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The Enigmatic “Call” to Office of Pastor or Missionary

Updated: Jan 29

The phrase, “God has called me to be a pastor [or missionary]” or something along those lines, or maybe stated in the way of a question, “Have you been called?”, is very commonly heard in various circles, especially majority of independent Baptists. Is it true though? People claim it to be, its their personal experience, so what can anyone say against it. But what does God’s Word teach about it, and does the “experience” align with the truth of Scripture?

For many Baptists, this call thing is the most important thing for a pastor or missionary. If he goes to the field, and he hasn’t been called, then he may doubt that he should be there and then take off eventually. If he has been called, then he stays there until he gets another call. It’s very convenient to wait for a voice in your head, telling you that you need to go and do something. It can’t be questioned. For these who see it with such great importance, this is what causes someone to serve with determination. If you’ve been called, even if people don’t want to hear, you’ve got to stay, and that’s what keeps you from “quitting."

I have a hard time reconciling “callings” of this kind with the Scriptures. In what form does this call come in? What does the “call” sound like? How do they know it’s God talking? What is the basis for believing it is God? I am convinced it's often more an expectation rather than a calling.

I think something this significant would be clearly mentioned in the Scripture.

But it’s not. Its found absolutely nowhere, and for anyone to say it does, they have to twist, bend, wrest the Scriptures to get their experience “validated” by Scripture.

The correlation to this "call" most often comes from the Macedonian call to Paul, which is making Pauls calling in Acts normative. It isn’t normative however. It was unique to Paul. It was unique to that day and age before the completion of the Word of God.

I don’t believe people who say they’ve gotten a call. They think they got something, because they are expecting to get something. They are supposed to get something, so they want it, very much like someone who wants to speak in tongues, and then he “does,” because he expects it and wants it. He really doesn’t, but he says he does and others authenticate it. People do the same thing with this call thing. They just take it as true, and if you questioned it, you’re unloving, like someone who questions tongues.

“The Called” in Scripture

“The call” or "called" in the Word of God technically does not relate with ministry occupation. Men are called unto salvation. That is what Scripture mostly refers to, when it speaks of “call” and “called.” “The called” is synonymous with those who God saves. You can see that here in these passages:

“Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ.” (Rom 1:6)
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)
“But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:24)
“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” (2 Tim 1:9)
"That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory." (1 Th 2:12)
"Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Th 2:14)
“Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.” (Ju 1:1)

The “called” in Scripture is a call to conversion. That seems crystal clear. The words "called" and saved could almost be used interchangeably. When we read of Christ calling someone, it’s unto salvation (e.g. Matt 4:19-22).

Even passages such as Rom 11:29 fits into this too: 

“For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” 

And 1 Cor 7:20: 

“Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” 

So if a man says that the Lord called him, he is really saying that he has been saved from sin and Hell. That is what he is really saying, but that is likely not what he means. The NT call of God is the salvation call, but some use it, by proof texting, to validate their call to the office of pastor or missionary. 

Everyone who is truly saved (vs the truckloads of false professions found in majority of churches) is saved to serve. Therefore, every true born again believer is called to serve the Lord. That is absolutely what 1 Tim 4:1 tells us: 

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” 

So every truly regenerated Christian is a full time servant of God. The Lord is not expecting half-hearted partiality. Noted also in passages such as 2 Cor 5:17–6:2ff.,

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. [18] And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. [20] Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. [21] For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [1] We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. [2] (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”

This is written to all born again believers (2 Cor 5:17). The call to salvation produces service. It comes with the call, so that all who are actually, genuinely converted to Christ through the calling of salvation, will serve their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Gal 1:10; 2 Cor 5:17-20). This is what 2 Cor 5:17–6:2 clearly articulates. The new birth occurs (vv. 17, 21) whereby we are reconciled to God by Christ (v. 18a) and have received the same ministry of reconciliation to help reproduce the new birth in others (v. 18b), which is done through the word of reconciliation which is committed unto the new born again believer (v. 19) which makes them ambassadors for Christ (v. 20) and workers together with God (v. 1) to save the lost, the ones needing rescuing (v. 2), like they themselves once needed.

