I’m very glad to hear that your friend said she could totally see you as a pastor. That is something very important in discerning whether you are called to ordained ministry.
In my tradition we call that the “external call.” When other people affirm that ministry is a good choice it is the second half of what you need.
The first half is the “internal call.” That’s the sense in your gut that this is what you should do, or want to do, or need to do.
The external call can make all the difference.
Take the case of John Calvin, the great Reformation leader and theologian. For Calvin, the external call to ministry was so loud that it overcame a complete lack of interest.
Calvin didn’t want to be a pastor. He was reserved and bookish. Bad health made him kind of crabby. He had studied law, but in the process he fell in love with the Renaissance. He wanted a quiet life as a literary scholar.
Along the way he had also found new life and hope in the kind of faith Luther and Zwingli were teaching. Protestants in his native France were struggling. He put his literary talents to work to help them.
In 1536 he wrote a little book explaining the basics of Christian teaching: he called it Institutes of the Christian Religion.
It was good. Word got out.
Travels took Calvin through newly Protestant Geneva. William Farel, the leader of the reform, found out that the young author of the Institutes was in town.
Here’s how Calvin described the encounter:
Farel, who burned with an extraordinary zeal to advance the gospel, immediately strained every nerve to detain me. And after having learned that my heart was set upon devoting myself to private studies for which I wished to keep myself free from other pursuits, and finding that he gained nothing by entreaties, he proceeded to utter an imprecation that God would curse my retirement, and the tranquillity of the studies which I sought, if I should withdraw and refuse to give assistance, when the necessity was so urgent. By this imprecation I was so stricken with terror, that I desisted from the journey which I had undertaken;
That is pretty extreme. No internal call. Just a lot of pressure from outside.
Your situation is very different.
Nobody is threatening God’s curse on you if you won’t become a pastor.
Still, the idea of an external call can really help your discernment. Ask a few people directly:
Can you see me as a pastor?
Then, whatever they say, try to find out what is behind their answer. What particular qualities do they see in you? Why is ministry a fit — or not?
- Start with people who know you well: close friends, relatives, coworkers.
- Then ask people who know about the Church and about ministry: your pastor, non-pastors who are leaders in their congregations, pastors of other churches if you know some.
- And ask people you know are just wise or savvy: talking it over with a vocational counselor wouldn’t hurt.
For you to keep moving down this path, the Church itself will have to add its voice to the external call: you’ll need your congregation’s endorsement, and you’ll come under the guidance and care of the Church’s regional body.
And you won’t be ordained unless some congregation eventually invites you to be their pastor. That’s the external call too.
Of course in some branches of the Church the internal call is pretty much all that is needed. The Spirit gives someone the nudge and off they go to serve.
Personally I think there are more dangers than benefits in relying on the internal call alone. But I’ll save that for another time.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments: How do you see the “external call” in action? How important is it?
To go to the first post in this series, click here. To go to the next, click here.
To get the future posts (and a free copy of my book Love Your Bible: Finding Your Way to the Presence of God with a 12th Century Monk) click here.
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