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Q&A: What does it mean to be called into the public ministry?

What does it mean to be called into the public ministry? How do you deliberate a call?

Ministry is a word that means “service.” What is the service we are to perform?

Christ gives us our mission

Jesus told his followers in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem . . . and to the ends of the earth.” In Mark 16:15, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” The service and mission that Jesus has called us to carry out is to preach the gospel! This is called the “Office of the Ministry.” Office comes from two Latin words: opus facere. Literally, it is “the work to do.” The work we are to do is to preach the gospel.

God gives this office of ministry to every believer. “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:5-9). We refer to Christians as the priesthood of all believers. That means every Christian has been given the office or work of proclaiming the gospel.

Christ gives us the public ministry

This does not mean that every Christian is part of the public ministry. While we all have gifts to use as members of the royal priesthood, God has also given us public ministers. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). Ephesians 4:11,12 says, “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” God gives us these gifts of public ministers who carry out the office of ministry to equip us for works of service!

What do we mean by public? Are Christian laypeople who share their faith as conference speakers in the public ministry simply because they are in a public setting? No. Is a pastor who shares a devotion in a private setting with a homebound member in the public ministry? Yes.

Public is a historic term going back to ancient Rome. A Roman senator, for example, had a public persona and a private persona as senator. The activities he carried out as senator were public (even if done in private meetings) as part of his role. His personal life and relationships were private.

Some clarify what is meant by public ministry by calling it “representative ministry.” Pastors, teachers, and staff ministers are representing or carrying out ministry on behalf of those who called them.

Christ calls to ministry

Christ calls public ministers to their places of service. All called workers are fully aware of their shortcomings in the face of the enormous responsibilities of ministry. What a comfort to know that the omniscient Lord of the church places them! What a comfort that public ministers can say with the apostle Paul, “Not that we are competent in ourselves . . ., but our competence comes from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Christ calls immediately (i.e., with no go-between) and mediately (i.e., calling through others). God simply could appear and say, “This is where I want you to serve!” He has done that. In the Old Testament, this is how he called the prophets. God called Isaiah immediately, and the prophet responded, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). Think of Jesus calling his disciples in person: “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19). Today, Christ calls his public ministers through the church.

Scripture does not prescribe how a church calls, but it does describe numerous methods used by the early church. Paul and Barnabas appointed called workers in their established churches (Acts chapter 14). The apostles cast lots to determine that Matthias would replace Judas (Acts 1:12-26). In Acts chapter 6, the congregation chose seven individuals to help with the daily distribution of food. This last method is similar to how most WELS congregations call their called workers. No matter what the method, the important thing is that Christ calls to public ministry through the church.

Christ gives us the privilege to deliberate

Assignment Day at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary was an exciting day for my classmates and me! Where was God going to send us? We were eager to say with Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me!” Rumors circulate every year about possible calls: “I hear the church in Hawaii is calling for an associate!” But while it’s fun to speculate, ultimately, every graduate is thrilled by their first call because the Lord of the church has placed each one at a certain place! Where is the best call in the synod for called workers? It is the one they have.

But what happens when called workers receive another call to serve elsewhere? Now they have two calls. God gives them the privilege to deliberate and choose. There isn’t a right or wrong choice. As one professor of mine once put it, “You have two good apples. God gives you the privilege to pick one!”

Just as there is no scripturally prescribed calling process, there is also no scripturally prescribed way to deliberate a call. Scripture shows that much prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and much counsel (Proverbs 12:15; 19:20,21) are always wise courses in decision making. Family considerations also play a part. However, called workers will want to be careful about basing their deliberations on money or the location of the call in a selfish way. Each person deliberates differently. I encourage you to ask your called workers what they consider as they deliberate.

What follows are the major questions I think about when deliberating a call.

  • Where can I have the greatest impact? A similar question might be: Where is there a greater need? I would like to influence the most people so that they can share their faith with even more people.
  • Where can my gifts best be used? The gift set God has blessed us with is one that we are called on to manage. I want to be a good steward of God’s gifts. Every gift set is unique. In which place will my gift set best be used (1 Peter 4:10)?
  • What gets me out of bed in the morning? Sometimes called workers develop a bit of a martyr complex in ministry, thinking the place that is more difficult for them to serve is the better choice. Being excited about ministry is an important consideration. God works in you not only to do it but also to have the will to do it (Philippians 2:13)!

Which is the “right” call? The one people choose! I’ve used the expression “every day is Christmas for God” in a previous article. Ultimately, no matter which call people choose to accept, it will be a wonderful gift to serve God and he will bless it!

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Author: David Scharf
Volume 111, Number 07
Issue: July 2024

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This entry is part 1 of 67 in the series question-answer

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