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Answering God's Call to Ministry

a sermon outline by Ervin Stutzman, Dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary

Suggestions for places you can expand the sermon are in purple

Central focus: God calls people to salvation and to service in his kingdom.
Purpose: To instill a sense of readiness to hear and answer God’s call to ministry.

It begins with a story

From the time I was a little boy I heard the story of Samuel (link to scripture/story in 1 Samuel). The story reminds us that even little children can hear God speak to them. Have you ever stopped to think about what would have happened if Samuel had been alert to God’s voice?

Or what would have happened if Eli had said to Samuel: “No just go to sleep. You must be imagining things. Soon you’ll be seeing monsters under your bed!”? After all, the Bible says the word of the LORD was rare in those days.

Or what would have happened if Samuel had not been honest and told Eli what the LORD said to him?

Perhaps it would be better to ask, “What would not have happened?” Israel would have missed the leadership of an outstanding prophet and would have been overrun by her enemies – the Philistines.

What if some of us were to miss God’s call today? What if we were to say that when people say they hear God’s call it’s just their imagination?

What is Call?

A call implies that we hear a voice from beyond ourselves, beckoning us to listen and respond.

Have you ever wished God’s call was as simple and straightforward as a phone call. What would it be like to have the cell phone ring with God on the other end? That would be pretty exciting, wouldn’t it? I don’t suppose that’s too likely to happen but you never know how God speaks. I remember reading a book by Francis Schaeffer in the early 1970s called He is there and he is not silent. He makes the point that as Chris tians we can have the confidence that God is present and wants to be in communication with us. God is the one who initiates our relationship. Over and over in scripture we see God reaching out to his people. Jesus demonstrated that God is like the shepherd who goes after lost sheep. Just like Jesus calling the disciples on the lakeshore in Galilee , God initiates the call.

This is the conviction of the hymn writer who penned “I sought the Lord.”

I sought the Lord and afterward I knew he moved my soul to
seek him seeking me. It was not I that found O savior true,
no, I was found of thee.

Verse 1

I find, I walk, I love but oh, the whole of love is but my
answer Lord, to thee! For thou wert long beforehand
with my soul, always thou lovest me. Verse 3

Hymnal WB 506

It’s the same truth that we find in Romans 8:28-30: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Calling people is a vital part of God’s work in the world

There are many different biblical examples of call which show many possibilities.

Each of these persons heard God’s call in very specific yet different ways. All of them heard the voice of God in some dramatic fashion.

Have personal stories, or scripture linked to each of these examples. . .

As I read the scriptures I get the strong sense that God calls every person in at least two ways.

  1. There is the call to salvation. For some it comes quietly over a period of time. For others it comes powerfully and dramatically. Link to personal stories
  2. There is the call to serve God, to minister in the name of Jesus in the church and in the world. Like the call to salvation, this call takes different shapes for us. Link to personal stories

Does God call every Christian into ministry today?

Yes! But each of us will experience this call differently depending on the spiritual gifts God has given us. We will also experience it quite differently depending on our family, the congregation of which we are a part, our gender or even age.

Link to personal stories

How do we hear God’s voice?

How can we be sure that it is God speaking and not simply our own desires expressing themselves? How do we find confirmation from others for God’s call to ministry?

Expand on these, create link to personal stories, examples, etc.

 Is there ever conflict between our inner sense of call and the outer call?

Expand on these, create link to personal stories, resources, etc.

Discerning Call

The Society of Friends, or Quakers, offers a clearness process to confirm God’s voice in important decisions such as marriage or vocation.

Expand on these, create link to personal stories, additional resources, etc.

If the church doesn’t grow pastors or What will happen if we don’t hear God’s call or Why it’s important that we be like Samuel or Why attend to a culture of call

I am more convinced than ever that many people in our congregations, both men and women, never hear a call to ministry because the church has not provided the environment that would have alerted them to God’s voice. Further, I’m convinced that we have become conformed to our society in ways that muffle God’s call to ministry. Expand on these, create link to personal stories, additional resources, etc.

From 1950 to Today

“Church expectations have become increasingly “professional.” Like many students in the 1950s, I began preaching in my sophomore year of college. My skills were less than professional and I would not be given the same opportunity today. Today’s graduates have to build a resume of experience before churches will consider them for leadership roles. The degree of professionalism expected for preachers, teachers, music and youth leaders is so high that some graduates become discouraged and seek other employment.”

Expand on these, create link to personal stories, additional resources/documentation, etc.

These are essentially the same insights that come from the Samuel Project , (to see MEA website click here) which concluded that young people need the encouragement of the church, as well as practical ministry options, to seriously pastoral ministry. They need a tap on the shoulder. Otherwise it won’t be on their “radar screen.”

If you are over 50 years old you can likely remember a time when young people in the Mennonite Church participated in a very public way in Wednesday evening prayer meetings or Sunday evening services. I am deeply committed to helping congregations encourage a culture of call in the church. I would like to see every congregation develop an environment where people can readily hear God’s call. Not just young men or young women, but people of all ages. Not just for pastoral leadership but for all the expressions of ministry to which God calls. Not just for ministry in the congregation but to the many forms of ministry outside the walls of the church. God is at work everywhere around the world. You can join in service for him at any time.

If you have a sense that God is calling you to a particular ministry, feel free to tell me or someone else about it. Or if you have a sense that God is calling someone else, give them some encouragement.

[Have the cell phone ring]. (To the congregation: It’s God!) “Yes, I thought it might be you. Pause. Oh, yes, I’ll be sure to tell them that. [ Hang up.]

God says all of us should be on the alert for a call from him at any time. He loves you and he’s going to be in touch. And when he calls, be sure to listen and respond.

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