this divine summons to the pulpit. He himself had felt the gravity of each of these realities weighing heavily upon his own soul. He believed the same spiritual forces should come to bear on all preachers.

First, Lloyd-Jones affirmed there must be an inner compulsion within the one called to preach the Word. He stated there must be “a consciousness within one’s own spirit, an awareness of a kind of pressure being brought to bear upon one’s spirit.” He identified this as an irresistible impulse, as “some disturbance in the realm of the spirit” that “your mind is directed to the whole question of preaching.” This inner coercion becomes “the most dominant force in their lives.” Lloyd-Jones explained, “This is something that happens to you, and God acting upon you by His Spirit, it is something you become aware of rather than what you do.” In other words, the drive to preach becomes a burden upon the heart that must be fulfilled. It is a holy preoccupation within the soul that causes the one called to step out in faith and embrace the work.

This divine calling, Lloyd-Jones believed, grips the soul and governs the spirit. It becomes an overwhelming obsession that cannot be discarded. It will not go away nor leave a man to himself. He explained that there becomes no way of escape. Such a strong force lays hold of the man that he is held captive. Lloyd-Jones recognizes this when he states:

You do your utmost to push back and to rid yourself of this disturbance in your spirit which comes in these various ways. But you reach the point when you cannot do so any longer. It almost becomes an obsession, and so overwhelming that in the end you say, “I can do nothing else, I cannot resist any longer.”

Second, Lloyd-Jones emphasized there will be an outside influence that will come to the one called. The input and counsel of other believers becomes influential to the one destined for the ministry. It may be the feedback of a pastor or the affirmation of an elder. It could be the encouragement of another believer. When they hear this person speak the Word, perhaps in a class or Bible study, they are often the best discerners of the man who is called into the ministry. In other words, observant people often recognize the hand of God upon that person before he senses it. Those who best know God and most love His Word often can detect who is being set apart for this work. They give insightful affirmation to the individual being called.

Third, Lloyd-Jones asserted the one called will experience a loving concern for others. God gives to the one chosen to preach an overwhelming compassion for the people. As part of this divine choice, the Holy Spirit imparts a consuming desire for the spiritual welfare of others. Lloyd-Jones wrote: “The true call always includes a concern about others, an interest in them, a realization of their lost estate and condition, and a desire to do something about them, and to tell them the message and point them to the way of salvation.” This love for others includes the distinct realization that countless people are perishing without Christ. What is more, there is a concern that many of these lost souls are in the church. The one called to preach feels compelled to awaken them to their need for Christ. He is constrained to reach them with the saving message of the gospel.

In Lloyd-Jones’ life, he experienced this growing concern for others. He said, “I used to be struck almost dumb sometimes in London at night when I stood watching the cars passing, taking people to the theatres and other places with all their talk and excitement, as I suddenly realized that what all this meant was that these people were looking for peace, peace from themselves.” His growing concern was now not for their physical health, but for their spiritual welfare.

Fourth, Lloyd-Jones affirmed there is an overwhelming constraint within the one called to do this work. He maintained there will be “a sense of constraint,” meaning he feels hemmed in to do this work. It is as though God will not let him be released from his duty to preach. There is nothing else he can do but pursue this inner drive to preach. Necessity is laid upon him, and he must preach regardless of what others may say. He must minister the Word, no matter what obstacles must be overcome.

Fifth, Lloyd-Jones believed the man who is called to preach comes under a sobering humility. He believed that this person is overwhelmed with a deep sense of his own personal unworthiness for such a high and holy task and is often hesitant to move forward to preach for fear of his own inadequacies. Lloyd-Jones writes, “The man who is called by God is a man who realizes what he is called to do, and he so realizes the awfulness of the task that he shrinks from it.” Though he is compelled to preach, he is at the same time fearful of doing so. He is sobered by this weighty assignment to speak on behalf of God. He trembles at this stewardship entrusted to him and the accountability that comes with it.

Sixth, Lloyd-Jones added that a corporate confirmation must come to the one called to preach. The man who is chosen by God to preach, he argued, must be observed and tested by others in the church. Only then may he be sent from the church. Lloyd-Jones reasoned from Romans 10:13–15 that preachers are “sent,” which he understands to mean a formal commissioning by a sending church. The leaders of the church must examine the qualifications of the one set apart to preach and affirm the validity of this call. Hands must be laid upon him in recognition of what God is doing in his life.

According to Lloyd-Jones, these are the distinguishing marks of a call to gospel ministry. To one extent or another, each of these six realities must be present in the life of one who has been set apart by God to preach. Each of these factors is necessary in order to ascertain one’s call to preach. Lloyd-Jones had experienced each one of these in his life. Further, he encouraged others to discern the presence of these hallmarks in their lives.

