5 Ways to Discern a Shared Call to Ministry

When my wife and I first met, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college. In fact, I was failing out of college. Now eleven years later, my wife is a pastor’s wife and any other children that we may have in addition to our daughter will each be a pastor’s kid. There was a whole host of things that happened in those eleven years, but one event made me say, “I think God is calling me to ministry.” I felt the internal call like many before me. Soon after that, I was looking into seminary and committing myself to four years of work. At times, seminary nearly made me want to commit myself. Prior to this, my wife and I had conversations about this call—what it meant and what it would mean. We talked about how it would change our lives, but we didn’t fully comprehend how. We can both attest to how God’s calling shapes us. It changes who we are, how we live, and how we maneuver through life. We essentially filter life through God’s calling on our lives. For example, if we are called to be a parent, we process decisions through that parental calling. This is a bit of what happens to the family of those called to ministry. Everything filters through that calling. My wife’s overall calling to Christ, to be my wife, and to be our daughter’s mother is also mingled with my calling to vocational ministry. My daughter will not be able to do certain things and will live a certain kind of life because of my calling. That’s why the call is a shared one.

A Shared Call

Much of what can be read in regards to assessing a call to ministry focuses on the individual person being primarily called into ministry, which makes some sense. However, other people are affected by a man’s call. I asked my wife several times, “Do you feel called to be a pastor’s wife?” That question was usually a part of the larger conversations and prayers regarding what God was leading me towards. Many who assess church planters will say to pay attention to the planter’s wife because she will tell the truth about calling and readiness. If that’s true, God calls not just the man, but his family as well.

Many pastors whose wives didn’t share the call could explain the importance of that shared call. For the pastor’s wife who doesn’t feel called to ministry, the pressures of ministry would only be expanded. Two people united in the covenant of marriage cannot successfully go in two, entirely different directions in terms of their service to Christ—at least not in separate directions that are not mutually supportive.

For children, I could not ask my daughter if she felt called to be a pastor’s kid. She was just born one. Nevertheless, my call will alter the rest of her life. Her walk with Christ and conversion will be vastly different than her mother’s or mine. Her call to be a pastor’s kid came through the sovereign will of God forming her and bringing her to us. The same could be said about all of us who consider ourselves to be partakers of the shed blood of Jesus. None of us, before we were saved, contemplated feeling called to be disciples of Jesus. Yet we were called. In the same way, no Christian should sit down to decide whether they are called to share the gospel, because every Christian is called to share the gospel in light of the Great Commission. Therefore, callings are entirely about God’s design and less about our feelings. Our feelings may reflect God’s design, but they are not sovereign over that design. Thus, we can see how children can also be a part of this shared, family calling.

In what can be considered an effort to speak to the ramifications of this shared call, the Apostle Paul exhorts the unmarried to stay unmarried and encourages marriage if one cannot exercise self-control (1 Cor. 7:8-9). Later in that chapter, he explains why he encourages the unmarried to stay unmarried, “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided,” (1 Cor. 7:32b-34a). Paul says taking a wife and a family adds refinement to one’s calling. A married man cannot do certain things, because he has a responsibility to his wife and children. The Church has a husband and he died for her so we don’t have to. God as Father and as bridegroom exemplifies for us the importance that he places on those two responsibilities. In other words, God is concerned about husbands and fathers being about the business of being husbands and fathers. Thus, a pastor who is a husband and a father, as he works out his primary calling as a proper disciple of Christ, is first a husband and a father, before he is a pastor.

Additionally, it seems that Paul affirms this refinement of calling that comes through having a family. One could call it a limitation, but that could be misunderstood as a negative thing. Everyone who is trying to discern what God is calling them to is asking God for limitation of that calling or for God to set aside the things to which they are not called so that they might be limited to the thing to which they are called. Therefore, I think it is safe to deduce from Paul’s words as well that there is a collective or family calling that is placed on a couple and their children.

In light of this, it is crucial that those seeking to be in ministry or even those in ministry discuss the following with your wives:

  1. Does your wife feel called to be a pastor’s wife? It can be helpful to look at other couples in ministry and examine their lives, their responsibilities, and their ministries. It can also be helpful to talk to those couples about what it is like being in ministry, both the good and the bad.
  2. How will this impact your future or current kids? If you have kids already, how will this impact their lives? Will they be able to adjust to this new life? Perhaps it may be appropriate if they are old enough to process it, to ask what their thoughts are about this change. If you don’t have kids yet, in what ways can you start to pray and prepare to be raising PK’s?
  3. Is your wife’s support simply an affirmation that she supports whatever you want to do or does she feel a shared passion for people and seeing them grow in Christ? There is a huge difference between the two. If the answer is the first, then it could mean that she will end up at least frustrated or possibly even resentful. To some degree, she should probably share in your passion for people and their growth in Christ.
  4. Will you both be able to accept the change in financial means from what you either lived with before or what you expected to be living with? This can be challenging when switching from “secular” employment to vocational ministry. It could also be a challenge if you had an expectation for your financial life that is different from the life of vocational ministry.
  5. Is your family ready to open itself up to a congregation? It is crucial to a healthy Christian life to be known by our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, in pastoral ministry, the pastor’s life as well as his family’s lives are on display for the congregation. This can be played out through opening your home in hospitality to those in the congregation or just the visibility of the little conversations with your wife, the outbursts of your kids, and the like.

In recognizing the shared calling that a life in ministry is, we can do well for our families and our ministries to keep these things frequently in our prayers and conversations. This gets to the root of the health of our souls when we talk about how on board our wives and children are with what God has called us to. It is near impossible or at least just incredibly challenging to be effective without a shared sense of calling in our marriages and families. If we take the time in our preparation for ministry to pray and talk through these things, God will bless that. Even if we find ourselves having been in ministry for some time, we would do well to begin or continue to pray and talk through these things. May God bless you in your service to him, whatever and wherever that is!

Nick Abraham (DMin student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) lives in Navarre, OH with his wife and daughter. He serves as an Associate Pastor at Alpine Bible Church in Sugarcreek, OH. He is a contributor to Make, Mature, Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus and blogs at Like Living Stones.