Christian Ministry: Call or Career?

by Abhijit Nayak

A look at some of the calls to ministry in the Old and New Testaments show that each of these individuals had an amazing commitment to the commission of God.

We see the call to ministry found throughout the Bible—Exodus 3:1-4, Exodus 17, 1 Samuel 3, Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 1, Ezekiel 1:1-3:15, Matthew 9, Luke 5, and Mark 1-2, to name a few. Each of the individuals called had an amazing commitment to the commission of God.

It is important for us to consider the life of each prophet who spoke forth the message of God. The definition of the word “prophet” is “mouthpiece of God.” Prophets of old simply relayed the message they received to their specific audiences. In order to minister the messages, most went through difficult times, faced great opposition from the people, and stood against kings who were evil in the sight of God. Let’s consider three major points from the call of the prophets in order to better evaluate our own ministries.

1. The call was unique to each person. The call of God to the prophets was different in each circumstance. God called Jeremiah when he was twenty years old; Moses was eighty. Even the personal qualifications and timing were different. Moses was trained in the wisdom of Egypt; Elisha was a farmer. Samuel was called in the middle of the night; Elisha, while plowing. God came to Moses in a burning bush; to Ezekiel in a storm cloud. God’s sovereignty does not limit him to any single mode of action.

Like the prophets in the Old Testament, God calls us individually and in his time. We only need to make sure of his calling and respond. Although the call was different to each prophet, all were certain the call was from God. It is not important how the call comes, but rather whom it comes from and why.

2. The call was initiated by God. In the Old Testament there were three prominent offices—king, priest, and prophet. None of the true prophets personally chose the office of prophet. None considered the work conditions, salary scale, and retirement benefits and concluded that the occupation would be a good profession. In fact, the prophets’ various reactions at the time of their calls indicates that none were even expecting to be called as a “prophet.”

Moses protested that he was slow of speech and tongue (Exod. 4:10), saying in essence, “Here I am, send Aaron.” Isaiah protested that he was a “man of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5), Jeremiah protested, “I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth” (Jer. 1:6), and Ezekiel was so terrified that he fell on his face (Ezek.1:28). From these examples, we draw the conclusion that there is absolutely nothing that can be done to be “called by God.” It is God who calls us for ministry. The call comes from above and within. We cannot decide ourselves. Jesus said, “You did not choose me; but I chose you” (John 15:16). Present-day ministers decide by themselves whether or not to go into ministry. Seeking God’s initiation has become optional rather than compulsory. For prophets, it was God who initiated.

Today, people desire the initiation, recommendation, and approval of leaders known as giants in the ministry. Bible colleges have become rehabilitation centers for students compelled to come by church leaders and parents seeking to help their children overcome bad habits. Instead, let us rely upon God’s initiation for calling men and women into his kingdom work.

3. The call enabled the person to keep going. In the midst of difficult circumstances, the call held the prophet steady, when otherwise he might have been tempted to abandon the task. Moses begged God to bear with his own rebellious people in the desert, even when God became weary of them and wanted to destroy them (Exod. 32:12,32); for Moses, the task of bringing God’s people to the promised land was not yet finished. Jeremiah experienced a plot against his life by the people of his village (Jer. 11:18-23), was thrown into prison several times (Jer. 37:14-16), and was locked in stocks for a night (Jer. 20:2-3; 29:26). However, he kept to his God-given commission. Even when he was forced to go down to Egypt in his old age, Jeremiah’s prophetic voice could still be heard (Jer. 44-45). Amos, who was ordered out of the Northern Kingdom by the priest Amaziah (Amos 7:12), went on to deliver God’s message at the Israelite capital of Samaria.

Today, anyone can jump into ministry without knowing the call from above and within. The ministry has become more career-oriented than call-oriented. As far as scripture is concerned, in ministry there is no retirement. God’s servant has no relief from the ministry; he or she is committed until his or her last breath.

In India, I know very few of God’s people who are in their old age still reaching out to lost souls. We persuade young people to commit their lives to ministry because they do not have any opportunity in the secular field. Therefore, India today is still un-evangelized. For the prophet, the call was the most authentic and unforgettable experience of his life. The call impelled and compelled the prophet to continue his ministry. Are we experiencing this same passion today? If not, perhaps it is time we took a second look at our ministry—is it a call or is it a career?

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Abhijit Nayak worked as a cross-cultural missionary with Operation Mobilization for six years and was on faculty of the Calcutta Bible College for two years. He is from Orissa, India.

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