Biblical Evidence for a Call to Ministry Leadership in the New Testament

In our last post on the call we looked to the Old Testamant for examples of different types of calls to ministry. The examples are in no way limited to the Old Testament, the New Testament contains a plethora of call experiences as well. The call of the apostles is covered several places in the gospels. John 1:19ff describes the calling of Andrew and Peter, and then Philip and Nathanael. Matthew 4:18ff, Mark 1:16-20, and Luke 5:1-11 give accounts of the calling of Andrew, Peter, James and John. Mark 2:13–17 shares the encounter and call that Matthew had with Jesus (Also Matt 9:9–13; Luke 5:27–32). The selection of the entire twelve is described in Mark 3:13–19; Luke 6:12–16; and in Matthew 10:1–4. Jesus called all to follow after Him, but there was a specific call on these twelve. In the same way God calls all to follow after Him through Christ, but calls specific individuals to specific tasks.

Other examples of call in the New Testament include the call of Paul on the road to Damascus and later the setting apart of Paul and Barnabas by the church at Antioch. The significance of the Acts 13 passage is the affirmation of the authority and responsibility of the local church to affirm those set apart for the work of the Lord. Verses 1–3 show the pattern of the church following the leading of the Holy Spirit and setting aside men to the work of the ministry. The bible says, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” The call came from God and was confirmed by the church. The significance of this pattern will be disussed in future posts.

The apostle Paul uses call language in the introduction of most of his letters. Bridges writes of Paul, “How plainly do the superscriptions of St. Paul’s Epistles, (with one or two exceptions,) stamp his instructions to the churches with the seal of his heavenly commission! He is never weary of inculcating on us this truth—that the will of God is the sole rule of any man’s call, and the only gate by which he can enter into the Ministry.”[1]

The call language is emphatic in other parts of the New Testament as well. In Paul’s address to the elders at Ephesus he writes, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God,which He purchased with His own blood.” Acts 20:28 emphasis added. Peter uses similar language when he writes, “Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Peter 5:2–4. One can discern a divine call for the preacher in Paul’s explanation found in Romans 10:14–15. “But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” Who else has authority to send the preacher to proclaim the gospel other than God Himself?


[1] Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (London: Seeley, Burnside, and Seeley, 1844), 92.

3 comments

  1. One quote I’ve liked a lot (though not sure that I completely agree) came from when I worked with Lifeway camps. I don’t remember who the quote was actually attributed to but went something like this:

    “A need and the ability to meet that need: this constitutes a call.”

    I’d like to hear how that kind of thought integrates with what you’re saying here because the quote would seem to indicate more of a natural (as in non-supernatural) idea of calling where most of the examples in your post seem to be a direct, supernatural call to ministry.

    In your framework, can God’s call come without some kind of “calling experience”? Is some kind of direct, supernatural call the normal way of God calling people into ministry? When people ask me about my call to ministry, I don’t point back to any specific experience, just that I realized God had gifted me and given me the passion and desire to serve in full-time ministry.

  2. I will talk more on the subject of discerning the call in a future post. I certainly believe there is always a supernatural element but that occurs in different ways from burning bushes to other means of confirmation. I think the qualifications and other elements help us determine the genuineness of someone’s call. More to come . . .

    1. Sounds good, look forward to reading.

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