People have always asked me if I’ve ever felt called to be a Preacher. Somewhere around high school I came up with my answer. I said, I feel called to preach but I don’t feel called to be a Preacher. All the Preachers I’d known in my life, until recently, seemed like they carried a parallel role close to that of a CEO of a company as well as being a pastor. I’ve never felt called to something like that. Maybe it’s a confidence thing, or skepticism of the current evangelical, pastoral format as a whole. What I feel more called to is teaching and equipping Christians to understand their faith. I love discipleship more than pastoral leadership. Maybe there’s really no difference. I don’t want to rule out preaching. I could see myself giving a sermon in front of a congregation from time to time. But being THE PASTOR of a church, I’m not so sure.
The call to ministry has grown since I started working in the corporate world. I got married in the Spring before my senior year of college. By that next February we were expecting a baby. I was a still a semester away from graduating and working at a comic book store at the time. I started applying to jobs like crazy, just hoping to find something with health insurance. I got a job with UPS as a sales rep. I liked it but if I wanted to make it a career I’d have to commit to moving somewhere new every 6 years or so. I didn’t want to do that. So I applied for a position with Oracle as a Deal Specialist, basically a technical writer/sales deal manager. This is my current job. I’m in the most “comfortable” situation I’ve ever been, job-wise. This position has decent pay (my wife doesn’t have to work), great benefits, 401k/stock options with a multi-billion dollar corporate tech company. So of course, God’s call to full-time ministry has never been stronger.
The more comfortable and, may I say, complacent I get with this job and all the possibilities of future material success (car, house, retirement), the more I see a bulletproof glass wall being built between me and a call to ministry. In the moments I’m honest with myself, I admit that this job doesn’t appeal to my natural skills and passions. A youth pastor I had in high school articulated what counts as a “passion.” He said a passion is something you can lose time with. It’s something you can stay up late into the night talking about and never realize how much sleep you’re missing. A passion energizes you. For me, that’s always been God, apologetics, theology and sharing the Gospel. All this led me to ask my pastor what to do. How can I know this is what I’m “supposed to do?” He pointed me to this book, Am I Called?by Dave Harvey.
Harvey starts by touching on something I’ve dealt with myself. I’ve spoken with several pastors about how they were called and they’ve all seemed so sure that they’ve received a word from God, drawing them into full-time ministry. My cousin, who is a pastor, told me that he read a Christian bookwhen he was at church camp (the same church camp I went to every year) and that, while reading it, he felt God calling him and dedicated his life to full-time ministry. I’ve never had a definable moment like that, so I was encouraged when I read Harvey’s words. “Was the answer found in some knock-you-to-the-ground Damascus Road experience? Hey, I was wide open to seeing the Lord and chatting about my future. In fact, as long as I had his attention I might add other agenda items to the conversation. But that never came for me. In fact, over my twenty-six years of ministry, I’ve discovered it doesn’t come that way for most men.”1God doesn’t always speak to us the way we would expect. I’ve been waiting for God to grab me by the shoulders and shake me and scream in my face, “I’m calling you!” But that’s too easy. I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t have to happen that way for everyone. Mark Driscoll often talks about how he was in the woods one day and he heard God audibly say to him that he was to be a pastor and a leader of men. That’s an incredible way to be called but it’s not the onlyway. More and more, I’m seeing that a call to full-time ministry can simply be a recognition that there is work that needs to be done and you’re the one to do that work. That’s what I’m feeling now. Every day I see work that I have the skills and passions to accomplish. Harvey writes, “this world needs strong churches planted and built for the glory of God.”2I can do that work.
Next, Harvey shows that men can be called out offull-time ministry. It’s something we don’t think about but is very real. I’ve seen it with a couple pastors in my own life. For one reason or another, may it be financial circumstances, health issues, church discipline, sometimes a minister must step down and out of his position. This was important for me to realize because it humanizes the position of pastor. Pastors are peopletoo, in positions of holy calling. Nothing is promised or permanent. “We should all live with our resignation letters on our desks.”3This carries a separate meaning for me. Recently I had a minor “scare” at my job that caused me to be concerned that I might be fired. It turned out to mostly be just me worrying about nothing, but it did force me to consider my current career path. I was afraid of being fired from a job that I hope not to even have in five years or so. It got me thinking, if I don’t see myself at this job in five years, why am I there now?
The biggest obstacle in deciding if I’m being called to full-time ministry has been the way in which I’ve seen the gospel shared in church. I’ve heard watered down, seeker-sensitive proclamations of the gospel. I see pastors performing so dramatically in their preaching, crying and waving their hands. I’ve seen this and I’ve thought, I can never do that. It’s a performance that I just can’t do. So when Harvey writes, “We [pastors] exist because God’s people need men to gather them into local families and preach to them the Word of God in faith and power.”4While reading this, I have to keep in mind that sharing the gospel doesn’t mean crying on a stage. It can mean partaking in the things I find most compelling and fascinating about God and His word. I want to explore the truth of the bible and point people to that truth in an articulate and sincere way. This can be done without the emotional drama. Today, pastors too often sell an emotional, feelings-based gospel moment rather than lasting, practical truth of God and his salvation through Christ. We have too many bible verses scrawled across sunsets and not enough apologetics classes in church. I feel called to change that, to bring the true knowledge of God and the bible down to earth where real people are living and dying. That’s what sharing the gospel means to me.
