Discerning a calling

Okay, there are all sorts of problems with the title to this article, and hopefully you’ve spotted them already.

1.       Every believer is in full time ministry because the whole of our lives belong to God and everything we do is for his glory.

2.       The idea of a “calling” is something that means all sorts to people.  Some people wait for ever for some mystical “call” to a role when in fact they clearly have the gifts, maturity and passion to do something. They already know it and others around them have recognised it. At the other end of the spectrum, what happens when someone fervently believes that they have been called to do something and yet the gifts, maturity and recognition of other isn’t anywhere to be seen.

Having said that, we tend to use phrases like “call to full time Christian ministry” as shorthand.  The real question here is “How does someone know if they should consider a role in a church (e.g. pastor) or cross cultural mission where they are likely to be dependent on the financial support of the local church and/or other believers.

Here are some initial comments.  In fact, these are relevant to all types of context -not just for when someone is considering being a missionary or a pastor but for people considering how they can use their gifts through preaching, Sunday Club work, music ministry etc. 

1.       Discernment should be corporate.  This is not simply about an individual’s personal desires or passion.  In Acts, when Paul and Barnabas set off on their missionary journeys, the church recognises that they are set apart for Gospel ministry by the Holy Spirit. This means that your first starting point should be the elders/leaders of your local church.  My personal view is that it is also helpful to get discernment from wider than the local church. This does not mean that the person goes around asking others until they get the answer they want. It does mean that local church leaders might find it helpful to get the person to talk to one or two other trusted local church leaders or cross cultural missionaries.

2.       Discernment should be patient. You can’t rush it. For me personally it took a number of years to check, clarify and listen. This does not mean that we should set a fixed time limit on the process but it does mean that we need to carve out space to listen and pray.  It also means that we shouldn’t try and ask/answer all the questions at once.

3.       Discernment should be humble. This means that both the person and the church leaders they are talking with should remember that they are humble and fallible. We should be ready to listen to the challenge and correction of others. There’s the possibility that we might have got things wrong.  From the leadership side, I think this means we should be careful about our answers. We should be wary about being over prescriptive. Sometimes we want to tell someone exactly how we see their future mapping out. I also am careful when I don’t think that a particular path is right for a person to say “not at this time” rather than “no -never” unless there are clear reasons why the person should not be going into this type of work ever.  I also want to know how the person will react if we say “no” or “wait.”  Are they willing to hear that? 

4.       Discernment should be both subjective objective.  There will be an element of gut instinct and subjective. Sometimes something feels good. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem quite right but you can’t put a finger on why. There needs to be an objective element too. For this, I’m primarily looking for prior evidence of fruitfulness and faithfulness in Gospel work within their present context. 


It’s always encouraging when someone asks “How can I serve God more?” So even when the answer is “not yet” then we still want to encourage someone and take delight in what is happening.