From time to time over the years, because I worked for parachurch ministries, I would hear from people believing they had been called to vocational ministry as well. “I’ve been called to preach,” they might say, or, “The Lord is calling me to be a pastor (or a missionary).”
Those are noble pursuits, without question. And if God is calling someone – perhaps you – to any role in vocational ministry, woe to you if you choose to ignore it. Look what happened to Jonah! If the Lord doesn’t provide a huge fish, He’s perfectly capable of using some other means for getting your attention.
But suppose you receive such a call. When He says, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” and like Isaiah you respond, “Here I am. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8), what if nothing happens? What if there you are, eager to go, but you have no guidance from God as to where to go, or when, or even why?
Sometimes, when folks are called to pastor, the Lord first chooses to send them to pasture. He wants them to marinate for a while, or to mature, so they’ll be ready and equipped for use when He needs them.
The Bible is filled with examples of this. There was Abram, who was promised that one day he would become “a great nation…. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3). Abram – whom God later renamed Abraham – was 75 years old when he was instructed to leave his familiar home in Haran; it wasn’t until 25 years later that he began to see this promise coming to fruition.
Then there was Joseph, Jacob’s son, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, then wrongfully accused and imprisoned by Potiphar. It was years later when Lord opened the door for him to become the most trusted advisor to Pharaoh. Ultimately, Joseph became God’s instrument for bringing the nation of Israel into Egypt where they multiplied and started becoming that great nation.
As an infant, Moses was spared another Pharaoh’s murderous wrath. As an adult, adopted into Pharaoh’s family, Moses interceded after he saw an Egyptian mercilessly beating a Hebrew slave. Realizing his act had been witnessed and realizing his life was suddenly in jeopardy, he fled to Midian. There he literally was put out to pasture, becoming a shepherd to his father-in-law’s sheep. He continued in that role, the Scriptures tell us, for 40 years before God appeared to him from a burning bush and gave him the orders to be His instrument for freeing the Israelites from 400 years of slavery.
Then there’s the apostle Paul, once known as zealous Saul who took delight in persecuting followers of Christ. After encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was converted but again, God didn’t put him into ministry for years. Finally, Barnabas was sent to Tarsus to find Saul and essentially tell him, “Okay, the Lord says it’s time for you to get to work.”
The first time God guided me into vocational ministry, I wasn’t even discerning enough spiritually to realize it until I was offered a position. All I knew was that for about a year I remained in my newspaper job, waiting for the right door to open. The other two times I knew the Lord was leading me to a new assignment, but both times I had to wait more than a year before He made clear to me where He wanted me to go.
In truth, we all have a call from God to serve Him. It’s wherever we happen to be at the time. A couple weeks ago I talked with a banker on the West Coast who had thought he wanted to become a pastor, but the Lord made it clear that his ministry would be to his customers and colleagues at the bank. Today he’s having an impact on many people who would never venture into a church on their own.
Moral of the story: Even if you know you’re called to become a pastor (or some other type of vocational Christian service), don’t be dismayed if God first puts you out to pasture. In the meantime, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).