In recent years, I’ve noticed something of a trend among men looking for a call to a pastorate. As I’ve talked with several friends about open pulpits in cities that I would gladly serve in if the Lord called me to a work there, I’ve often gotten the response, “Well, my wife and I really feel like we’re called to such or such a city.” It is obvious why they want to be in such or such a city–as they usually turn out to be the most culturally savvy cities in the U.S. The problem? The individual to whom I am speaking does not have a call to such or such a church in such or such a city. How can someone be “called” to such or such a city when the Lord has evidently not called them to a particular work there? The reason seems obvious enough. We all want to serve where we would be most comfortable serving. When I was in Philadelphia, my heart longed for a call to a church in Philadelphia. The Lord, in His sovereign wisdom and goodness, did not open a door for me to serve there. Instead, He made it abundantly clear that He wanted me to plant a church in Richmond Hill, GA–the furthest cultural setting from the one in which my heart was set on serving. So what are we to do when our heart is set on serving in a particular place, but the Lord clearly has other plans for us. Here are five considerations when seeking a call to ministry:
1. We are not our own. We belong to the Lord. He has purchased us with the precious blood of Christ. He is free to do with us what He wants to do with us. We should embrace the fact that we are not our own. Our prayers take very different shape when this happens. We begin to pray, “Your will be done,” as we recognize more and more that our lives are not our own to control and order as we prefer. We are only and ever bondservants of Jesus Christ.
2. It is not necessarily wrong to have a desire to be in a particular place. One may want to live in a certain city for the wrong reasons (i.e. for worldly comforts, pleasures and entertainment). As fallen creatures, we all have a mixture of this in our desire to live anywhere. Consider Lot (Gen. 13:10). He chose Sodom because it was well-watered like the Garden of the LORD. He chose with his eyes. However, we may also have a sanctified burden for a particular people in a particular place. Consider Paul, who longed to be a missionary to the Jews. While God did not call Paul to this ministry (He called Peter instead), it was a good and right desire to reach his countrymen with the Gospel.
3. We should seek every opportunity until we have a call in hand. When I was looking for a call in 2007, I asked Phil Ryken if it was possible for me to apply to too many churches. His response was so very helpful. He said, “I would pursue every call possible, until I have a call in hand.” That is precisely what I did. I applied to churches from Hawaii to Alaska, from New England to the Southeast. The Lord faithfully and kindly closed every wrong door and opened the one that He desired me to walk through for His name’s sake.
4. We are not called to love the environment of our ministry, we are called to love the people to whom God sends us to minister. This is vital for us to get. Sometimes we mistakenly take the phrase, “Love the City,” as a call to love the culture of a city. Paul’s soul was vexed when he walked through Athens and saw the idols all around him. He didn’t love the city for its culture. He loved the people to whom he was sent wherever he went. We should learn this principle well. It will help us tremendously when the Lord calls us to a city that we don’t particularly like. We will learn to love people and not a culture.
5. We must remember that “here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Heb. 13:14). This is essential to every call that one might receive. It is far too easy to get comfortable in a certain setting. I often wonder if it was not the Lord’s goodness in not calling me to serve in Philadelphia–at least at that time. I admit that I might have become too comfortable in a culture that I absolutely loved. I felt at home in Philly. I lived in Philadelphia as a boy until I was 12. I have the fondest childhood memories of growing up there. Nostalgia sometimes breeds inappropriate desire for something–even if it’s a city. We are pilgrims, headed to a city which has foundations–whose builder and Maker is God (Heb. 11:10). He has prepared this city specifically for us. There is a day coming when all of God’s people will live forever in the best and most desirable for all cities. Until then, it is good for us to remember how the Lord carries us from place to place–like Abraham, who had no permanent place to dwell.