What is a Call to Ministry?

The mascot for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta was Izzy. Being the first computer generated mascot, Izzy didn’t look like any animal, person or place. The mascot didn’t convey the image of any existing object, so people, many in their Southern drawls, asked, “What iz it?” Eventually, the questionwas shortened and the mascot was appropriately nicknamed Izzy.

That amorphous blue mascot is like the call to ministry in that the call is difficult to describe. Dividing the call into two distinct categories, general and specific, can illuminate our understanding.

General and Specific Call

All believers are under the general call of God. They are called to follow and obey. This call demands humility and holiness. In addition, each and every believer is invited to join God in His redemptive activity in the world. They are called to make disciples and be witnesses. This is a broad call that applies to any who claim the name of Christ.

God also calls individuals to specific tasks within His redemptive activity in the world. Surrendering to God’s general call places a believer on God’s team; surrendering to God’s specific call places a believer in a specific role on that team. For example, in the early church God called Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles while Peter primarily proclaimed Jesus to the Jews. Both fulfilled the general call of God by carrying out God’s specific call in their lives.

This chapter will focus on the specific call of God while attempting to answer, “What is the call?” One way to address that question is to consider the call of an unlikely warrior named Gideon. His story will provide perspective on God’s call.

Brave and Mighty Warrior

Gideon raised his eyes from the wheat in the winepress to mop the perspiration from his brow. For the first time, he noticed the mysterious stranger sitting quietly under the oak. The sight of a stranger initially frightened Gideon, but the farmer relaxed when he realized that the man was not a Midianite. The marauding Midianites had ravaged the land of Israel for years. Gideon’s people hid from their oppressors. Some even abandoned their homes and retreated to mountain caves.

Gideon had not taken to the hills but he had retreated to a winepress. Typically threshing occurred on the threshing floor, out in the open so that the wind could carry away the chaff. The fear of Midianite raiders had driven Gideon to the winepress. Too many times the Midianites had descended on unsuspecting Israelites, robbing Israel of crops and dignity. “Would God ever send someone to rescue His people?” Gideon dropped his eyes in shame as he considered the plight of his people.

It is unlikely you have felt the oppression of Midianite raiders, but it is probable that you have felt the shame of God’s people. Sin saturates the church just as it saturates the world. The people of God still resemble the crowds that Jesus encountered, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Have you ever wondered if God will send someone to rescue his people?  Have you ever wondered if God is sending you?

Interrupting the Silence

The stranger’s confident voice interrupted Gideon’s silence. “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Gideon stifled a laugh. He couldn’t decide which part of the statement was more comical.

Gideon was anything but a mighty warrior. He was a farmer so filled with fear that he wouldn’t even thresh his wheat at the threshing floor. Instead of accepting the assistance of the wind on the spacious threshing floor, Gideon worked on his wheat in the enclosed winepress.

He wouldn’t describe himself as a “brave and mighty warrior.” He could think of a few other descriptions: a slinking provider, a conquered coward, or a frightened father. But as much as the label “brave and mighty warrior” humored Gideon, the assurance that God would be with him seemed even more preposterous. The preposterous assertion prompted Gideon to question the stranger. Gideon peppered the pilgrim with questions. “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:13)

Gideon could not harmonize God’s presence with the presence of the Midianite marauders. Gideon recounted the stories of God’s activity in the past. He could affirm that God had been with Israel, but Gideon saw no evidence of God’s activity in the present. “Where is He now?” Gideon inquired. “Look around, do you see the Lord working among us? Look at the camels of  the Midianites, resting on our land and destroying our crops! Look at the bloated bellies of the babies dying from dehydration. Look at the heavy yoke of oppression that constantly drags Israel down.”

