Called: “Am I Called?”

When George and I began the process the church had outlined for ordinations, one of the things that I did at that time was to read “Am I Called” by Dave Harvey and then reread it with my wife. Eventually, in my ministry responsibilities at FBC Jacksonville, I would be asked to oversee the ordination process for men who felt called to ministry and I ended up building that whole process largely out of Dave’s book because it was such a help to me. I cannot recommend a better book for you than “Am I Called” to those wondering if God is calling them into ministry, those wanting to know if God is calling them into ministry, or those wondering what to do if God is calling them into ministry. I will give you a quick summary of this book today and then tell you how I used it in my ordination process and how you can use it as well.

Dave’s book is broken up into three sections. The first section is a discussion about ministry calling. He defined the call to ministry as a summons. “A summons is a call away from one thing and into another.” Dave shares his own summons, how after he got saved he would watch and listen to pastors preach and wonder how they did what they did. It was the Lord’s way of fascinating Dave with ministry and wooing him to set his life for something more. Before discussing the qualifications of a pastor and the diagnosis of a call to ministry, he spends some time considering two important foundational thoughts. First, we must understand that our calling says more about the Lord than it does about us. Just like our call to salvation, God is the initiator and the reason. We could easily be tempted to think that we are called because of our knowledge of the Bible or theology, our ability to communicate effectively, or our natural gifting in leadership. Ministry calling isn’t from any of those streams or about any of those ends, it’s from the Lord and it’s all about the Lord. That means that the gospel, the good news of God’s love that saved us – broken, sinful, without hope on our own us – is the same foundation for any calling to ministry. Ministry calling is as much a powerful work of grace as it is a call to salvation. God graciously summons some of us to proclaim His power, His might, and His glory which is done through His Word, His Spirit, and His grace. We get to be the weak and broken vessels that pour out what He has placed in them.

The second foundation that needs to be kept in mind as we consider calling is that this calling is to take place in a specific context, the local church. “The Bible, however, doesn’t talk about what we do as the context of our call. It talks about where we do it.” We are called in a local church to a local church. There are many amazing parachurch ministries, but they are not God ordained methods for the global expansion of God’s glory in the way that the local church is. There are many amazing mission’s organizations that are doing amazing work for the kingdom, but they are not the local church – the bride of Christ. The called are not only saved in the context of a local church, but they are discipled in a local church, they are observed and given opportunities to grow in a local church, they are identified as being called by other leaders in a local church, they are recognized and have the hands of local church leaders laid on them to set them apart, and they will give their lives to serving a local church. This context is crucial. It’s not just what we are called to but it’s a safeguard for those who are called to know. Many who know you deeply can look you in the eyes and speak into your heart where there should be doubt. If you don’t wonder, “why me” at some point you haven’t thought honestly enough about what you are engaged in. You need people to speak into your heart, to reaffirm at key points, and to have that moment you can look back on where men placed their hands on you and commissioned you. The context is key and is not a step to be overlooked.

The second division in Harvey’s book is where he considers the called. It’s not just that some are called to serve the Lord, declare the glory of the Lord, and to give their lives to the local church but they are actual men. Despite what some may think and despite what some pastors may portray, pastors are sinners saved by grace just like everyone else and they live absolutely dependent on grace every moment of every day. Yet, they are called to be men of specific character and specific discipline. First, let’s consider the character of the called. They are to be godly men. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 both give us a list of qualities that should be descriptive of pastors. These are not necessarily special because most of them are callings on the lives of all believers but they should be descriptive of your life if you are called. This means a few things, first, that you are a mature Christian. We don’t lay hands on recent converts (1 Timothy 5:22) because they aren’t mature Christians. Justification is such a beautiful doctrine, that we could stand before God as righteous instantly because of Christ’s work on our behalf is just insane. Yet, we are also those called to be sanctified. We get the joy of growing in our knowledge of God, our experience of grace, and our discipline in and before the presence of God. You will become godlier the more you walk in the word, in community, in prayer, in discipline, in faithfulness, and in all aspects of life seeing the power of God. Don’t rush godliness, faithfully pursue it. The second part of this character of the called is that it is sincere. Paul puts it that, it’s happening in their home not just on the stage. There are a lot of questions around what it means that their children are believers or that they manage their household well. At the least, it means that they have done in their home all that they would do in their local congregations. You see, so many of us are quick to act a certain way in public and tolerate other standards at home. Not so with elders, they are to be faithful. If you are reading this and you don’t have a wife or children, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be called it means that you are faithful in what you have been blessed to be responsible for. The point is that you cannot and will not lead beyond your capacity. You can fake it but if you can’t lead, love, listen, and live out your faith at home you should never step on a stage or behind a pulpit anywhere else and do it. Your character matters because it’s who you really are.

