The concepts of "being called by God" and "ministry" are biblical. We can find them in passages such as:

Ephesians 4:1-14 (ESV):

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Galatians 1:15-17 (ESV):

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Romans 12:4-8 (ESV)

4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

1 Cor 12:4-11 (ESV):

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Question: how do Christians discern if they are being called by God to ministry? And what ministry specifically (e.g. pastor, teacher, prophet, evangelist, missionary (and to what country?), etc.)? How do they know which specific gifts have been given to them by the Holy Spirit for their ministry? Do any denominations teach how to discern these things and how to make sure that it is really God who is calling them (as opposed to a mere "gut feeling" which is not necessarily in line with God's will)?

  • 3
    Too many ways... most denominations probably don't even have anything consistent. If you asked me, the most important thing would be though that other Christians are calling you to ministry, not just that you have a feeling that God is.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 8:08
  • 1
    A few famous church fathers were almost "forced" to become bishop, like St. Augustine. I think Cardinal Ratzinger was also a reluctant Pope, but in Catholic understanding God clearly called him (through the conclave balloting) so he has to obey. The discernment of the Holy Spirit is left to individual cardinal participating in the conclave, who supposedly need to be in seclusion rather than discussing with other cardinals. Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 22:32
  • 5
    There was a man sent from God whose name was John. John 1:6. Those who are called, are called by God himself and they know it. Others might, mistakenly, think they belong to this category, but do not. Some might even follow these people. Every denomination has their own opinions about this very matter. Which is a crucial matter, namely, "Who exactly are the proper Apostolic Ministry which properly represents Jesus Christ ?" If there was genuinely one Body on earth, one Church, then there would only be one ministry and we would not need to ask the question.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 13:12
  • @nigel-j what means do we have to distinguish the one right ministry? Only prayer?
    – TKoL
    Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 16:43
  • @TKoL 'My sheep hear my voice and they follow me'. The sheep can distinguish between the shepherd and the hireling.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 17:29

2 Answers 2


Whilst agreeing that discernment and prayer is vital when contemplating what ministry God has called a Christian to, it might be useful to first consider what forms ministry can take. Not all are called to become ministers, pastors or priests. Not all are called to preach from a pulpit. The purpose of ministry is to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11), that is, the people who belong to Christ. That work can take many different forms based on our God-given gifts.

Paul realised that God had set him apart before he was born and after Paul met up with the risen and glorified Christ, he was commissioned to preach Christ among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-17). God told Ananias that Saul of Tarsus (as he was known prior to his conversion):

This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name (Acts 9:15-16).

That was a unique calling by God. Paul said, “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). To be “compelled” to preach means to be driven onward by an irresistible and undeniable compulsion to do so. Jeremiah described the compulsion as a “burning fire” (Jeremiah 20:8–9) that could not be stifled. Trying to hold it back made him weary.

On the other hand, we have Jonah, who was called by God and told directly by Him to preach against the people of Nineveh because of their wickedness. Jonah refused to surrender to that call; instead, he ran as far away as he could in the opposite direction (Jonah 1:1–3). The Lord pursued His disobedient servant until Jonah submitted himself to the call. An example of how resistance is useless when God calls a person.

God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (Romans 11:20).

Romans 12:6-7 says we are to use the gifts that God has given to us, and those gifts differ, one from another. Those gifts include (but are not restricted to) serving, teaching, exhorting, generously contributing, leading and performing acts of mercy. You don’t need to go to a seminary to obtain theological qualifications to perform such ministry.

Back to your question: how do Christians discern if they are being called by God to ministry, and what ministry specifically?

Key to understanding how Christians discern what their God-given gifts are and how they are to be put to use in the service of God is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God gives us spiritual gifts to aid us in our call to service. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts as He sees fit and then calls us into a field of service that utilizes those gifts:

All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Corinthians 12:11).

It is the Holy Spirit who prompts and leads those who have received the Holy Spirit as assurance that they have now been adopted into God’s family:

...those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God... but you have received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:14-16).

God’s specific call to service usually begins with a burden for a particular need that relates to the kingdom of God. Some are called to be pastors, teachers, worship leaders, and Bible translators, or to bring practical as well as spiritual help to people in other countries. Christian doctors, nurses and dentists risk their lives to go to hostile countries so they can heal the sick, some even being taken hostage and murdered by those who oppose Christianity. Other Christians raise money to help provide schools, food and shelter for people in desperate situations. I know of such people.

Christians discover their call to a specific area of service by walking closely with the Lord, practicing obedience, and offering them-self as a living sacrifice:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1–2).

If the response to a Christian’s calling to a particular ministry is positive, that would indicate the Holy Spirit is actively at work and their efforts are being blessed. Here are a few extracts from an article on the subject:

In confirming any calling, it is important to first examine your heart and motivation (Jeremiah 17:9). If the motivation is pride or people-pleasing, you should give pause. At all times, the process should be covered in prayer and the individual should be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit. Internal as well as external confirmation will indicate whether a person is following God’s will. God is sovereignly in control of all things and will work “all things . . . for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Every person has a unique calling from God. The call to vocational ministry, however, is particularly public, and those in public ministry are often both highly regarded and highly criticized. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Those in ministry leadership positions are held to high standards because they are guiding others. The books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus list requirements for those in church leadership positions.

When determining whether or not you are called to vocational ministry, consider what it will entail, be courageous, and trust God. If God has called you, He will equip you and fill you so that you may be poured out for others (see Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 13:20-21; Ephesians 3:20-21; Psalm 37:23; and Isaiah 30:21). https://www.gotquestions.org/call-to-ministry.html

  • Nice response, keep it up!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 15:20

How do Christians discern if they are being called by God to ministry, and what ministry specifically?

