Answering the call

As we EXPLORE the ‘call’ of God for your life, it is important to acknowledge that every human being on the face of this planet has been created for a purpose, to enter into a unique relationship with God, to know Him intimately and glorify Him. Part of glorifying God entails recognizing that you are called to tell the world about Jesus, invite people to believe in Jesus and receive Him as Lord and Saviour of their lives.

For many people, the call God over their lives is to be an Officer of The Salvation Army. Perhaps you can relate to the testimony of this person, reminiscing on the start of his journey to becoming an Officer: “Even as a young person, I just knew God wanted to do something different with my life.” “I had what Charles Spurgeon called ‘…an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work’ – a growing compulsion and desire to preach the word and minister holistically to people.” “What that ministry was exactly, wouldn’t become clear for a long time, but I became increasingly aware that God had a greater purpose for me than the nominal Christian life I was currently living.”

Does this describe you? If not, perhaps fulltime ministry is not for you or, you might still be in the early stages of discovering God’s purpose for your life. That’s a great place to be, but it is our prayer that this reflection on calling will provide you with a GPS, or at least a few sign posts, to moving down the road a little in EXPLORING & defining your own calling. In an attempt to achieving that end, we would like to invite you to take a brief moment to reflect on only three particular aspects with regard to calling, mainly how does Scripture define calling? How does TSA define Calling? And lastly, how do I Define my own Calling?

How does Scripture define calling?

Obviously, this is a huge topic that cannot be adequately addressed in this brief reflection. However, there are a few pointers I would like to highlight to assist us as we reflect on calling. The term ‘calling’ or ‘call’ has at least five main uses in the Old Testament, they are as follows:

  1. First, “to call” means “to invite or summon.” For example, God ‘invited’ Adam in Genesis 3:9
  2. Second, the verb can have the sense of “calling on God,” to pray in other words as in Genesis 4:26 : “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”
  3. Third, “to call” is used very often in the “sense of naming”, naming things (Genesis 1:5-30 – day, night, heaven, earth etc.) animals, or persons, (Genesis 25:26 – Jacob) even places (2 Samuel 5:9 – the city of David) The list is endless.
  4. Fourth, God calls “by name with a view to service”, as with the call of Moses in Exodus 3:4-22 and the call of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:1
  5. Fifth, “to call” may also be used in the sense of “claiming for one’s own possession and to appoint for a particular destiny”. As in Isaiah 43:1, when the Lord addressed Israel: “I have called you by my name; you are mine.” This calling of Israel points to the covenant relation in which Israel is called to salvation, is given its name, and has the function of God’s witness. This type of calling can be applied corporately or to an individual. In a similar vein, The Salvation army has its own distinct calling from God and its own prophetic call within the body of Christ.

All the terms for “call” in the Old Testament mentioned above are mirrored in the New Testament in the parables of the great banquet (Luke 14:16-25) and the marriage feast (Matthew 22:2-10). Calling on the name of the Lord is found in a quotation from Joel in both Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13 . The choosing of the apostles can be expressed in terms of calling (Mark 1:20). Finally, Christ’s people are those whom He has called, through his grace, and are called by His name (Romans 8:28; Galatians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Peter 1:15). The New Testament notably refers to the Christian life as a calling, Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; 2 Peter 1:10) a calling primarily to Christ as Lord and Saviour, then to holiness, faith and our fellow man.

Scripture also clearly challenges every believer to be Christ’s ambassadors to this world, Christians are urged to lead lives that are worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:11) and make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Which raises the question of how do we live lives worthy of our calling and make our election sure? By cultivating the qualities of Christ littered throughout scripture. For example, there are two scripture passages which specify the qualifications of the pastor/minister. Both were penned by Paul, first to Timothy and then to Titus. The first set of qualities of the deacon or elder are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. A pastor/minister or person called should be:

1) Above reproach, 2) Husband of one wife, 3) Temperate, 4) Self-Controlled, 5) Respectable, 6) Hospitable, 7) Able to teach, 8) Not given to drunkenness, 9) Not violent, 10) Gentle, 11) Not Quarrelsome, 12) Free from love of money, 13) Manages household well, 14) Not a new convert, 15) A good reputation inside and outside the church, 16) Worthy of Respect, 17) Sincere, 18) Not pursuing dishonest gain (Corrupt).

The Epistle of Titus gives a very similar, but not identical, set of qualities in Titus 1:5-9, they are as follows:

1) Blameless, 2) Husband of one wife, 3) Having children who believe, 4) Not self-willed, 5) Not quick tempered, 6) Not addicted to wine, 7) Not belligerent, 8) Not fond of sordid gain, 9) Hospitable, 10) Lover of what is good, 11) Sensible, 12) Upright, 13) Devout, 14) Self-controlled, 15) Holding fast the word – both to encourage and refute those opposing the word.

It’s an intimidating and staggering list of qualities to cultivate isn’t it? Thankfully, we are not alone but have the continual presence of the Holy Spirit to guide, strengthen and lead us, otherwise we would fall drastically short of achieving even one of these qualities. But why such an extensive list for people called to serve God?