The next aspect of the called that Dr. Harvey deals with is their gifting. Pastors aren’t just faithful they are also to be fruitful. These areas of giftedness all center on the word as well. Pastors are to be preachers, shepherds, and evangelists. The church is filled with many members, leaders, and gifted individuals and all of them are necessary and useful. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, is clear that every member has a gift, a place, and a need in community. Yet, when considering the differences between elders and deacons, Paul is clear that elders must be able to teach. The ability to open God’s word, understand it, study it, and apply it to the issues in a congregation. Being able to clearly teach is vital to being called. You don’t have to be passionate like David Platt, as studios as DA Carson, as capable of applying the text to culture as Tim Keller, or as naturally gifted communicating as HB Charles. You need to be able to teach/preach though. Teaching and preaching are different gifts as well, which I could spend a lot of time explaining the difference between them, but the point is that you should be able to speak God’s Word to God’s people. You should also be able to apply God’s Word to the lives and problems people have. Shepherds guarded and guided the sheep.  You need to be able to care for the sheep in your oversight with the Word, discern sheep from goats with the Word, and kill wolves with the Word. I think all pastors should be biblical counselors because we are men who know the Word, know our flock, and love them all. We should at least be able to use God’s Word to care for God’s people in an overseeing capacity if not on an individual basis. Finally, we need to be able to and in the practice of sharing what we believe with non-believers. You don’t need to be the most gifted evangelist in your church, but you need to be an evangelist. Most of your congregation will never go farther than you personally go, and that means that you need to be going to the lost and proclaiming the hope of Jesus to them. Churches can quickly become a one-day a week daycare for Christians if we aren’t doing what we have been told to do and taking the message of Jesus life, death, resurrection, and ascension to those who are without hope. How many churches are missing out on the power, presence, and wonder of God because they aren’t seeing Him move and change lives because they aren’t sharing Him? Pastors are to be men of the Word. If that’s not you, that’s ok, you’re just not called.

Lastly, Dr. Harvey says that the called must be confirmed.  He gives us “three cords” that are “independent strands that come together in God’s providence to help the summons find its fulfillment.” The first cord is an internal calling.  I don’t think you would have read this blog if this wasn’t present.  It’s the tension that we feel deep within that the Lord might have use for our lives in His work.  Every Christian is important to the global expansion of God’s glory. All Christians are called to know God, love God, and share God.  Pastors are called to give their lives to mobilizing and caring for others.  This internal calling is an uneasiness with doing anything else.  If you are experiencing that, that’s a great sign.  The second cord is preparation.  If you sense that call, you have to pursue Christ in that.  It doesn’t mean that you step into a pulpit tomorrow, it means you obey and you prepare.  Joseph was called to lead but it took years of preparation before he was standing when his brothers bowed.  That time as a slave, as a worker for Potiphar, is a prisoner, and as a dream interpreter all prepared him to be a better leader. He knew to trust in God.  He knew what it was like to be in almost every position in that culture and economy.  He was the ideal leader for the situation God placed him in because he allowed God to prepare him for it.  You need to embrace the place of preparation.  Serve, learn, and do ministry in every way possible and on any platform that you can.  God will use all of it to prepare you to do what He is leading you towards.  Remember, preparation isn’t punishment it is preparing you for what is next. The third cord is an external confirmation.  Pastors are not only called, they are confirmed.  The New Testament shows us time and time again when a church would confirm or lay hands on a called man to commission him for a ministry assignment.  You need this and the church needs this.  It’s to be a rhythm in the life of the church, recognizing young men that are called and walking with them and sending them. The confirmation needs to be from church leaders primarily, but the congregation also confirms an elder. There should be a process of examination, an opportunity for the congregation to bring any questions, and a formal public ceremony where together the church and the congregation celebrate God’s grace and goodness in calling men to Himself and for Himself. On my ordination council, there is a mixture of men who examined my life, my heart, and my call. The ordained pastors on staff at the church were on my council, a few retired ministers in the church were on my council, and a few friends who were ministry leaders/pastors were there. They were given a packet of information on me with my theological positions on a few key issues, some of my struggles, my background information, and a few other things to help them prepare for that meeting. When we gathered together, they questioned me thoroughly. It was a mixture of theological stances, convictions, ethical questions, and a series of affirming statements that I will never forget. This time is seared in my brain especially on the hardest days in my ministry that it wasn’t just something I felt, but it was something others saw and affirmed. The called are men of character, men of gifting, and men that are confirmed by other pastors and their local congregation.