Growing up in church, I’ve had several youth pastors, some good, some bad. The best example I saw was Kevin Gregory at Celebration Baptist church in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. He was the youth pastor and he actually wanted to be a youth pastor. He had a specific calling to young people and students. Many youth pastors see their job as a stepping stone to becoming a pastor, like they have to pay their dues preaching to snotty kids for a while before becoming a “real” pastor. Kevin didn’t think this way. He wanted to be there and it showed. He also didn’t try to “be cool” or become a wacky, youthanized (yeah, that word works) version of a pastor. He kept it real and the students respected him for it. Harvey recognizes in his book that some pastors see their current position as a way to get somewhere else. “The church is not a career path. It’s a place you go to give your life away. God’s people can’t be mere stepping stones to larger opportunities.”5 Harvey isn’t talking about youth ministry here but it’s still relevant. I don’t want to see pastoral work of any kind as a paying-your-dues position on the way to something better.
Harvey touches on something else that has hindered my confidence in pursuing pastoral ministry. “The man called to ministry is not some kind of super-Christian who lives by a higher code. Nope, he’s just a called man with gifts that enable him to lead God’s people and with a grace that empowers him to be an example.”6 The idea of living in a fishbowl under a magnifying glass on a jumbo-tron is not appealing. It’s not fair but I know it’s what pastors have to live with and I’ve never felt like I could measure up to that, that I just sin too much to be in that kind of spotlight. But here Harvey is saying that’s not true. I’m no bigger sinner than any other Christian. I am still growing and conquering sin but there is grace, not only from God but also from people. I don’t give people, especially brothers and sisters in Christ, enough credit and trust them to have grace and patience with me. God’s grace is empowering.
Along these lines, I remember hearing something in church when I was younger. “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.” I don’t know who said it but Harvey says something similar in his book. “God’s call upon man delivers the grace necessary for the godliness needed.”7 Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (ESV) The ongoing process of sanctification requires God’s grace every day. If I’m being called to full-time ministry, I have to understand that I’m not ready, but God is making me ready.
Harvey quotes Charles Spurgeon as saying, “If you cannot preach, God did not call you to preach.” Again, I’m not sure if I’m specifically being called to be a “preacher,” because I don’t know if I have a gift for preaching, that is speaking in front of large crowds, captivating an audience, keeping a sermon within time constraints. There is a skill to preaching. It’s an art form to be able to craft an oratory experience for a congregation. I’m not sure if I have that. I did act in plays and loved theater in high school where I spoke and performed in front of an audience. But that was a performance. In my experience, it’s easy to hide behind a character and memorized lines on a stage. It’s not me up there, it’s Stanley Kowalski or King Lear. I’m not sure I want to attribute acting skills to preaching. I wouldn’t want to be putting on a performance from the pulpit. Maybe that’s not what it’s like. I don’t know. The only time I’ve ever “preached” was when I spoke at a Wednesday night service at my church in Albuquerque. It was basically an apologetics lecture on C.S. Lewis’ book The Grand Miracle. I was 18. While I was speaking, I was so nervous, I had no idea what time I should’ve finished. I thought I wasn’t going for long enough but I actually went over time by about 15 minutes. It wasn’t a success.
One moment of encouragement in this book is when Harvey writes, “you must read to lead. Reading feeds. It opens our souls to a long line of counselors. Discontent? Sit with Thomas Watson and invite his diagnosis. Empty? Read Edwards and be filled. Maligned? Read Spurgeon’s biography and gain perspective. Perplexed? Let B.B. Warfield unravel complicated things with piercing theological and biblical clarity.”8 This is something I knowI can do. It’s part of the problem, really. I spend too much time soaking up these great books and not enough time producing something from this knowledge. I need to be pouring out as well as filling up. That’s part of why I started this blog. I want to respond and interact with others about these things I’m learning. And there is so much more I need to learn.
The last thing that caught my attention was Harvey’s e-5 tool, he developed “to help measure the capabilities of a man who wants to plant a church.”9E stands for essential. These are the five essential qualities.
- Thegospelfactor: Does the man’s preaching move people toward the gospel?
- TheBiblefactor: Does he have an aptitude for doctrine? Does he exegete Scripture competently?
- Theeagernessfactor: Do people get excited when they hear he’s scheduled to preach?
- Thepeoplefactor: Does he communicate in a way that helps people? Do people say they feel like he understands them and relates the Bible to the issues they’re facing?
- Thecohesivefactor: Are his messages clear and easy to follow?
- Theguestfactor: Are visitors inclined to come back and hear him preach again? Do his sermons make the gospel clear to unbelievers?
I’m not sure why there are six “five essential qualities.” Harvey doesn’t address this mathematical mishap. But they’re good qualities none-the-less.
Of these, I’d probably have most trouble with the guestfactor. I’m not sure if I’m a compelling speaker. Like I mentioned before, I wouldn’t want preaching to be a performance. God’s word will not return void. (Isaiah 55:11). If I ever preach from a pulpit I’d want people to want to come back again. I’d want to be engaging enough. Maybe it’s something that comes with practice.
Am I Called was a great book that helped me put “calling” into context of what exactly it looks like to be in full time ministry. I know preaching as a pastor is not the only thing we can be called to in the ministry of the Gospel. I think I’m struggling so much with this calling because maybe it wont end up look like preaching from a pulpit, but rather teaching, discipling, and evangelizing, intentionally as a ministry of the church. I will keep praying about this calling and read more books like this one.
1.) Harvey, Dave. Am I Called: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (p. 24)
2.) Harvey, Dave. Am I Called: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (p. 28)
3.) Harvey, Dave. Am I Called: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (p. 41)
4.) Harvey, Dave. Am I Called: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (p. 46)
5.) Harvey, Dave. Am I Called: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (p. 59)
6.) Harvey, Dave. Am I Called: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (p. 73)
7.) Harvey, Dave. Am I Called: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (p. 74)
8.) Harvey, Dave. Am I Called: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (p. 122)
9.) Harvey, Dave. Am I Called: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (p.124-125)