Call to Ministry Series: #3 Defining Call

Call to Ministry Series: #3 Defining Call

February 10, 2012

Let's define "call."  I have been assuming a lot in the the first two installments.  It's not easy to define what is meant by God's call to specific, perhaps vocational, ministry.  Part of the difficulty comes from the ambiguity of the term.  H. Richard Niebuhr suggested that four elements are involved: the call to be a Christian, the secret call (to the work of ministry), the providential call (equipment for the office), and the ecclesiastical call (called by the church) (1956, 64).

Our focus in trying to define the call lies with Niebuhr's "secret call."  The providential and ecclesiastical calls complement the secret call and are essential to our understanding of what God may be saying to you.  In these terms our immediate attention needs to focus on the secret call.  By secret Niebuhr means the mysterious revelation of God to some believers that directs them toward a particular ministry.  Its mysterious nature opens it to questions since we desire to verify the subjective nature of such a claim.  How do we know we are really called to ministry?  A form of gnosticism may result with a few elite, "in-the-know" individuals in leadership roles, precisely the fear of Friesen.

However, Niebuhr provides a starting point for achieving definition of the call.  I believe the call is a mystery because it begins in the mind of God.  We can suppose a scenario that unfolds something like the following.








    • A specific need arises that requires a person to meet it by a specific ministry.
    • God's choice of a person or persons is sovereign and may lack any explanation from him.


I often find God's choices humorous ? that's who you want to call, Lord (and that includes me)?  God then "calls" the person, allowing that person inside knowledge to the perspective of God, at least to some extent.






    • The individual responds in obedience to the revelation of God's mind.


In biblical examples, the form of revelation takes many routes, many which beg for explanation, e.g., how does the person "hear" the voice or "see" the vision and may even involve a group (Acts 6).  But we define these phenomena as the "call" of God.










    • An incurable urgency to do what God asks follows the call.
    • Some sense of power comes along with it, perhaps indicating a transfer of authority from God to the person ("Thus says the Lord," the prophets declared).  The person's life is not the same after the experience with God.
    • A specific serving or speaking ministry takes place (1 Pet 4:11).


Thus a definition of call encompasses a wide scope, involving the viewpoint of God, an experience or experiences with God on the part of an individual or a group, and a resultant action or actions on the part of a person or group in light of the experience(s).  Bruce Waltke defines call this way: "A call is an inner desire given by the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God and confirmed by the community of Christ" (Finding the Will of God.  Gresham, OR: Vision, 1995.  128).  Waltke's definition sounds better in theological terms, but it says the same thing I am saying.