The roadmap of charting one's potential call to ministry consists of five specific questions. These questions cannot necessarily be answered in isolation. At each point the community of faith must answer and affirm these with us, even if the answer is "no." Here's what the map looks like:
Signpost #1 – Desire – Do I desire and aspire to the work of the ministry?
Signpost #2 – Gifting – Am I properly skilled and gifted for the work of the ministry
Signpost #3 – Affirmation – Am I affirmed for this work by spiritual authority and leadership over me?
Signpost #4 – Opportunity – is there a place and open door for me to do the work of ministry?
Signpost #5 – Compulsion – has the Holy Spirit burdened me beyond anything else for this work of ministry?
In the first installment in this series, I covered the first signpost — Desire. In the second post, I explored Gifting. In the third installment, I discussed the third and fourth signposts — Affirmation and Opportunity. In this final entry in the series, I will cover the fifth signpost — Compulsion.
Compulsion – Walking Forward In Your Calling
It feels heavy to not be doing what you're called to do. Every day you slog through trying to get to the next day, walking in a role and a calling that isn't your own. Maybe this is because you're not gifted well for the role you are in. Maybe it is because your eyes are to the future and you're eager to take hold of whatever it is that you are really called to do. But more often than not, the burden and weight that you feel isn't so much about your current status in life as much as it is the urgency and burden you feel to actually do what it is that you're called to do. If you've even been in a mismatched role or calling, you know what I'm talking about.
This is the fifth, and in some ways, final signpost of discerning your call to ministry. It is the external act of the Holy Spirit upon someone to give them a holy zeal and utter compulsion to do the thing they are called to. A person with this final mark of calling can only do what he has been directed and burdened by Christ to do. If he were to pursue any other path or do any other thing he would feel he had betrayed the created purpose for which God had made him.
Now, you might feel as if I am being redundant here. Didn't we talk already about a man's desire for the ministry in the first signpost? We did. Desire is critical to being in the ministry. But this signpost, though it can be similar to desire, is very distinct in and of itself. This compulsion is the subjective aspect of calling. Mainly it is subjective because the compulsion comes not from within the person, but from without. It comes from God himself. It is God laying aside an individual for himself and tasking that person with the ministry of gospel proclamation, gospel leadership, gospel authority.
Old Testament prophets often caught wind of this calling by an intense and personal view of God coupled by a distinct and clear task set before them (i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea). They saw God in his resplendent glory and perceived the weight of his grace and were tasked to take the Word of the Lord to the nations. The call came to Paul on the Damascus Road where he saw the glory of Christ and was transformed, called and sent to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul himself felt the weight of his calling as he declared, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16).
John MacArthur is known for telling men that if you can do anything else other than be in the ministry, go do it. This isn't a way to redirect leaders away from using their skills and gifts in ministry, but a way to help a man clearly identify the setting apart and calling of God to the ministry. Certainly leaders in the church are gifted and could do a variety of other work and ministry. The question is, "Must they do this work and this work alone for the rest of their lives?" Has God clearly impressed upon your heart and life in some way that the only course of life and action for you is to serve the Lord, even to the final drop of blood and the last breath of your lungs in laboring hard for the advance of the gospel? If not, please do something else. It's saying with Paul, "the love of Christ controls me" (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Why The Last Signpost?
I mark this as the last signpost because the first four must be answered first to make any sense of the subjective nature of this calling. Objective reality speaks before and into subjective feelings. If a man can demonstrate a desire, competency, affirmation and opportunity and then tells me that he "feels" God has laid the burden of ministry on him, I can affirm and believe that. If he tells me first and foremost however that God laid some impression on him apart from and indifferent to the verifiable objective questions of a calling, I can be reasonably skeptical.
That's not to say God couldn't or wouldn't use people without the affirmation and skill-sets for ministry. It is to say that those examples are the exception, not the rule. Let me be honest with you (and myself) — you're probably not the exception. Don't start from the baseline of believing you are the exception.
As we look back on what gives shape and forms a clear calling we begin by assessing desire and in the end find that God places the burden and call on ministry on a man by his grace. The desire starts the process, but it is measured by the competencies, affirmations and opportunities before the man. He must want the work of the ministry. He must be qualified in character for the work of the ministry. He must be skilled to do the work of the ministry. He must be affirmed for the work of the ministry by the church. He must have open opportunity to do the work of the ministry. Finally, he must have the glorious burden of God to do one thing and one thing alone, preach the gospel.
Eric Liddell, the Scottish olympian and missionary to China was once asked why he ran. He told the person inquiring, "“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” This is to be the distinguishing life of a man truly called to the ministry. "God made me for a purpose, to preach his good news. When I preach, I feel his pleasure."