Twice a year I and a great team of others from around the state lead a two
day seminar for people who are considering going into professional ministry. It
is the first step of a journey toward becoming a pastor. One of the important
parts of that seminar is sharing stories of call – kind of like Samuel’s. We
bring in pastors from around the state who share how they felt God’s call.
When we use the phrase God’s call, what we mean by that is how they
struggled to know what God wanted them to do with their lives. How did they
know that God was leading them into pastoral ministry? What had God done to
draw them or to push them that direction?
The story of Samuel is a perfect example of a call from God. But most
people’s stories are more complex than this one. Usually they don’t hear a
voice in the night, but there is clearly a leading from God and the involvement
of other important people. So I invite pastors from around the state to share
their call stories with these people who are considering ministry. The idea is
that by hearing how other people knew and understood God’s leading, it might
help these new folks who are trying to figure out God’s call in their lives.
So for example, during these presentations I might tell how I ended up in
My grandmother was one of the most amazing women that I have ever known.
She had 8 kids, and she prepared every one of them to be very successful. One
of her dreams was that one of her children would be a pastor, but that dream
did not come true. My dad thought about it, he met with the supervising
committee to talk with them about it, took a some classes in preparation, but
the meeting didn’t go well, and he didn’t do very well in the classes, so he
went into engineering. My dad had told me all of this as I was growing up – so
perhaps God was planting a seed early on. My grandmother died my freshman year
That was a very difficult time for me, I had a lot of suicidal thoughts.
But across the hall from me lived a wonderful friend, and he invited me to
become involved in a Christian group on campus. It was a great place of
friendship and fellowship, and it taught me just how deeply God loved me, even
if I didn’t deserve it. Through that group during the summer between my
sophomore and junior year I went to a three week leadership camp, where I
learned an incredible amount, but I also had a moment during one of our meetings
where I knew that God wanted me to be a pastor, so I said to God, “Yes, I will
About an hour later I changed my mind, I remember praying, “God, I don’t
think I need to be a pastor, I can serve you just as well as a teacher or a
professor.” You see, I planned to get a doctorate in English Literature and
work at a university. So I followed my plan. In my senior year in college I
sent out applications to all sorts of graduate schools to pursue my doctorate
in English Literature. I even got a full ride offer.
Before going to graduate school I decided to take a year off and earn some
money to pay for this further schooling. And that is where the weird started to
happen. The school that had offered me a full-ride lost my application, and the
opportunity vanished. I sent out other applications and was not accepted at any
of the other schools. I began to wonder what was happening while I remembered
in the back of my mind that commitment at camp.
So again I prayed, “God just to humor you, I will send out one seminary
application. Just one. And we’ll see what happens.” What happened was that as
soon as they received it, they personally called me, and asked me to come and
visit. I did, and before I knew what was really happening I was enrolled and
attending United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH.
During my second year of seminary, I started working at a church for the
first time, and I knew that this was what God wanted me to do, and it was what
I needed to do. And my grandmother’s dream was fulfilled, and from heaven I
know she was proud of me. That’s my call story.
So during this seminar that I lead, we have the attenders gather in small
groups and share how they got to this point. What is it in their lives that has
made them think God is calling them to a professional ministry?
They share, like I shared. It is a deeply personal and powerful time of
reflection. There is laughter and tears. What I’ve learned from this is that
although Samuel’s call story is pretty amazing – the best call story is yours.
I mean, it is pretty cool that God calls Samuel in the night four times,
that Samuel actually hears the voice of God, that Samuel mistakes the voice of
God for that of his master. And it is a little creepy and frightening that his
first job is to tell his master, Eli, that God is angry with his family and
will punish him, so that their family will no longer be priests in the temple.
From that moment Samuel is a prophet of God, bringing messages of hope and
messages of condemnation. That is a cool call story.
But yours is still better. Because your call story is the one that God has
for your life. Sharing that story is more powerful than sharing Samuel’s
because it is real to you – you have lived it.
Now, I know that not everyone is called to professional ministry. But
everyone is called. That calling may be to be the best Christian business
executive you can be, it might be to be the teacher that demonstrates God’s
love to the kids, it might be to help serve at every potluck the church has, it
might be to volunteer at RAM, it might be speak a prophetic word to leadership;
but we are all called by God, every day. Sometimes it is easy to hear that call
(like a voice calling to Samuel) – and other times it can be very hard to tell
if God is speaking to us or not (like mistaking that voice for the voice of the
master). Sometimes we accept that call (like saying “God, I will do that”),
sometimes we refuse it (like saying “God, I don’t think I need to be a pastor”).
But you are called whether you hear it easily or not, whether you accept it or
Think about that for a moment, how did you get to where you are? Where has
God led you? When have you felt God nudging you?
Perhaps you had not thought of this before. Perhaps God is calling you
someplace new today – and you are fighting it like I did. But you are called.
And it may be time for you to answer, “Here I am, Lord, Speak for your servant
Or perhaps your call has developed over your life, and the path has taken
you many places you never would have guessed, through valleys, over
mountaintops, and God still has plans for you.
Or perhaps you have a clear moment in your past like Samuel’s, or like mine
where you knew what God was leading your toward, and you can say, this is the
day it happened.
Whatever the case, I recommend that you spend some time thinking about your
call story, about where God has led you, and how God has been involved in your
life, because it is in sharing this story that you will touch other people’s
lives. I mean, you can share Samuel’s story, but it is just a story in a book.
But if you share your story, with your passion, with your heart, with your
flesh and blood presence in front of another person – that has power. It is a
witness to God’s activity in your life. And it will bring laughter and tears.
So as much as I love Samuel’s story, the one I hope that you leave church
today with, is yours. Think about putting it into words. Who in your past
helped you to know what God wants you to do with your life? How did God your
attention? What roadblocks and opportunities have cropped up along the way?
Where has God spoken to you, and how have you responded? When did you realize
(or maybe you haven’t yet) that you were on the right path?
Oh, and remember that your story is not done yet. God is still calling you.
There may be something new tomorrow that God calls you to. Never put “The End”
on your call story, until God brings you into the eternal home in heaven,
because until that day, God still may have more surprises in store for you!