Are you facing the possibility of a call to ministry? Or a call to the pastorate? Are you wrestling with God at the depths of your soul? Entering the ministry or the pastorate is not a light thing, and discerning that call and its implications can be a gut wrenching process. It was for me.
When I was wrestling with a call, the Lord laid a process of navigation on my heart—six words. I viewed them in two groups—four then two. Here’s how God used those words to direct my heart in an uncertain season.
Word #1—IF. Small word, BIG implications. Every other aspect of the call was irrelevant before IF was answered. No need to consider when, where, how unless God gave undeniable clarity on IF. In those long nights of wrestling with God, I was saying “no.” I was trying to come up with every possible argument. I was fearful. I was comfortable. I wanted this to be a midlife crisis or a personal issue. It wasn’t.
Fifteen counselors between fifty-five and eighty years of age prayed and counseled me confidentially. Out of fear, I was hoping they would give me an out. They didn’t. They only affirmed and confirmed what I was fairly certain God was saying. In His final position, God didn’t budge. There came a definitive moment when I knew, IF was certain. He was calling me. My only option was to obey in faith.
Word #2—WHERE. Frankly, I wanted to wait on IF until I knew WHERE and WHEN. I told the Lord, “I’ll surrender, once you show me the open door.” He (and all my counselors) said, “That’s not how this works. You surrender to IF, BEFORE you know anything else. You leap first and then net appears.”
There are many ways to approach WHERE. Typically you look for opportunities, send out resumes, etc. But I knew He already knew the place and the time. So, it was about following Him, not finding a place. Plenty of churches need pastors, but only one is God’s will for me—so there’s no need to
“compare” opportunities. “Lord, you show me WHERE—I’m not going to try to figure it out.”
Almost immediately He began to clearly, providentially, and repeatedly point to WHERE. It was far away and there were many unknowns. But all that mattered was “this is God’s WHERE.” “Lord, show me WHERE, and I know you already have all the details sorted out.”
Word #3—WHEN. I asked God for six to twelve months to transition. Within moments, through His Word, He basically said, “You don’t even have four months—buckle up, I’m moving quickly.” That moment, reading His Word, my emotions panicked! I knew, for reason beyond my understanding, God was going to orchestrate a fast transition. God accelerated the time table way out of my control. Looking back, I now know why. He was calling us to a church that immediately needed a pastor—the moment was urgent in many ways. There wasn’t time to have a long, well-planned transition. His answer to WHEN was essentially “RIGHT NOW!”
The speed with which God orchestrated events to bring us to EBC was inconceivable! Our predictable, comfortable family and ministry life was immediately thrown into total disorienting transition. Which brings me to the final word…
Word #4—HOW. This was the word I most feared—it brought great anxiety to the equation. I used it to argue with God—when I was back on IF. I kept trying to figure out WHY and HOW this could even happen. There were circumstances in my life that just roadblocked my brain—they made the potential of God’s call an impossibility. It was impossible for a hundred reasons. And yet, God answered IF, WHERE, and WHEN—so I could only trust Him with HOW.
This is when He absolutely took over. The Lord so beautifully and wonderfully orchestrated a million details and obstacles. He provided in very specific ways. He went before us and made the crooked places straight. It was like watching a complicated movie script unravel itself in full resolution. It was providential poetry in motion—and we were holding on for dear life.
Two years later, we look back on HOW, and we marvel at God’s grace and greatness! He proved Himself in undeniable ways, dozens of times. It was an awesome journey, and no doubt, the most powerful intervention of the hand of God in my life EVER! All the doubts, arguments, and obstacles melted away one at a time with an accuracy and skill that only God’s hand could produce. It was really cool to watch, and even cooler to experience.
So that’s the first four words in critical sequence IF, WHERE, WHEN, HOW—each waiting on the previous. Start with the first and refuse to move on to the second until you have God’s clear answer.
The final two words defined my ministry priorities and focus. I unwittingly tried to reverse them a few times, only to be convicted that I was thinking wrong. These two words continue to direct my heart daily by God’s grace. To me, they are very powerful.
Word #5—WHO. This word represents relationships—Jesus, my wife, my family, our church family, lost souls, and others. This word represents the RELATIONSHIPS that God calls us to cultivate—LIVES that God calls us to love and shepherd. God’s biblical priority in ministry is CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. The Apostle Paul completely gave himself to people with deep affection (See 1 Thess. 2).
There are a lot of things we haven’t done yet at EBC. There are many ways I wish I could grow faster. But one thing we have given ourselves to continually in great measure is cultivating loving, close relationships through God’s Word and gospel ministry. Relationships come first, always.
Word #6—WHAT. I was tempted to put WHAT before WHO. As we develop relationships in a healthy local church environment, WHAT we do together matters. BUT, WHAT we do isn’t as vital as WHO we are in Jesus, and WHO He has called us to LOVE. In other words, COMMUNITY TRUMPS ACTIVITY. Strategy only matters if community is thriving. Here’s another way to say it. My first instinct was to DO church, to DO all the stuff churches DO. This would have hurt people and hurt Jesus’ church. Jesus calls us to put WHO before WHAT. Being precedes doing. Knowing precedes growing. Doing flows from loving—always.
Keep WHO before WHAT. This requires weekly intention. Activity can kill community. Developing new followers of Jesus happens only through community. Busy-ness can make close relationships nearly impossible. Activity without community makes a church a machine. The WHAT is the activity and strategy. But the WHO is the hearts and lives—the souls of God’s precious heritage. How easy it is to forget WHO, or to simply exploit WHO because WHAT is so dominant and driving. Keep WHO before WHAT.
Six simple but powerful words. The first four clarified God’s call. The last two clarify God’s priorities in daily ministry. Maybe these are helpful to you, maybe not.
In a world of growing confusion and complexity—focused simplicity helps me keep my eye on God’s clear call.
God bless you as you seek the clarify His direction and priorities in your life and ministry!