There is no specific or separate enigmatic “call” to serve God, which is allegedly brought about through the misplaced “surrender” that catapults the enigmatic “call” into a submissive heart for the office of pastor or missionary, finally fulfilling the will of God in their lives, or so its defenders say. Not only is the “call” corrupted through the underlying system, but so is “surrender.” Both occur for salvation Scripturally, but both are twisted into something post-salvation, thereby perverting the many Scripture texts as well. These perverted teachings are very popular in revivalists type of churches where Keswick theology and gospel perversion reigns supreme, such as, for instance, in independent Baptist churches like Pembina Valley Baptist Church pastored by Michael Sullivant.

God doesn’t call people to the ministry in these times of the Gentiles, like He did in the OT (e.g. Aaron:"And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." Heb. 5:4) or with the apostles. There is no Biblical support for that. Nowhere does the Bible actually teach that for believers in this age, even though it’s commonly heard today as if it’s the gospel. The way God called preachers, prophets and kings in the OT and the apostles and others in the early churches as noted in Acts, is not how He does it today. If He did, then it would be stated somewhere in one of three epistles written to workers in the ministry (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). But it’s not and what we actually have is precise instructions for the fulfillment of the church offices.

Having studied this extensively in the Bible, I continue to be convinced that the Bible doesn't teach a specific calling beyond salvation. All of ones ambitions and dreams are replaced by service to God when we are converted. Specific calls to service were unique to that day and age in the giving of the OT and NT cannon before the completion of the Word of God (e.g. Ac. 13:2-4), as noted throughout the Book of Acts. Today it would be easy for the Lord to do the same, for we have God the Spirit permanently dwelling in us, something not true of the OT saints. But He doesn't do that because He has completed the revelation of His Word. I have been led and directed by the Word of God many times in my life since I was converted to and by Christ, including to the office of evangelist, but never a direct "calling" to go somewhere or do something. I have simply obeyed the Word of God, which is what we are commanded to do (e.g. 1 Jn. 2:3-6; Jn. 15:15-26), and the Holy Spirit leads (Rom. 8:14; Pr. 16:9),

“A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” (Pr 16:9)

This is the pattern we see in Scripture concerning a “calling.” Pr. 3:5-6 explains this well:

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

Rom. 8:14 says that all of "the sons of God . . . are led by the Spirit of God.” He always leads us but He doesn't talk to us (Ps. 23). We walk by faith not by sight. Listening for the enigmatic call of God is walking by sight. He directs our steps according to His Word, which we see in Pr. 16:9 and many other places, and He does that with the Word of God, which "is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." (Ps. 119:105). Noted succinctly in Jer. 23:28-29,

“[H]e that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. . . . Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?"

Being led by the Spirit is not synonymous with the Holy Spirit speaking to you directly by a voice, by a dream or vision, or the like. The Apostles received direct communication. We do not. Leadership of the Spirit today is not that. Acts 16 uses the terminology, "were forbidden by the Holy Ghost" and "suffered them not." Then in v. 9, He directly revealed in a vision for Paul and the others to go to Macedonia. This is plain communication from the Spirit. He was specifically telling them. This is how they knew, but its not the same as the leading of the Spirit today; it was apostolic and the Macedonian call is not normative for today.

What I am describing here, the unscriptural "call" to pastor or missionary somewhere by the calling of the Holy Spirit, is very typical thinking of so many revivalist, independent Baptists, but there is zero biblical basis for it. What I am also describing here as to how we are "called" by the Holy Spirit to do something, is Scriptural. Those who would oppose me would claim I am using human logic. But that is calling scripture, human logic. By their way of thinking, and again I have heard this in revivalists type of IFB churches, if someone just obeys scripture, he's relying on human logic. However, if he is led by the Spirit, he gets the superior voice in the head, which is higher and better than human logic, i.e., relying on what scripture teaches. Many think that way and it is in error.

Every true born again believer already has the leading of the Holy Spirit, because in Rom 8:14, Paul writes,

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God."

We know that the Holy Spirit leads us by means of the already completed Word of God. All of Gods children through the new birth have Gods Word and are led by the Spirit of God by the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23-25; 1 Th 2:13).

