Because of this important principle, when we examine our calling, we are not to look for a hierarchy of potential vocations and choose the “best” one; we should instead examine our gifts and interests to discern for which profession we are best suited. Again, if God is the giver of gifts and talents, and if God does not ordinarily give supernatural signs to direct His people to their vocation, then the best direction we can have for our vocation is to seek that for which God has best equipped us. In this way, vocational ministry is no different from other callings—we look at ourselves and our abilities and we seek the affirmation and advice of others around us to help us determine whether a calling is a match. These two assessments have historically been described as the “internal call” and the “external call” when applied to a calling to the gospel ministry. When looking at the internal and external calls, it is important to recognize that they apply in a secular context as well, just with different circumstances.
the internal call
The first assessment related to vocation is an individual’s assessment of his own gifts, talents, and interests. This has been termed the internal call. That does not mean, however, that it consists entirely of inner feelings and desires. Such desires are a component of the internal call, but there is more to consider. The internal call also involves self-assessment. It is right and good for individuals to reflect on the skills they have, the gifts they have been given, and the desires they have for certain vocations. Each of these areas is important for proper self-reflection. It does a person no good to ignore his gifts or skills. In our day, far too much has been made of the idea that a person should follow only a vocation about which he is passionate, that one should never “settle” for another vocation, and that one should always “follow your heart.” A yearning to embrace a vocation is important, but it is not enough. If it were, I would be playing Major League Baseball.
In the context of a calling to the gospel ministry, for example, much more is needed than a desire to help others or to try to find meaning in one’s vocation. If a calling comes from the Lord, then He will have equipped you to flourish in that calling. That begins with meeting the requirements for gospel ministry. The call of Christ does not come today to the prospective minister as it did to Matthew, in the person of Christ saying directly to him, “Follow Me.” But the call to the ministry does begin with the call of Christ to bear His name and follow Him. Far too often, men seek the ministry as a means of stilling the voice of discontent in their own hearts. It is easy to fall prey to the thought that if I dedicate my life to the service of the gospel, God will accept me and reward that commitment with eternal life. The absolute prerequisite to the gospel ministry is to be personally called by God and reconciled to Him through the finished work of Christ, to have it be your name that God calls. Horatius Bonar made the same point more than a century ago: “The true minister must be a true Christian. He must be called by God before he can call others to God.”
The prospective gospel minister should be careful not to fall prey to perfectionist tendencies, and he must also not be overly self-confident in his ability. The very nature of the ministry should make a man pause before embarking on that path and should cause a man to see the greatness of the work and cry out with Paul that he is not sufficient for these things (2 Cor. 3:5). When looking at himself, he must look to the One who gives gifts to men. It is God who makes the man sufficient by providing him with the abilities, skills, and demeanor he needs to succeed in vocational ministry. These gifts do not all have to exist in full form before a man pursues the gospel ministry, but a humble self-assessment should show the presence of required gifts (for example, an understanding of the Scriptures and the ability to teach). The prospective gospel minister must also ask himself hard questions about the character qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. He should know that the character qualifications are not just hurdles to clear but the demeanor and traits necessary to be successful in vocational ministry. Finally, a man must look at himself to determine whether he is committed to vocational ministry. Commitment is vital to the ministry, a commitment of faith to spiritual growth, humility, knowledge, discipline, wisdom, and leadership, among other things. When a man puts his hand to the plow, he cannot look back (Luke 9:62). Paul gives excellent guidance for self-assessment: he knew he was not perfect, he knew that he had not yet become what he would be, but he also knew he had to press on toward the goal (Phil. 3:12). A proper view of the internal call takes this to heart.