A pastor friend tells the story of a dear old soul he visited often in the nursing home. She would make ringing noises (BBBBrrrring! BBBBrrrring!), then turn her head and yell, "Somebody get the phone!"
Our conversation with Maxie Dunnam brought that story to mind. Often in ministry, we meet those who struggle with the concept of the call. They may not be certain whether they hear a call from God or if they're concocting the call themselves. And we wonder whether we should help them answer it.
During his lifetime of ministry, as pastor, denominational leader, and currently president of Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, Dunnam has helped many a prospective minister discern the call of God.
What do you say to someone who says, "I think I may be called to ministry"?
I say, "God bless you!"
The church as a whole and the academic community in particular aren't always friendly to the message that God intervenes directly in our lives, that he makes himself known by speaking to us. So I try to affirm what they're experiencing and that God does call and lead.
Then I try to put the specific call into a larger context. I talk about the fact that the first call upon our lives is the call to accept God's justifying grace. That's the first calling we all receive. Once we become Christians, there is a second calling, a deeper calling to be a committed follower, to take seriously being a disciple of Christ.
The third calling some receive is to "representative" ministry, the professional or ordained ministry wherein we "represent" Christ.
While I try to affirm the person's call, I also try to clarify his or her notion of calling. A calling from God is part of his work in all of us, not just in those who would be pastors.