What Makes a Minister?

by Grady King

“Could we have lunch together soon?  A friend of mine recommended I get with you and talk about preaching. Specifically, how do I know if God is calling me to preach?” This is how the email began. We did meet and continue to consider his question. In the conversation, which was less about the act of preaching and more about discerning the call of God I took out a napkin and drew the model you now see. I drew it on the spot reflecting on my own journey in ministry. Others have encouraged me to flesh it out more fully.

Like all models, there are limitations. Conversation partners are welcome to speak into the model to create a more useful discernment tool for mentoring and coaching. It does, however, provide a way of discussing God’s call and the life of a minister beyond the proverbial, “I just feel God is calling me to…

Through the years I have, on occasion, been asked several questions related to being a minister. Questions like, “How did you become a minister?” “When did you decide? What or who influenced you?”  These are great questions wrought with both angst and joy.  For me, it wasn’t a matter of merely deciding to be a minister. It happened over time and in many seasons of my life. There were seasons of trudging through the muddy valleys of pain and doubt: personal, family and church.  There were, of course, those mountain top experiences that tugged at my God given wiring: singing, teaching, connecting with God, and experiencing joy in the community of faith. In every season, there were people who invested in my spirit in significant ways even when I did not realize it. I do believe God placed people in my life at just the right time to nurture God’s life within me through their own convictions, gifts and care.

I didn’t receive the call to be a minister through a dream, vision or because of a great  epiphany. Honestly, I wish I could say, like Paul, that the gospel called me, but the gospel of God’s grace did not grab me until after I began to preach and more specifically, live the preaching life driven by my own brokenness and need for grace.

I do believe God called me to be a minister, but it was only after years of wrestling with the gospel; walking in the valleys and experiencing the mountaintops of ministry that I am comfortable saying, “God called me.” God keeps calling me.

I have always been very suspicious of accounts where God’s call on a person’s life was so immediate and poignant. It’s not that I reject that God calls people in this way and the biblical testimony is replete with apparent radical and sudden calls: Moses, Abraham, Jeremiah, and of course, the Apostle Paul just to name a few.  All of them had struggles and paid a price because of God’s call. Called by God is not code for an easy life of blessing, protection and affirmation.

In essence, my own longing to know, understand and experience God has been in me for as long as I can remember.  It is a mystery that transcends my rational capacities.  Years ago, on one of those dark, reflective days wondering if I am making a difference I read these words.

            O God, from my youth you have taught me
                    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds
            So even to old age and gray hairs,
                    O God, do not forsake me,
            until I proclaim your might
                    to all the generations to come.
            Your power and your righteousness, O God,
                    reach the high heavens.
Psalm 71.17-19 (NRSV)

I wrote in my Bible just over these verses, “My Ministers Prayer.”  I pray this often and on occasion, live it. I do believe God called me to be a minister, but it was only after years of wrestling with the gospel; walking in the valleys and experiencing the mountaintops of ministry that I am comfortable saying, “God called me.”  God keeps calling me. “Our job is to hold the mirror up to nature.

Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors. He taps into what it means to be human in almost every role he has played.  He once said in an interview about being an actor. It is readily applicable to being a minister.

Our job is to hold the mirror up to nature. We must be constantly examining who were are, how we got here and how we’re getting through all of this.

Perhaps, Lily Tomlin, with her unique coloring of life says what many a minister feels at times and comes to realize when ministry is merely getting through a difficult season.

When I was growing up I always knew I wanted to be someone. Now I realize I should have been more specific. 

Next post, we journey into the specifics.

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