How should we think about and determine the legitimacy of calls to ministry? Are occasional providences indications of God’s will? What might ministerial defiance look like for pastors and prachers? We asked Art Azurdia…
Listen to the sermon (Jonah 1:1-3):
As a pastor and seminary professor, how do you want people to think about this concept of a call to ministry?
What I hope to see is that people really believe that such a thing does exist. I know there are a number of people today who very much want to deny the concept of a call to ministry, and I think that’s a mistake. Now I do think that everyone is called to their own respective vocations; I don’t think the call is unique to ministry. And I think we walk a razor’s edge between two extremes. There are people who want to deny the specific call to the pastoral or preaching ministry, and then there are other people who go the other way and say without any qualification or examination that they are called. And what you wish they would say is, “I’m trying to figure out if I’m called. I have this internal compulsion, and I’m trying to figure out if this is self-generated, or if this is genuinely from God.”
How does one go about determining the legitimacy of a call to the pastoral or preaching ministry?
In terms of a call to ministry, I’ve never known it to be mystical or anything of that sort. I wouldn’t say it never happens that way, but I think it’s usually a bit more practical. It includes several things, not necessarily in any particular order. First, it includes an internal compulsion to this work, a holy, sanctified lust to do this work. People who are not called in that way do not feel that same kind of compulsion. I think the second piece is the church confirming those kinds of gifts. While there may be someone who says, “I’m called to ministry,” there might be a church saying, “No, we really don’t think so.” A healthy congregation will recognize, confirm, and validate ministerial gifts along with character qualifications. With all of that, there is a third piece, without which the other two don’t mean anything. And this is that God gives providential opportunities for the person to do ministry. That is to say that if a person thinks they are called, and a church comes alongside and agrees, but no opportunity to exercise ministry ever appears, then I think it is highly doubtful that the person in question has been called to this ministry.
How closely should we link occasional providences (such as finding a ship heading to Tarshish) to the will of God for our lives?
At the end of the day, the touchstone for the will of God has always got to be the Scriptures. Always, always, always, always, it’s got to be the Scriptures. And when things are nebulous, such as when someone is determining a partner in marriage or whether or not they should go into the military, where we don’t have a determinative word from the Scriptures, at the very least we can’t go forward if doing so means there will be clear violation of a prescription from the Scriptures. Obviously Jonah decides to defy God and do the very opposite of what God told him to do, and as he does so he finds that the devil has opened up every opportunity for him to pursue his disobedience. That is why we cannot look at providences and say, “This obviously has the blessing of God upon it.” There are times when somehow, in the overarching purposes of God, providences can align with our own disobedient inclinations. God might let us play with our disobedience until we end up in a much worse place, and then further down the line use a different set of providences to bring us back into the path of obedience. Sometimes we don’t even know the will of God until looking back, and we see that God was strategically involved here, here, and here. We really cannot read the will of God by virtue of providences.
What is an expression of ministerial defiance that you have seen in your years of ministry?
The common defiance I have seen is the abandonment of what we know to be the divinely ordained means for ministry for the sake of some other methodology. So men or women may not leave or abandon the ministry, but the centrality of the Word of God is no longer a thorough preoccupation, and here I’m particularly talking about the preaching ministry. Jonah’s rebellion is indicative of all Christians who know what the will of God is, but are bound and determined to run in an opposite direction. We all experience this, and in the end find that the consequences of rebellion are always severe. Yet God’s chastisement is remedial, and there is mercy in the gospel.