Gideon couldn’t see the battlefield for the winepress. He couldn’t envision himself as a brave and mighty warrior because he could see the chaff stuck to his sweat-stained skin. He couldn’t taste victory because of the ever present after-taste of oppression. It is easy to bemoan the lack of God’s activity in the present but it is much more difficult to be a part of God’s activity in the present. If you want to see God’s activity today, then report for duty. If you want to see God work like He did in the lives of Moses, Gideon and Paul, then say, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”

“Am I Not Sending You?”

The stranger walked over to the winepress and spoke to Gideon: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out if Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14). The mysterious stranger unnerved Gideon. How could this man commission Gideon? Was it possible that he was more than just a mysterious pilgrim? Was Gideon receiving a message that would change his story and the history of Israel? Was this a delusional stranger or a Godly messenger?

While Gideon considered the potential implications, he replied to the stranger’s command, lamenting with his own question: “How can I save Israel?” (Judges 6:15). Gideon pulled out the mental mirror and said, “You must be crazy. I know me and I am not up to this task. I know me and I’m not man enough for this job. There must be someone stronger, someone smarter, someone younger, or maybe even someone older.” Gideon knew his status, or lack of status. He was not a warrior and his people were not warriors. Gideon said, “Let me introduce myself to you, God; my family is the weakest in the tribe (and it isn’t a very strong tribe at that), and I am the weakest of all in the family.”

Gideon is certain that God, or maybe this stranger, or perhaps both, have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Perhaps they were looking for Gideon’s cousin. He was a big guy, good with a sword. He could be a great and mighty warrior!

Faced with God’s vision of the future, excuses abound. Like Gideon, you can probably fill notebooks with reasons why God’s call must be wrong. Surely you aren’t equipped for this task. You stammer when you speak and your mind drifts when you try to study. Certainly you don’t have the financial resources to make this work. Education costs money which is in short supply around your house. Perhaps, like Gideon, your pedigree isn’t conducive to ministry. Maybe your family would disown you if you seriously pursued God’s vision for your life. Opposite your excuses, you can make a lengthy list of others more competent or more qualified than you. God should talk to them, right?

Gideon couldn’t see himself as a “brave and mighty warrior,” but God could. How does God see you? Has He provided a glimpse of your future that seems unrecognizable in the present? Sometimes we balk at God’s vision for our lives because our vision is skewed by sin. Our past prohibits our ability to see the future with any clarity. We can’t see ourselves as one sent by God to shepherd His people because past failures and current struggles impair our vision. Remember, God has future focused x-ray vision. He sees us for who we will be and His vision is always accurate. Trust His vision for your life!

“I Can’t, He Can”

The mysterious stranger interrupts Gideon’s excuses. With a note of authority this messenger of God reveals God’s reality, “I will be with you and you will strike down all the Midianites together” (Judges 6:16). The messenger promises God’s presence. He reveals to Gideon that God’s activity is not limited to past tense participation; it also includes present tense reality. In addition, the messenger promises victory. The key for Gideon is to recognize the relationship between the two promises.

Victory only comes in the power of God’s presence.

Gideon said, “I can’t do it.” God agreed with Gideon’s assessment. God recognized Gideon’s limitations even more acutely than Gideon. So, God says to Gideon, “I will be with you and you will strike down the Midianites. Gideon, this isn’t about you trying harder, this isn’t about you doing better, and this isn’t even about you in me. No, this is about Me in you. This is about what I can do through you!”

Gideon’s excuses revealed a lack of faith. Ours do the same. False humility actually belies a fragile faith in God. When you pretend that your skills are insufficient or your abilities are incomplete, you imply that God has made a mistake. You imply that God doesn’t know what He is doing. You act as if God does not possess the ability to equip and empower His servants. Playing up your inability actually questionsGod’s ability. God knows that you can’t accomplish the task on your own. It is arrogant for us to think that we can. God assures Gideon that he will win the victory. God’s assurance is the same for you. If God has revealed His vision of your future, He will enable you to realize it.

Kris Barnett is Associate Dean of the Clamp Divinity School and Associate Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina