Two resources helped me answer that question when I was in high school and college:
- C. H. Spurgeon, “The Call to the Ministry,” in Lectures to My Students: A Selection from Addresses Delivered to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Lectures to My Students 1 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1875), 18–39.
- James M. George, “The Call to Pastoral Ministry,” in Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, by John F. MacArthur Jr. and The Master’s Seminary Faculty (Dallas: Word, 1995), 102–15.
George suggests four criteria for evaluating whether God has called you to serve as a pastor, and you can remember them with the acrostic CALL:
- Confirmation: Has your church—especially your church’s elders—confirmed that God has called you (e.g., 1 Tim 4:14)?
- Abilities: Do you have the necessary abilities to teach, shepherd, and oversee the flock? A pastor must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2), which includes not just holding sound doctrine but refuting error (Titus 1:9).
- Longing: Do you aspire to the office of overseer (1 Tim 3:1)?
- Life: Is your character above reproach (1 Tim 3:2–7; Titus 1:6–8)?
I have collected about thirty resources on discerning your call, and these are the four most helpful in recent years:
- Dave Harvey, Am I Called? The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012). Harvey diagnoses the call with six questions: (1) Are you godly? (2) How’s your home? (3) Can you preach? (4) Can you shepherd? (5) Do you love the lost? (6) Who agrees?
- Kevin DeYoung, “How Can I Tell If I’m Called to Pastoral Ministry?” DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed, February 15, 2013. DeYoung suggests ten diagnostic questions to ask yourself.
- Jeramie Rinne, “Don’t Assume,” ch. 1 in Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 17–30. Rinne argues that you know you’re qualified to serve as an elder if (1) you want to be an elder; (2) you exemplify godly character; (3) you can teach the Bible; (4) you lead your family well; (5) you are male; and (6) you are an established believer.
- Jason K. Allen, Discerning Your Call to Ministry: How to Know for Sure and What to Do about It (Chicago: Moody, 2016). Allen’s book is now the go-to resource for people—both men and women—who are contemplating vocational Christian ministry (not just pastoral ministry).
- Do You Desire the Ministry?
- Does Your Character Meet God’s Expectations?
- Is Your Household in Order?
- Has God Gifted You to Preach and Teach His Word?
- Does Your Church Affirm Your Calling?
- Do You Love the People of God?
- Are You Passionate about the Gospel and the Great Commission?
- Are You Engaged in Fruitful Ministry?
- Are You Ready to Defend the Faith?
- Are You Willing to Surrender?
I differ with Allen on a few relatively minor points—he encourages pastors never to drink alcohol (p. 35) and thinks 1 Tim 3 bars a person who has been divorced from ever serving as a pastor (p. 46). But the book overall is clear and convincing. If a person is struggling to discern if God has called them to vocational Christian ministry, this is the best resource I know of to share with them.
I love how Allen ends the book. Once you think God has called you to vocational ministry, what should you do next?
- “The call to ministry is a call to prepare …. Never before in the history of the church has theological education been so accessible, and never before has it been so needed” (pp. 128–29).
- “There is simply no place in ministry for sloppy exegesis, shoddy interpretation, or shallow sermons. One can be a faithful minister without a seminary degree, but one cannot be a faithful minister without knowing the Bible well” (p. 130).