Discernment for a particular ministry usually takes several years to ascertain. It is not something that Christians simply wake up and say ”I am going to be a minister or a priest!”

The number one thing to do is to pray over the during the time of discernment and includes the time of formation at a seminary or higher school of learning.

A seminary is a graduate institution (offering master’s and/or doctoral degrees) that prepares people for ministry as pastors, priests, or rabbis. Therefore, there are Jewish seminaries, Catholic seminaries, and Protestant seminaries. Sometimes, a seminary may be called a divinity school. A seminary may be part of a larger university or a school that stands alone. Protestant seminaries may be operated by churches or denominations, or they may be independent. Independent seminaries may have a particular focus, such as Evangelical theology or, more narrowly, apologetics, dispensational theology, missions, or church planting. Some seminaries are better known for practical ministry training, while others focus on academic and theological rigor. Some were started by churches or denominations but later severed or minimized their ties with the founding church or denomination.

The foundational degree that most seminaries offer is the Master of Divinity (M.Div.), but many will also offer a Master of Theology (Th.M.), a D.Min. (Doctor of Ministry), or a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) degree.

The word seminary is from the Latin word for “seed.” The seminary is a place where ideas (preferably true ideas) can be planted, germinate, and take root in the lives of the students and then bear fruit that they can then share with those they minister to.

The Bible speaks nothing of seminaries by that name, but it does mention formal education and religious training. Paul “studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law” (Acts 22:3). Jesus commanded His followers to teach others (Matthew 28:19–20). Timothy is directed to train church leaders: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

In the book of Acts, we find what could be considered an early prototype of the modern seminary. Paul was in Ephesus, where he spoke in the synagogue for about three months, until the Jews’ obstinacy forced him to leave. But the training in the Gospel continued: “He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:9–10). A daily discussion of theology for two years in a lecture hall—this sounds very much like the practice of the modern seminary.

God’s approved workers are described as “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV), a quality that assumes a study of the Word. God can use those who have never been to seminary—the apostles Peter and John were “unschooled” (Acts 4:13). But the formal study of Scripture can be a tool God uses as well, and seminaries can provide that training. - What is a seminary?

Even the Apostle St. Paul spent three years in discernment, prayer and study after his conversion and before he returned to Jerusalem to meet the other Apostles.

In the book of Galatians, Paul emphasizes that he received the gospel from Jesus directly and not from the other apostles. As evidence, he offers the following information in Galatians 1:11–20: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.” Why, when, and for how long was the apostle Paul in Arabia?

As seem from the above the discernment process takes time in order to ascertain if we are truly called by God to be a minister or a priest and what particular form of ministry one may be called to.

Personal prayer is a major ingredient to discerning one’s calling from God. Without the personal relationship with the Almighty we would be empty vessels.

The following article has a good outline for what discernment means.

Discerning My Vocation

What is discernment?

Discernment is a process by which we are helped to reach a decision in the light of faith and in the context of our personal reality and the realities of the world in which we live. Discernment involves trying to identify what is of God, what is for our full happiness and for others and distinguishing or separating that from what is not of God or from what is simply driven by my ego, societal expectations, family or peer pressure.

Some Helpful Hints

  • Keep in mind that discernment isn’t easy and it takes time.

– Be patient with yourself and God! You may find it helpful to keep a journal so that you can record your thoughts and reflections.

  • Come to your process of discernment with an open heart.

– Be prepared to be surprised by God! Remember that choosing one way means letting go of another way, no matter how good is.

  • It’s always hard to choose between two or more “goods”.

Some Discernment Steps

  1. Place yourself in the presence of our loving God. Make some quiet time and special space for prayer and try not to fill the time with lots of words in your prayer.

  2. Listen to your heart and to God in the movements of the Holy Spirit in you.

  3. Reflect on your vocation. You may find it helpful to pray in the quietness of your room, in Church in front of the Blessed Sacrament or in the quietness of nature.

  4. Ask God to speak to your heart.

  5. Find a spiritual director or wise and trusted soul-friend – someone you can be really open and honest with – who can help you deepen your relationship with God and know yourself better.

  6. Pray for freedom to understand and choose what is in harmony with God’s designs for you.

  7. You may find it helpful to take a piece of paper and write down what you think are alternatives for you and then look at the appeal and the advantages or disadvantages of each one for you and for others. Consider your reasons for choosing a particular way. Which reasons best lead to your loving service of God and others? In relation to each alternative ask yourself again how you best need to be loved and how you can best love.

  8. Realistically consider your gifts and limitations, your deep desires and needs and how they might fit well with possible life choices.

  9. Listen to words of confirmation or affirmation from others in your process.

  10. Where are you feeling peace? What most draws you close to God?

  11. Gently and with patience come to a decision and in prayer and action search out further confirmation of your choice. Offer the fullness of your choice and life to God.

Pope St. Pius X by first reports declined his nomination as pope.

At first, it is reported, Sarto declined the nomination, feeling unworthy. Additionally, he had been deeply saddened by the Austro-Hungarian veto and vowed to rescind these powers and excommunicate anyone who communicated such a veto during a conclave. With the cardinals asking him to reconsider, it is further reported, he went into solitude, and took the position after deep prayer in the Pauline chapel and the urging of his fellow cardinals. - Pope Pius X

Prayer is of such importance!

  • 1
    Although Paul spent 3 years in formation, his calling to preach the gospel to the Gentiles was quite clear and instantaneous. Acts 13:1-3 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
    – user50422
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 19:19
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Agreed. But he still went to Arabia to prepare himself for that ministry through prayer and study!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 19:32

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