I am convinced that any systems, laws, and constitutions are redundant without men and women who are just, devout, lovers of what is good, sensible, self-controlled, free from the love of money and faithful custodians and keepers of God’s Word. These are precisely the qualities that God requires of those who are worthy and called to lead His people. First and foremost because the scriptures emphasize that Spiritual leaders are supposed to have a singular love for souls and be an example to all believers and unbelievers alike. We cannot escape the fact that the godly lifestyle of ministers, elders or pastors become a visual sermon that people see and emulate with their own lives. This is perhaps why Paul told Timothy, “…be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

Furthermore, the lifestyle of a minister of God’s word substantiates or validates his/her message. How can servant of God hope for people to believe in a teaching that s/he doesn’t live for themselves? In other words, ‘practice what you preach’, let your actions and words compare and resonate so loudly that no-one will be able to doubt or refute the sincerity of your message.

I hope this brief reflection sheds some light on a few instances where Scripture defines calling? However, you may still ask the question of what that means for me right now? How does that translate to my experience or help me to define my own particular calling as a Soldier of The Salvation Army? So let’s EXPLORE further how The Salvation Army defines calling?

How does The Salvation Army define calling?

God calls every Christian to full-time ministry.

The Salvation Army believes all Christians are called to minister as the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9) As stated earlier, God’s call to ministry is not limited to a few saintly Christians who are deeply committed to pray, sacrifice, and serve while others live “normal” lives in a secular society. Whatever vocation God calls you to—carpenter, doctor, farmer, teacher, missionary, or homemaker—becomes the arena for your ministry. God expects full-time Christian service from you.

God’s call comes to people in different ways.

Biblical accounts of God’s call vary greatly. Whether through prayer, the still inner voice/peace, our conscience, or through prophecy, words of knowledge, or dreams and visions God speaks to us by His Holy spirit. It would be so much easier if God would speak his will in a clear, audible voice, writing on the wall or send an engraved invitation. As terrific as this would be, it would require less faith if he called us all in the same predictable way. Instead, he expects us to be sensitive and obedient to his Holy Spirit directing and leading us step by step.

God calls some Christians to specific kinds of ministry.

Some Christians will be called to specific ministries, such as Envoy, missionary, Christian education, youth or children’s minister etc. in response and in obedience to the call of God. These callings are often for a set period of time and often carry with them such responsibility that the church provides special educational preparation for them. Approval to serve in these areas includes careful assessment and nurture before endorsement is given, credentials are granted, and appointments are made.

Officership … a specific and unique calling

Salvation Army Officers are people of God, called out to full-time service and live a life of dedication to His service. Officers are ministers, ordained and commissioned by The Salvation Army. Their responsibilities include the spiritual, emotional and physical care of the congregation/s AND to act as a bridge between our Corps community and the local community, facilitating the transformation and development of communities in close proximity to our places of worship.

A Salvation Army Officer is a leader, steward or manager, preacher, pastor, evangelist, teacher, youth leader, counsellor, social worker, administrator, community leader. Daily, Salvation Army Officers have the privilege of coming alongside needy families and hurting individuals with spiritual counsel, food, shelter, clothing, and emergency assistance. Called by God, dedicated to a life of full-time service, filled with compassion, and with burning commitment to help those in spiritual and physical need. Writing to young Timothy, the Apostle Paul confirmed that if a man aspires to be a pastor, “it is a fine work he aspires to do.” [I Timothy 3:1, NASB] Likewise, it is a high honour to be called of God to serve the body of Christ and our fellow man.

Salvation Army Officers from all walks of life, drop their nets and take up their crosses to follow without condition, seven days a week, all hours of the day and night, they are fishing for souls. If Officers are not prepared to fulfil this role, then they are failing the Lord and their specific calling. Is this the calling that God has placed over your life? If you are still uncertain of God’s call over your life, perhaps this next reflection will assist in helping you process and define your own calling?

How do I define my own calling?

As stated earlier, a Christian’s primary purpose is to glorify God. A purpose that should be clearly evident when we..

  • Worship Him
  • Witness to others
  • Serve God through serving others.
  • Obey the unique and distinct call of God into service.

What is often the greatest challenge and less clear is what has God called me to do? What specifically does God want me to do with my life? How does He want me to serve Him? If you are struggling to answer these questions, perhaps reflecting on the few criteria questions below may help bring some clarity in defining whether you have been called to Officership or some other form of ministry.

CRITERIA 1: SPIRITUALITY

What is your pattern of prayer, study of God’s word, tithing etc.?
From where do you receive spiritual support and guidance?

Do I, without being policed or prodded, practice the various spiritual disciplines, involving individual and corporate prayer and worship, consistent tithing and a growing pattern of disciplined daily study of God’s word?

Is my pattern of prayer mature enough to support and energise me in my training and ministry? Do I see a connection between my prayer life and daily living and understand God’s activity in my life? Do I understand that it is crucial that the spiritual disciplines practiced in my life effects transformation in the inner man/woman?

CRITERIA 2: FAITH

What is at the heart of the good news you want to share?
What experiences in your life have strengthened or weakened your faith?