So How Does a Man Enter the Office of Pastor or Evangelist?

Every born again believer has been called by God to serve Him, that is clear from Scripture. Someone's life isn't ruled by a secular career anymore once he’s been saved. He has been called to a new vocation (2 Cor 5:18-20; 6:1). Every believer is a “minister of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1). The word "minister” comes from the Greek word which simply means “service.” True salvation requires repentant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, described briefly in passages such as 1 Th 1:9, to "turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” God ordained the pastors and teachers and evangelists to "perfect [equip] the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). The pastor is a minister, but no more than any other Christian. The pastor’s unique goal among all the ministers of a church is to prepare them to do the work of the ministry. So every Christian is a full time servant of God. All are called to the ministry (1 Cor 4:1; 2 Cor. 5:17-6:1). Through the study of and obedience to God's Word, and through Biblical preaching, some men will grow the desire for the office of pastor or evangelist (myself, the latter). That desire will qualify them for the office when they fulfill the qualifications based upon the testimony of God’s church. Any and every task or office in a church will be determined by means of the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the church, using the God-ordained officers to equip the saints to know and do God’s will for their lives.

Although every person is called to preach (through the call of salvation), not every person can be a pastor. Notice I didn’t say, “called to be a pastor.” And truly saved people WILL want to do that. So who then can fill the office of pastor? The position of pastor (I.e. elder, bishop, overseer) or deacon for that matter (“Likewise must the deacons...” 1 Tim. 3:8), requires four specific stipulations, and all four must be met in its entirety: (1) Must be a male (1 Tim. 3:1-7 — “a man,” “husband,” “his,” “he”) that is married (“husband of one wife . . . having his children”). (2) Must have the desire for the office (1 Tim. 3:1). Although I’m sure influenced by the Lord, that desire, as you read in these passages, comes from the man himself. (3) Must meet all the qualifications as presented in 1 Tim. 3:2-7; Ti. 1:6-9, 13-14, which he will anyway if he is truly born again (they are in fact evidences of salvation as well). (4) Must be ordained by elders (1 Tim. 5:21-22; Ti. 1:5), who are responsible to confirm practically all the qualifications are met and continue to be met (Ti. 1:5-9). So any man who is truly born again and has a desire for the office and meets all the qualifications, all of which are confirmed by the elders of the church, can be a pastor (or deacon).

When we look at the teachings and examples of elders (i.e. pastors, bishops) being placed in the Scriptures, post-completion of the canonization of Scripture, we never read of any actually being specially called by the Lord to pastor or preach. They, males only, are enabled according to their personal desire (1 Tim. 3:1; Ti. 1:5) and by being Biblically qualified and approved by the church (1 Tim. 3:2-10; Ti. 1:5), and hence sent out by the church (e.g. Ac. 8:14; 9:30, 38; 11:22, 30; 13:3; 15:2, 27, 40; 17:10, 14; 19:22; etc), for the local independent church is the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27) and Christ is the head of His body (Col. 1:18). He is above, through, and in the members of His local churches. The church can also disqualify a man either temporarily or permanently.

The local church is a supernatural organization headed by Christ and led by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 13, even the apostle Paul submitted himself to the decision of the godly men of the local church. Paul says that Timothy got the gift in him through prophecy (preaching) (I Tim. 4:14). That gift was validated by other men through the laying on of hands. As God works in a man’s life through His Word and he cannot but speak the things which He has seen and heard (Ac. 4:20), that desire will manifest itself through the discipline of fulfilling the qualifications in 1 Tim. 3 and Ti. 2. 

The qualifications are a gauntlet through which someone must pass to prove himself worthy of the office he desires (Ti 2:1). Someone may think he does fulfill them, but that is up to the church to decide (Ac. 13:1-3). The true local church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). God has ordained judgment for the church (1 Cor. 6) but it must be a true local church and not a harlot of the Great Whore (Rev 17-18 — there is also no such thing as a "universal church.") The same Holy Spirit indwells each truly born again church member, so that agreement on a matter is the means by which God guides and directs (Matt. 18:15-20; Eph. 4:1-6). The Holy Spirit guides each regenerated church member in truth (Jn. 16:13) and since each only possesses a measure of God’s grace (Eph. 4:16), every church member is behooved to listen to the whole church as a means of determining the will of God in this matter.