This excerpt is taken from The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Steven Lawson.

How do I discern a call to the ministry?

sp068C. H. Spurgeon from “Lectures to My Students” (Zondervan) p. 29-31:

The first sign of the heavenly call is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work. In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling to others what God has done to our own souls; what if I call it a kind of otopyn, such as birds have for rearing their young when the season is come; when the mother-bird would sooner die than leave her nest?

It was said of Alleine by one who knew him intimately, that “he was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls.” When he might have had a fellowship at his university, he preferred a chaplaincy, because he was “inspired with an impatience to be occupied in direct ministerial work.” “Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,” was the deeply sage advice of a divine to one who sought his judgment.

If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fulness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants. If on the other hand, you can say that for all the wealth of both the Indies you could not and dare not espouse any other calling so as to be put aside from preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, depend upon it, if other things be equally satisfactory, you have the signs of this apostleship. We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it, shall be unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister.

I speak of self-denials, and well I may; for the true pastor’s work is full of them, and without a love to his calling he will soon succumb, and either leave the drudgery, or move on in discontent, burdened with a monotony as tiresome as that of a blind horse in a mill.

“There is a comfort in the strength of love;
’Twill make a thing endurable which else
Would break the heart.”

Girt with that love, you will be undaunted; divested of that more than magic-belt of irresistible vocation, you will pine away in wretchedness.

This desire must be a thoughtful one. It should not be a sudden impulse unattended by anxious consideration. It should be the outgrowth of our heart in its best moments, the object of our reverent aspirations, the subject of our most fervent prayers. It must continue with us when tempting offers of wealth and comfort come into conflict with it, and remain as a calm, clear-headed resolve after everything has been estimated at its right figure, and the cost thoroughly counted.

When living as a child at my grandfather’s in the country, I saw a company of huntsmen in their red coats riding through his fields after a fox. I was delighted! My little heart was excited; I was ready to follow the hounds over hedge and ditch. I have always felt a natural taste for that sort of business, and, as a child, when asked what I would be, I usually said I was going to be a huntsman. A fine profession, truly!

Many young men have the same idea of being parsons as I had of being a huntsman—a mere childish notion that they would like the coat and the horn-blowing; the honour, the respect, the ease; and they are probably even fools enough to think, the riches of the ministry. (Ignorant beings they must be if they look for wealth in connection with the Baptist ministry.) The fascination of the preacher’s office is very great to weak minds, and hence I earnestly caution all young men not to mistake whim for inspiration, and a childish preference for a call of the Holy Spirit.

Mark well, that the desire I have spoken of must be thoroughly disinterested. If a man can detect, after the most earnest self-examination, any other motive than the glory of God and the good of souls in his seeking the bishopric, he had better turn aside from it at once; for the Lord will abhor the bringing of buyers and sellers into his temple: the introduction of anything mercenary, even in the smallest degree, will be like the fly in the pot of ointment, and will spoil it all.

This desire should be one which continues with us, a passion which bears the test of trial, a longing from which it is quite impossible for us to escape, though we may have tried to do so; a desire, in fact, which grows more intense by the lapse of years, until it becomes a yearning, a pining, a famishing to proclaim the Word.

This intense desire is so noble and beautiful a thing, that whenever I perceive it glowing in any young man’s bosom, I am always slow to discourage him, even though I may have my doubts as to his abilities. It may be needful, for reasons to be given you further on, to repress the flame, but it should always be reluctantly and wisely done. I have such a profound respect for this “fire in the bones,” that if I did not feel it myself, I must leave the ministry at once. If you do not feel the consecrated glow, I beseech you return to your homes and serve God in your proper spheres; but if assuredly the coals of juniper blaze within, do not stifle them, unless, indeed, other considerations of great moment should prove to you that the desire is not a fire of heavenly origin.

The Word and the Church

money, and activities. But are they really churches, or have they degenerated into peculiar clubs?

What has gone wrong? At the heart of the mess is a simple phenomenon: the churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services. Their sermons and studies usually do not examine the Bible to see what it thinks is important for the people of God. Increasingly they treat the Bible as tidbits of poetic inspiration, of pop psychology, and of self-help advice. Congregations where the Bible is ignored or abused are in the gravest peril. Churches that depart from the Word will soon find that God has departed from them.

What solution does the Bible teach for this sad situation? The short but profound answer is given by Paul in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” We need the Word to dwell in us richly so that we will know the truths that God thinks are most important and so that we will know His purposes and priorities. We need to be concerned less about “felt-needs” and more about the real needs of lost sinners as taught in the Bible.

