This whole question of the call to be a minister of the gospel is not an easy one.
‘Am I called to be a preacher or not?’ How does one know? I suggest that there are certain tests that we can apply to ourselves and to all who are considering going full time into the ministry.
1. Pressure from the Holy Spirit
A call generally starts within one’s own spirit, a kind of inner pressure, a consciousness that your mind is being directed to the whole question of preaching (1 Timothy 3.1). You have not coolly considered it merely as one among a number of options. No, this is something that happens to you.
It is God dealing with you and acting upon you by his Spirit. It is thrust upon you and presented to you constantly.
2. The unsolicited advice of others
What has been happening to you subjectively in the realm of your spirit is confirmed and accentuated objectively by the influence of other mature Christians who speak to you about it.
A young man, who had never thought of preaching before, is approached by an elder or a spiritually-minded member of the church who puts the question to him: ‘Is God perhaps calling you to be a preacher of the gospel?’ The questioner has been observing you for some time and felt led of God to speak to you about it, giving his reasons for doing so. These two things generally go together.
3. A deep concern for the lost
This develops into a concern for others. Contrast this with the old idea of going into the Church as a profession or a career. The true call of God always includes this interest in others and a desire to tell them the way of salvation. This is an essential part of a true call and a means of checking ourselves and our motives.
4. Not seeking status for yourself
It is a fact of Christian experience that listening to a successful and eloquent preacher can attract ambitious and intelligent young men for all the wrong reasons!
They covet his prominence, influence and popularity! This is the danger of wrong and carnal motives. The true motive must always be selfless.
5. Continual constraint of the Spirit
This is surely the most crucial test. Mr Spurgeon said to his ministerial students: ‘If you can do anything else than choose to be a preacher – then do it! If you can possibly stay out of the ministry with all its burdens, conflicts, heartaches and problems – stay out!’
I would agree with that wholeheartedly. I would say that the only man who is called to preach is the man who feels this is the only thing he can and must do: ‘Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!’
You are certain of God’s call when you are unable to keep it back any longer and resist it.
6. A sense of one’s own inadequacy
This is my argument against the idea of lay preaching, something a man can do as some kind of hobby! Instead of feeling weakness, fear and much trembling, too often it is replaced by self confidence – preaching is easy, anyone can do it!
The man who is called by God is one who realises the great and solemn responsibility laid upon him, the enormity of the task, and he shrinks from it!
7 Commendation by local church
But all the points I have already made still need to be checked by the church leaders. In Romans 10.13-15, Paul asks: ‘How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?’
The preacher is a person who is ‘sent’. But how can we be sure that we are truly sent by God and not simply appointing ourselves? This is where the church comes in.
Pastor teachers must meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5-9. The man who believes he is called to be a preacher must have specific abilities and character qualities and these need to be verified and confirmed by the church.
8. Many are not competent
It is a sad fact of Christian experience that, too often, those who apply as candidates and commend themselves have inadequate gifts to be preachers of the gospel. There is frequently a wide disparity between what the person feels about himself and the essential qualities the church is looking for.
A person’s personality, ambition and interest in the work of the church may lead him to believe that it is the Holy Spirit who is calling him to be a preacher.
I have known this to happen many times and one of the most painful tasks that confronts a minister is to discourage men who come to him in this way. On what grounds do we discourage them? What do we look for? He must be a Christian, but there must be something much more, something exceptional. This leads me to my next point.
9. His spiritual qualities
(i) Spirituality. The greatest qualification of all is a high degree of spirituality; he must be a truly godly person.
(ii) Bible knowledge. Secondly, he must be fully assured of the truths of the Bible without reservation or uncertainty.
How can he lead and instruct others if he is weak or unsure of himself? Among other things, his function is to help people with their problems, but if he is full of doubts and problems himself he won’t be able to help anyone!
(iii) A well-balanced character. A preacher must be a godly man. Not only that, he needs to have wisdom, patience and forbearance (Titus 1.6-8). A man may be a good Christian and many other things as well, but if he is lacking in these qualities he is not fit to be a preacher.
(iv) An understanding of people. A naïve person, or someone easily deceived by charlatans is likewise unfit to be a leader of God’s people. Our Lord warned his disciples to, ‘beware of men’, and to watch out for ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. In his ministry the preacher will come across all manner of men who attempt to deceive and defraud, so he must know how to deal with such people and not be naïve.
10. His natural abilities
(i) Mental ability. In order to prepare for the ministry, the candidate will have to undertake a lot of study and be able to write up what he has learned. All this presupposes a degree of intellectual ability without which a person should not consider he has a genuine call to be a minister of God’s Word.
(ii) The gift of speech. What is a preacher? Someone who is able to speak fluently in a public manner, someone who has the facility to communicate his thoughts and feelings to others through the medium of speech.
There is a difference here between a lecturer and a preacher. The job of a lecturer is simply to impart information to others, his feelings are not involved, the response of those who listen to him is of no concern to him, providing he is able to be clearly understood.
The job of the preacher, however, is higher than this. He does provide information but he is wanting to do more than this – to get a response from his hearers! He wants to bring the Bible alive to them, to motivate them to action, to enthuse them for their faith! So the test here is to find a man with both the ability and the desire to preach the gospel, but to do so in a manner that is not dead and lifeless, but inspirational.
These then are the ways in which the church tests a man who says he has received God’s call. My contention is that God works through the man himself and through the voice of the church. It is the same Spirit operating in both and, when there is agreement and consensus of opinion, you are right in assuming that it is a call from God.
This article is Roger Weil’s summary of pages 103-114, ‘The Call’, in the chapter on ‘The Preacher’ in the book Preaching and Preachers by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Roger was converted under the ministry of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and remained at Westminster Chapel for 16 years and heard him speak on the subject of the call many times.
Click here to listen to the audio sermons of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones.