A Mystical Calling


I've been reading something on your writing about emotions and decisions in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. How does this play into calling? What is a calling supposed to feel like? How do we know if we are being called or if this is some trick in our heads? Is there a way to tell if something is a right decision before you go do it? I take the opposite approach about ministry than some. I'd rather take an extremely low-key approach and lean a lot on the objective input of others (i.e. the Session or pastors). If God wants me to be somewhere, then show me. Is there a way to discern all this? It is different than a normal secular job?


Thanks for writing. Calling is a very difficult question in my mind. We protestants believe in sola Scriptura, but Scripture does not tell each individual what he is called to be or do. So there are no ready-made answers. We have to spend time in prayer and thought.

So I don't quite agree with your statement, "if God wants me to be somewhere, then show me." God probably won't whisper in your ear or appear to you from heaven. You need to do a lot of thinking, consulting, and praying.

In terms of DKG, it's a matter of each person applying the principles of Scripture (normative perspective) to his situation (situational) and to his personal qualifications (existential). You need to evaluate your own gifts and character in the light of the opportunities available. Jim Petty does a pretty good job with the theology of guidance in Step by Step (P&R), and if you can still find Edmund Clowney's Called to the Ministry (I think that was published by Westminster Seminary many years ago) you should find that helpful.

The Reformers emphasized that there is not a huge difference between calling to ministry and calling to secular vocations. The same epistemological dynamics are present in both. But obviously there is a level of spiritual maturity needed to go into ministry that is not needed to be a good plumber or carpenter. And there are distinct gifts of the Spirit that are relevant: ability to teach, to refute error, and above all to speak truth in love.

We tend not to be very good judges of our own spiritual maturity and gifts. That's why, and this is what I want especially to emphasize, it has to be a communal decision. Find other people whose ministries you respect and get candid evaluations from them as to your maturity and gifts. Do they think it's time for you to be trained for full-time ministry? If they say no, or if you sense some hesitation on their part, some lack of enthusiastic encouragement, then turn the other way.

I think too that a lot of ministerial burnout is caused simply by a lack of humility. Young guys out of seminary think they have all the tools. If they get into a problem, they think they've learned enough to get themselves out of it. So they push ahead, like bulls in china shops. What they should do is, first, pray in earnest. Second, talk to fellow elders and fellow presbyters. Get serious counsel. Third, recognize that they may need to repent of serious sins and mistakes. In Presbyterianism, we don't have bishops to oversee pastors. So ministers in trouble need to be proactive in seeking help. There are resources available, if one is humble enough to seek them out.

Answer by Dr. John M. Frame

Dr. John M. Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.