The truth of Scripture contradicts the enigmatic "calling" (cf. Heb 4:12-6:2; 1 Tim. 3:1-12; 1:5-9). I have heard and read men say that the NT Church “is a church that raises up ministry-gifted men to be preachers, teachers, pastors, evangelists. This must be a major business of every church . . . Only God can call them and gift them.” Which one is it? Are they raised up by the church or does God call them? Things that are different are not the same. Actually, neither is true. The Bible doesn't give either of these choices but it’s the individual believer himself (“If a man desire the office of a bishop” - 1 Tim 3:1) which is then confirmed by the church (“Titus . . . ordain elders in every city” - Ti. 1:4-5 and “Lay hands suddenly on no man” 1 Tim. 5:22 — the church confirming the requirements for the position: 1 Tim. 3:1-12; Ti. 1:7-9).

Independent Baptist Spencer Smith had this to say:

“This is what I tell folks, if you can live your life doing anything else but preaching, then you’re not called to preach.” (How Do I Know If I'm Called To Preach?)

Wow. This commonly heard but unscriptural cliche amongst the independent baptists is rubbish. He repeated the same about “missions work.” The unscriptural philosophy fits into the false "calling" very common amongst the IFB. The Bible on the other hand says, EVERYONE is called to preach. The great commission is for EVERYONE. The will of God is commanded for EVERY child of God to be preaching (2 Cor. 5:18-20; 1 Cor 3:5-9), and they surely WILL do that (Phil. 2:12-13), which starts at their conversion: 2 Cor. 5:17-6:2. This is what I would tell Spencer: ‘If you can live your life doing anything but preaching or missions work ... you’re not saved. You haven’t actually been born again. You are a fraud, a counterfeit.’ Is Matt 28:18-19 applicable only to “preachers” (as he defines preachers, which he is making essentially synonymous with pastor)? How about Mk. 16:15? Or Ac. 1:8? Or 2 Cor. 5:18-20? No.

This perversion of Scripture with a very important doctrine, the calling of salvation, is sadly very rampant amongst the independent baptists.

The Dangers of Looking for the Enigmatic "Calling"

I believe there are dangers associated with looking for this calling. Here are some (not in any order of significance), excluding the danger of new revelation.

1. It messes up the biblical understanding of the call. Almost exclusively, call relates to salvation. If you are called, you are saved. The "call" technically does not relate with ministry occupation. Men are called unto salvation, not unto an office. "The called" is synonymous with those who God saves. You can see that in many places as documented above, including 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Rom. 1:6; 8:28; 11:29; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Th 2:12; 2 Th. 2:14; Ju. 1:1; etc.

Called people are converted people. Everyone who is saved is saved to serve (1 Tim. 4:1; Col. 1:3-6; 1 Th. 1:3-10). If someone says that the Lord called them, they really are saying that they have been saved from sin and Hell, but that is not actually what they are referring to. When they also say that they "surrendered" to the Lord's calling, they have doubly stated that they have been saved from sin and Hell, but again, that is sadly not what they are referring to. The NT call of God (and surrender to that calling) really is the salvation call. Instead of being called – meaning salvation – it has actually become a wide swath in neo-evangelicalism and even among Baptists, more associated with a voice in the head.

2. The signs of the Holy Spirit validated the apostles and scripture. The Holy Spirit is finished confirming the Word of God. The callings outside of salvation attributes something to the Holy Spirit that He isn't still doing. Another common addition to the revelation from God is some sort of validation of a softer variety than what the apostles received. Men point to these authenticating events or phenomena as how they know the voice is from God. They would deny them as signs, but they very often still are (if not always) relied upon as signs. True spirituality should be judged by scripture. This type of "call" and its authentication have become faux evidence of the unique spirituality. A person hearing from God is very connected to God, and this is a major way, albeit unscriptural, that people are now judging spirituality.