Do I show an understanding of the Christian faith, and a desire to deepen my understanding of it? Do I demonstrate a personal commitment to Christ and a desire and ability to share the gospel?  Can I deliberately make connections between faith, and living out that faith in the complex demands of contemporary society?

CRITERIA 3: MISSION AND EVANGELISM

How have you experienced or participated in God’s mission to the world?
What does it mean to you to share the gospel of Christ?

Have I a solid scriptural understanding of the breadth of God’s mission to the world—one which impassions and stirs my prayers, thoughts and actions? Do I demonstrate and put into words what it means to share the gospel of Christ? And am I able to talk about him in a way which is both attractive, relevant and appropriate?

Am I aware of how changes in culture and society are having an impact on the life of the Church?  Do I consistently show potential as a leader of mission, as well as a commitment to enable others in mission and evangelism?

CRITERIA 4: MINISTRY WITHIN THE SALVATION ARMY

What do you appreciate most about The Salvation Army?
In your experience, what makes a good minister/Officer?

Do I demonstrate a genuine awareness, obedience, love and understanding of our own traditions, doctrines, ethos and practices within The Salvation Army? Can I articulate and share the distinctiveness and exude the particular spirit of TSA?

Am I able to clearly define what it takes to be a spiritual leader, local officer or Officer in TSA? Do I show commitment to a ministry of proclaiming the gospel, come good times or bad, through word, prayer, pastoral care, and social action?

CRITERIA 5: VOCATION

What signs have you noticed that God may be calling you to ministry?
What effect has your vocation had upon you?
Has anyone else noticed or confirmed your calling?

Am I able to talk about a growing sense of being called by God to ministry and mission, including your own inner belief that should not wax or wane when sharing with others the call of God on your life? Is my sense of vocation obedient, realistic and informed? How has your sense of calling impacted your own life?

Lastly, often is the case that God uses other people to confirm the call of God on a person’s life. Have others been able to confirm the call of God over my life?

CRITERIA 6: LEADERSHIP AND COLLABORATION

What has been your experience of exercising leadership?
How good are you at working alongside and motivating others?
What is your preferred style of leadership?

Do I show the ability to offer leadership in the TSA community and, to some extent, in the wider community? Do I have an ability to guide, shape and motivate the life of the Church, its vision and mission to the world? This includes an ability and willingness to use and develop other people’s gifts.

It was William Booth who believed that an Officer is primarily a servant, a conduit, or a bridge if you like, that fords the gulf between the church/corps community and the local communities we have been called to serve alongside.

Am I a witness of the servanthood of Christ to all mankind? Do I provide an example of faith, love and discipleship that inspires others?

CRITERIA 7: PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER

What are your main strengths and weaknesses?
Temperamentally, how well-suited are you to the ministry to which God may be calling you?

Am I appropriately self-aware and self-accepting, and mature enough to identify those areas of my life that need to be cut-off or transformed by the Holy Spirit? Do I face change, challenge and pressure in a flexible and balanced way?

Am I a person of integrity? How do I behave when no-one is looking? Is my behaviour consistently in line with God’s word? Lastly, a minister should always show a desire and capacity for self-development and growth – Is this true in your life at present?

CRITERIA 8: RELATIONSHIPS

How well do you relate to others?
What kind of relationships do you need to support you in your vocation?

Am I aware of my strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities in building and fostering relationships with others? Do I consistently build and develop healthy personal, pastoral and professional relationships that are honouring to God?

In all aspects of your life and relationships, Do I demonstrate emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, and financial maturity as well as in more general aspects of honesty, without compromising the word of God, your integrity or the integrity of TSA? Lastly, am I impartial when listening to others, am I committed and ready to assist in resolving conflict or disagreements?

CRITERIA 9: QUALITY OF MIND

How best do you learn?
What would excite you most about theological training?

Do I have the necessary intellectual and literary abilities, the quality of mind to succeed on a course of theological study, and be able to cope with the intellectual demands of ministry? Do I have a desire and a commitment to do theological study, and a willingness to set off on a life-long journey of ministerial and theological training and development?

I hope this has been a useful reflection or exercise and not too intimidating or overwhelming. It is my prayer that this brief set of criteria questions has helped you in searching your own heart and given you a moment to pause for thought regarding your own calling, or at least given some guidance as to what that calling to serve the Lord may look like.

As you reflect and contemplate what God’s calling may be over your life, I would like to emphasize that above all things, the qualifications of any minister of the gospel must first evolve from a divine calling (Acts 13:2). Only God can call a true minister, and only He can grant the minister the gifts necessary for service. It’s a huge mistake to become a minister, especially a pastor/Officer, without first receiving a specific call from God. No amount of experience, academic study at a college, university or bible college can ever compensate for its absence.

Being called as a minister of God’s word is not like any other job or occupation. The weight of someone else’s eternity rests squarely on your shoulders, a person called to serve will be held accountable by God for all that we do, or don’t do for His names sake. Therefore, do not become a minister if there are other occupations you are also considering or are equally as passionate about.

Whatever your experience, the bottom line is that if God has truly called you in the ministry, He will put you there and see you through the times of uncertainty. May God continue to guide and bless you as you seek His will and divine purpose for your life.

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