In the first of a two part series, Mark O’Donoghue (Chairman of 9:38 & Minister of Christ Church Kensington) gives some thought to the question, “Gospel Ministry: Is it right for me?” Next time, he’ll consider, “Gospel Ministry: Am I right for it?“
Two questions I am often asked, both as Chairman of 9:38 and as a pastor of a local church are: “How do I know God is calling me into full-time paid gospel ministry?” “How do I know when to take the plunge?”
And it wouldn’t surprise me if the reason you’re reading this post is because you’re desperately seeking an answer. Without being flippant, I usually make two brief comments by way of introduction:
- You can know and it is easy because we are all called. However, although ‘calling’ is an important New Testament idea, it is not used the way we often use it today. God calls Christians (1 Thess 5:24; Jude 1:1; 1 Cor 1:24, 26) and does so by the gospel (2 Thess 2:14). In other words, God’s call in the NT is less an inner subjective feeling and more the objective sound of the gospel.
- You don’t know and you can’t know, at least with the degree of certainty for which we often long. In his kindness, God gives us wisdom and freedom to make godly decisions and if I want to be told what to do by a giant finger poking out of the sky saying: ‘It could be you!’ then it probably only means that I need to grow up!
A great starting point would be to read and reflect on a passage like Ephesians 4:7-16. In it, the Apostle Paul gives us a glorious reminder of how the risen Christ richly gives gifts to all his people and Paul urges us to use those gifts for the building up of Christ’s body, the church. Therefore, much better questions to ask are:
- What gifts do I have?
- How can I best use the gifts God has given me to advance his gospel and serve his people?
Our problem is that we don’t get prior notification of our gifts. Unlike receiving our PIN from the bank, there is no letter from heaven explaining that, in 7 days time, we will receive the gift of being a pastor-teacher or an evangelist. Instead, as we use our gifts and serve, so our gifts can be identified and nurtured. Jesus’ gifts are discerned by his church as they’re used by his servants.
Therefore, take every opportunity to lead a Bible study or help on a summer camp or serve in Sunday school and ask a mature Christian friend, or better, a church leader, to watch you and give you some constructive feedback. Although we live in an instant culture, we need to recognise that the way into word ministry takes time and testing (see 1 Tim 3.10; 5.22).
Wonderfully, today there are many excellent avenues to dip our toe in the water and explore ministry – full-time and part-time preaching courses, such as the Cornhill Training Course in Belfast, Glasgow and London and local church ministry training schemes all over the UK (click for some current opportunities). They enable men and women to take a year or two out of work, or after University, to be trained in handling God’s word while serving and being watched and mentored.
Keen to think some more? Why not come along to a 9:38 conference near you – for students and workers – a day dedicated to considering gospel ministry with talks from the Bible, interviews and opportunities to ask questions. You can find out the dates here. Prefer to read something more? We recently published a short booklet by Peter Jensen called “Taking the Plunge”. We’d love to send you a free copy. Just drop us an email.