In any discussion regarding the call to the ministry, the question often asked is “How do I know if I’m really called to preach?” It is a good question – and an important one. In addition to being sure of his salvation, the pastor should be sure of his divine commission to the pastorate.
For the sake of brevity, and because Spurgeon can answer the question far more eloquently than I ever could, I am going to give a brief synopsis of a chapter in the timeless book Lectures to My Students. The chapter is entitled “The Call to the Ministry.”
To clear up some confusion, the “call to preach” is probably better named the “call to the ministry” or the “call to the bishopric.” After all, every Christian is called to proclaim the Gospel. As Spurgeon said: “if we have the ability to preach, we are bound to exercise it.”
So, what are the marks of a minister? What is the evidence of a genuine calling to a pulpit ministry?
First, there will be an “intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.” As a preacher once told me, “One way to know you are called to the ministry is that you do not want to do anything else.” In other words, if you can get talked out of the ministry, then you were probably not called of God.
Think about it: if man can talk us out of the ministry, then God did not call us into the ministry; if man has talked us into the ministry, then perhaps God has not called us into the ministry. Spurgeon mentions one divine saying, “Do not enter the ministry if you can help it.”
Regarding this intense desire for the ministry, Spurgeon said that it “must be a thoughtful one. It should not be a sudden impulse unattended by anxious consideration. It should be the outgrowth of our hearts in its best moments…the subject of our most fervent prayers.” Compare that to the irresponsible high-pressure methods of recruiting preacher boys that is so common in many youth conferences.
The second mark of the minister’s calling is an “aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of a public instructor…If a man be called to preach, he will be endowed with the ability, which he will cultivate and increase.” Or, as they say in the south, the man should be able to “shell the corn.” Essentially, the call to preach is not a spooky feeling we must discern, but a spiritual gift we should exercise.
Of course, that is not to say that every genuine preacher boy will be brimming with eloquence in his first sermon. But the seeds of edifying exhortation should be noticeable, and with time they will germinate, grow, and bear fruit.
Thirdly, “he must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts.” The seal of our calling is the conversion of souls under our preaching. The fruitless pastor may feel his ministry mirrors that of Jeremiah’s. But Jeremiah was purposefully sent to a stiff-necked people; our Savior sends us to fields that are white unto harvest. We should expect some measure of harvest.
Fourthly (and here is where some may disagree with Spurgeon), “it is needful as a proof of your vocation that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God…God usually opens doors of utterance to those whom he calls to speak in his name.” Simply stated, if God called you to a pulpit ministry, he will provide you a pulpit.
I conclude with one of my favorite quotes from Spurgeon touching this issue:
“Be fit for your work, and you will never be out of it. Do not run about inviting yourselves to preach here and there; be more concerned about your ability than your opportunity, and more earnest about your walk with God than with either. The sheep will know the God-sent shepherd; the porter of the fold will open to you, and the flock will now your voice.”