Paul not only calls us here to have the Word dwell in us richly, but shows us what that rich experience of the Word looks like. He shows us that in three points. (Paul was a preacher, after all.)

First, he calls us to be educated by the Word, which will lead us on to ever-richer wisdom by “teaching and admonishing one another.” Paul is reminding us that the Word must be taught and applied to us as a part of it dwelling richly in us. The church must encourage and facilitate such teaching whether in preaching, Bible studies, reading, or conversations. We must be growing in the Word.

It is not just information, however, that we are to be gathering from the Word. We must be growing in a knowledge of the will of God for us: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9). Knowing the will of God will make us wise and in that wisdom we will be renewed in the image of our Creator, an image so damaged by sin: “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (3:10).

This wisdom will also reorder our priorities and purposes, from that which is worldly to that which is heavenly: “The hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel” (1:5). When that Word dwells in us richly we can be confident that we know the full will of God: “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known” (1:25). From the Bible we know all that we need for salvation and godliness.

Second, Paul calls us to expressing the Word from ever-renewed hearts in our “singing.” Interestingly, Paul connects the Word dwelling in us richly with singing. He reminds us that singing is an invaluable means of placing the truth of God deep in our minds and hearts. I have known of elderly Christians far gone with Alzheimer’s disease who can still sing songs of praise to God. Singing also helps connect truth to our emotions. It helps us experience the encouragement and assurance of our faith: “That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:2–3).

The importance of singing, of course, makes the content of our songs vital. If we sing shallow, repetitive songs, we will not be hiding much of the Word in our hearts. But if we sing the Word itself in its fullness and richness, we will be making ourselves rich indeed. We need to remember that God has given us a book of songs, the Psalter, to help us in our singing.

Third, Paul calls us to remember the effect of the Word to make us a people with ever-ready “thanksgiving.” Three times in Colossians 3:15–17 Paul calls us to thankfulness. When the “word of Christ” dwells in us richly, we will be led on to lives of gratitude. As we learn and contemplate all that God has done for us in creation, providence, and redemption, we will be filled with thanksgiving. As we recall His promises of forgiveness, renewal, preservation, and glory, we will live as a truly thankful people.

We need the word of Christ to dwell in us richly today more than ever. Then churches may escape being a mess and become the radiant body of Christ as God intended.

The Bible and Christian Ministry

From Westminster Theological Seminary, here is a talk by Kevin DeYoung on the subject, “Carried Along by the Holy Spirit: The Inspiration of Scripture as an Inspiration for your Ministry.”

Carried Along by the Holy Spirit: The Inspiration of Scripture as an Inspiration for your Ministry from Westminster Theological Seminary on Vimeo.

You ARE in the ministry!

Steve Camp writes: Ministry isn’t something you join, it’s someone you are. If you know the Lord you ARE in ministry – 24/7, 365. This isn’t for a few paid professionals, but for the entire body of Christ. (Eph 4:16, 1 Peter 4:10-11). Here are 12 ways you can serve, pray, and honor the Lord this week in using your spiritual gifts for Him in serving others. LETS GO!

Every Christian Is In Full-time Ministry

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

The following represents some key pillars of what should define ministry for any true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. I certainly haven’t arrived at these things in my own life and ministry. But they are there as key signposts to remind us all of what is important vs. what is urgent. May they be an encouragement to you and be used by God to strengthen you as you serve Him in the sphere of influence He has sovereignly placed you today.
Take Heaven By Storm,
Steve

12 Essentials of Christian Ministry for All Believers in Jesus Christ

pray fervently:

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, -Eph. 6:18

study carefully:

Now these Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. -Acts 17:11

embrace fidelity:

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. -1 Thess. 2:13

contend earnestly:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. -Jude 3

live missionally:

and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, -Romans 15:20

serve sacrificially:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. -Phil. 2:1-4

teach faithfully:

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. -Titus 2:1-8

love unconditionally:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. -1 Cor. 13:4-8a

walk obediently:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. -Titus 3:1-2

repent daily:

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” -Luke 17:3-4

worship continually:

Through Him [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. -Hebrews 13:15

and watch expectantly:

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. -2 Tim. 4:8

A Message for Discouraged Ministers

Dr. Ligon Duncan writes about this message by Dr. John Piper:

Discouraged ministers and Christians, here is a sermon you need to hear. “The Sadness and Beauty of Paul’s Final Words” by John Piper, preached at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Piper gives seven riveting, biblical, pastorally comforting and encouraging truths about Christian ministry. And if you have ever been let down or betrayed by Christians, and have been tempted to leave Christ because you’ve been left or bruised or abused by Christians — Christians in your congregation, even close Christian friends — then Piper has some words that may just give you the hope you need.”