Ortberg on Calling

John Ortberg just published an article exploring the idea of the “call” to ministry.

I have been a pastor for a long time now. When I was ordained in the Baptist church, one of the questions I knew was coming was, “Tell us about your ‘call.'” In our tradition, if you became a pastor, you had to have a “call”: a mystical, vivid, (but non-charismatic) experience in which you have an inner sense/compulsion/Voice (but never quite audible) that tells you to become a preacher.

I come from a long line of pastors. My great-grandfather, Robert Bennet Hall, got his call working in a small grocery store more than a century ago. He had run away from the orphanage where he grew up and married a grocer’s daughter. He was sweeping out the storeroom when he got the call. My brother-in-law got the call when he was working in a grocery store in our old hometown of Rockford, Illinois….

…I never got that kind of call.

It’s an honest, confessional exploration of his lack of a strong inner sense of calling to ministry, despite how much others thought he needed it. In some ways, Ortberg goes against what we’ve said about the inner sense of calling, but I respect him and find value in his discussion of it.

Full article here

3 Replies to “Ortberg on Calling”

  1. This is an old post, but having come across it just yesterday I thought I’d leave a comment.

    Ultimately, I disagree with the conclusion Ortberg comes to in his article, but I appreciate the honesty he approaches the topic with. From his account, we see a recognition that something about the concept of receiving a calling into the ministry doesn’t quite sit right with him. Unfortunately, rather than questioning whether the idea of receiving a secret/inner/mystical calling from God is truly substantiated in the scriptures, he concludes God is somehow dealing with him differently for some unknown purposes.

    While we do find in the scriptures that God has supernaturally called certain individuals such as Abraham, Jacob, Jonah, and Paul for specific purposes within His overall plan, we do not find in the New Testament the currently accepted teaching that people receive a personal revelation that they are to seek the office of overseer/elder/pastor/teacher. What we do find is Paul’s instruction that, while a desire to be an overseer is good, a man must be qualified for the role. That is to say, it is not the personal testimony of one receiving a call which qualifies them for the ministry, but merely having the desire and the qualification.

    “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” – Hebrews 1:1-2

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Derek. I don’t line up with Ortberg here, either. There are external (qualification) and internal (desire/calling) elements to calling, and I’m not sure Ortberg does justice to the internal elements.

    Last year I got in a small row with some seminary classmates about God’s will. They all subscribed to the “wisdom” view–i.e. read the Scriptures and do what seems best; I was the lone representative for the “specific will” view–i.e. that God has something particular in mind. We tussled back and forth about it, but at the end of the day, there is some insight in each position.

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