3. It replaces the actual means by which someone knows what to do in the realms of the unwritten will of God or the individual will of God. Men rely on these ways of conceiving of the will of God. Furthermore, it can be used to excuse man's will as God's will. Even if it is permissible, it is said to be God's will, when it really is man's will.

4. It undermines Christian liberty, because someone has the liberty to go somewhere as a missionary without having this extra-scriptural experience, and liberty to become a pastor without this extra-scriptural experience. "A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps." (Pr 16:9)

5. Problems ensue with the application of the call to missions. For example, unqualified men become qualified by a “call.” Men wish to go somewhere they shouldn't go, but they get to go now, because the call can't be refused.

6. The "call" also serves as a useful tool to help a man (most times a pastor), insulate himself from godly Biblical scrutiny. After all, if I'm telling you God "called me," who are you, mere man/laity, to question the divinely called one?

The Macedonian call to Paul was part of the movement that God wanted. He told Paul. Paul could get that call as an apostle. We can’t. That doesn’t mean God isn’t speaking. He is sufficiently speaking in the Word of God. We should spend our time knowing what that is saying and then applying it, all of it. Stop waiting for special extra-scriptural messages. Dig into scripture and stay there.


Don't get me wrong. Some who are "called" are also qualified and going somewhere they should. They are sent out by the local church and they get there and do a good job for the most part. The gospel is preached, people genuinely converted, and the new converts trained, true local independent churches started. But when they succeed in Biblical fashion, the "call" isn't the reason. It shouldn't get any of the credit.

There is no such “calling” in the Bible, contrary to what a lot of people lie about. Its wishful thinking. The only calling we read of in scripture relevant to the age of the Gentiles is the one unto salvation (Matt. 22:14; 1 Cor. 1:24-31; 2 Th. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 1:6; 8:28; 11:29; 1 Th 2:12; 2 Th. 2:14; Ju. 1:1, for instance) which automatically extends to preaching the gospel to every creature (Lk. 24:44-48; Mk. 16:15; Matt. 28:18-19). Nowhere does it say that God calls people into the ministry, but rather salvation brings with it the work of the ministry (2 Cor 5:11–6:1; 1 Cor. 3:5-9; Eph 4:12). God the Son calls the lost to “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:17-22; Mk 1:14-20); to “preach the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:59-62; Matt 25:14-30) but there is no mystical or enigmatic call of God to a church office. What is happening in these passages where God in Scripture is calling people to salvation, they are being corrupted and twisted out of their contextual meaning and into a call to service (e.g. Matt 4:17-22; Mk 1:14-20; 1 Cor. 1:24-31). But that‘s fiction, clearly evident by the passages themselves, their context and the rest of Scripture rightly divided.


Unknown member
Jan 04

I didn't need to read very far to see that we are on the same page concerning one's "calling"...or having been...'CALLED.' I have long considered such baseless talk as being blind religiosity that has been perpetuated by those serving the church religious conglomerate. In 2 Peter 1: 10 we are instructed to 'give diligence to make our...CALLING [in the Greek-klesis, i.e., vocation/invitation/appointment/ welcome]...SURE.'

"Many [actually All] are called, but few [not many] are chosen." (Matt. 22: 14)

Hebrews 12: verses 5 through 8, is an essential teaching for understanding this matter of being CALLED, and whether or not one has been CHOSEN (i.e., accepted), acceptance which puts one in the company of "every son whom he receiveth"), and it i…

Jan 07
Replying to

Hi Windyanne,

Thanks for your comment. What you write reflects the truth of what Scripture declares: there are many professors but few that are truly born again (e.g. Matt 7:13-14, 21-23; Lk 13:23-24). Most are nominal, that is, by name only.

What I wrote in my previous comment fits into this. Every one is CALLED but of course not every one is CHOSEN and that is simply because majority sinners won’t repent (Pr 1:20-32; Rom 3:10-18; Lk 13:1-5, 23-24). They are “happy” on the broad path. They won’t come to the light because they don’t want their evil deeds reproved (Jn 3:19-21). The greatest problem is the issue of rebellion. Sinners don’t want a boss. They don’t want God dealing…

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