The last section of the book is on waiting, what do you do today if you feel called? The answer is you wait, but that’s not passive or depressing. It is an active pursuit with patience. Dr. Harvey outlines several things like praying, serving, studying, connecting with pastors, and, to quote John Piper, “acting out the miracle.”  You may be called, but it is a process for a reason. God is growing you and preparing you as you move towards His plan for your life. You live while you wait. You need to be active in your waiting.

I did a few things while I waited. First, I served regularly. I confessedly avoided being called and was scared to be called, but I couldn’t help but serve. I wanted to be at church, to care for people, to make sure things were done so that people could worship and hear from God. You need to be a member of a local church, known by the staff at the church, known that you sense a call to ministry by the pastoral staff at the church, and you need a place you are actively serving and doing ministry at a local church. George asked me early on, what would I do if they decided not to ordain me? It was a great question. I could only come up with one answer, I would just keep doing what I was doing. Ordination didn’t give me a position, it confirmed the position of service that I had. Are you already a servant? While you wait, you serve.

Second, I read this book. I read it on its own and determined that this was not me. I was seriously intimidated by serval parts of this book. I didn’t feel like I was a pastor in my home as much as I should be. I didn’t feel like I was an evangelist like I should be. I didn’t feel like I was as Godly as I should. I feel like Dr. Harvey disciplined me more than anything else in my reading to grow. Little did I know, that was the point. I remember sitting in Mark Dever’s office with six other young men who were interns at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I was there for the day and got to observe the interns sharing their thoughts on Charles Bridges book “Christian Ministry.” In their conversation about this book, one man declared, “After reading this book I don’t feel like I am called anymore. That’s not me. Maybe I should just be an elder at a congregation and not a pastor?” Dr. Dever after listening to a few of them echo that sentiment shared that every internship class comes to this book and has a difficult moment as they read Bridges book. They all feel inadequate. You should feel inadequate. It’s not about you. You rely on grace as much as anyone else. With that in mind, don’t let your need for grace run you off, pursue God with the grace He’s given you. I re-read this book a second time with a friend. I re-read it a third time with my wife. Both my friend and my wife encouraged me that my fears were healthy fears and were likely the Holy Spirit prompting me to grow in discipline but that they saw my calling despite my fear. You need to get honest about your life, your habits, your holiness, and your calling. If you feel called you need to grow. Shepherd your heart. Shepherd your home. Don’t settle, always press on towards Christ and know that He is the one who qualifies the called.

Lastly, I submitted. I had to submit to God and give Him my future. I filled out the paperwork. I sat under a council and submitted to their decision. Most importantly I submitted to the call on my life. This took a few different forms, but it was all the same process of submission. I cannot tell you what that will look like in your life, but being called isn’t about being over others. It is about leading through submission.  I am a doulos; a slave. I have been bought with a price so I honor God with my mind, my heart, and my strength. If you feel called, you’re called to be a bondservant of the Lord. You are to serve Him, serve His sheep, and serve the kingdom. That is a posture, an attitude, and a lifetime commitment. Take time to consider where you need to bend the knee and submit today. It’s hard work, but this season of preparation is a great time to grow in your submission to God, His Word, and His Church.

I cannot recommend Dr. Dave Harvey’s book “Am I Called” more highly to you. I have given several copies away to men who felt called and in fact, I used to have a drawer in my office at FBC Jacksonville that only had copies of this book for this reason. It’s an easy read in terms of readability, but it’s one of the most difficult reads because it’s one of the rare books that reads you. Dr. Harvey has included a biography at the end of each chapter to allow you to see that you aren’t alone and to encourage you. He has also included a list of books you can read at the end of each chapter if you need more on that topic. It’s a tool you can use in your seeking to know if you’re called, but it is also a tool you can use regularly if you’re called to grow in your calling. “May God help you hear the call and exalt the Caller.”



Dave Harvey, Am I Called? the Summons to Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).