Calling has a general and a specific sense in Christianity. Christians are called into the faith by the Gospel call (Rom 8:29–30). This is the general sense. The calling to preach God’s Word as an elder/pastor is specific.
The calling to preach to Israel was humbling for Isaiah (Is 6:6–9). The calling to preach to Israel was frightening for Jeremiah (Jer 1:4–10). The calling for Ezekiel was prophetic, and it required faith as his message would not be received by Israel, “Son of Man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them…6b I have sent you to them who should listen to you; 7 yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you since they are not willing to listen to me (Ezek 3:4, 6–7).” God then warned the prophet he would be held accountable for his faithfulness to preach the Word. In other words, calling is serious appointment by God. There is also comfort in the Word itself for the preacher, “Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord (Jer 1:7–8). Therefore, we can say the call is specific, frightening, prophetic, comforting, encouraging, and requires faithfulness.
Everywhere the Lord has called me to ministry, He has made it abundantly clear. My call to pastoral ministry began on Friday, October 30, 1998. Using my gift of administration and with favor from the Lord, I completed the sale of my financial services company. That very night was the final evening of a week-long preaching ministry by Dr. Tom Farrell. He opted out of the sermon he had prepared in order to preach on money and finance. He had my attention. At the end of his sermon, he made an altar call for those who were being called to give their lives to full-time Christian service. His invitation did not fit for anyone else that night, but I knew the Lord was calling me. I bowed my knee in obedience.
Mystery shrouds the call, but there is always just enough to embrace it by faith. The confirmation of the call comes once steps of faith have been taken. Six months of full-day immersion studies of the Bible prepared me for the move to Dallas, Texas, where I would embark on four years of study in theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. This call began in a telephone conversation with an old friend in the financial services industry. I told Erin about my conversion and call to serve God. With excitement she noted her family had always sought out a Dallas Seminary alumnus to be their pastor. Her husband worked for American Airlines; and that day, two, free, first class tickets from Michigan to Dallas were in the mail to us. The door had opened, and we walked through it. In the final hour, as I drove the first moving truck from Midland to Garland, Texas, a buyer suddenly appeared for our house. Grace always abounds in the call.
Halfway through seminary the Spirit began to show us the call to Scotland to do a PhD. When everything was done, we had almost one hundred coincidences — all showing up Scottish. The call was so clear and profound that we made an audio interview to bear witness to the miraculous directing of our steps to the University of Aberdeen. Now our past was helping to confirm our call to go forward by faith into the future. We recounted how I had gone to Albion College for my bachelor’s degree in economics. Albion is an ancient name of Scotland. We had lived on St. Andrews Road (think golf in Scotland!) in Midland when we were called to Dallas, Texas. Dallas is the name of a tiny village nestled into the gorgeous rolling hills of Morayshire in the north of Scotland. The church in Garland I was pastoring at the time was located on Loch Ness Drive. Calling is divine.
The day I became convinced of our call to Scotland began with me trying to run from the call. I prayed as I drove to meet with the PhD supervisor at Dallas Seminary. I telephoned him and confessed I was doing a Jonah in coming to meet with him. Dr. Thomas Constable (ok, so his name is Scottish) invited me to come and talk about it.
As I drove, I was praying for God to forgive me for my unbelief, and I requested one last sign (yes, my generation is foolish). I ended my prayer at a stoplight, and the Mazda Miata next to me changed lanes as we moved forward. It then stopped in front of me at the next traffic signal. On the rear bumper of this little car was a sticker I recognized as the Saltire (Scottish flag). Calling is confirmed. In the summer of 2003, we gave away all of our possessions and moved to Aberdeen with some clothes in our suitcases and $400 in my pocket. Calling comes with a cost; but by His grace, we were debt free. We were also learning that a calling to preach God’s Word was high adventure with Jesus.
Scotland confirmed my love for the local church and my heart to pastor God’s people. The Scottish divines of days gone by then ministered inspiration to me to be found faithful to preach the Word. The Lord used the pastoral vacancy problem in Scotland to call me to preach God’s Word for 4.5 years in 21 different churches throughout the nation. At this point, we had now lived 9.5 years without a sustainable income for our family of eight. Calling comes with blessing and provision in service to the King.
Our call to First Baptist Church of Downey was more potent in its clarity than all the rest. We had moved back from Scotland, and we were living in a missionary house in Midland, Michigan. Our interviews with churches led us to Siloam Springs, Olathe, Milan, and Chicago. By this point we knew that a calling requires geographical dislocation.
It was the very first telephone call from California when I knew there was something different. As the decision to call me to pastor in Kansas City was about to occur, I stopped into our home church, Calvary Baptist in Midland. There I saw Kathye Morton-Hunt for the first time since our return from Britain. She asked about the call to Olathe. I told her they were deciding on that day.
Kathye asked if I was excited. I told her about the telephone call from California. She asked where the telephone call came from. I told her L.A., but she wanted specifics. I then told her, “Downey, California.” She lit up like a light bulb in exclaiming, “my hometown!” Immediately, she demanded to know if it was her home church, First Baptist Church of Downey. I thought for a second and then said, “Yes, that’s the one.” She told me how she had been praying for three years for the new senior pastor, and then she giggled, “I had no idea I was praying for you!” We had dinner that evening, and I learned that she grew up at FBCD and her husband, John Hunt, was saved and baptized there, too. Calling is divine direction and comes with joy.
A unanimous decision was needed from the pastoral search committee. It came after I preached for them at the First Baptist Church of Anaheim. A unanimous decision was also needed from the senior board. There was one elder who was an adamant holdout even until the final day before the decision. Overnight, the Lord came to George Gordon and convinced him of my calling. He embraced me as Judah did to Joseph in the days of Israel’s reconciliation (Gen. 45:15). Calling is unstoppable.
The last confirmation occurred on the day the members of FBCD voted 97.6% in favor of my call to pastor them. Earlier in the day, I preached my candidating sermon on David bringing the ark and the glory of the Lord into Jerusalem, where he danced before the Lord. At the end of the service, people were filing out and shaking my hand. Then came a woman who put her hand into mine and said, “You have stayed at my house in Edinburgh, Scotland.” Instantly, I recounted my four plus years and realized I had only stayed overnight in one house in the capitol city.
46 Findhorn Place is the home of Andrew Newman, a professor of middle eastern studies at the university. I had never met him before, but a friend asked him if I could stay the night after preaching the Sunday evening service at Duncan Street Baptist Church. As new friends, we talked about the Lord until the early morning hours. As dawn appeared I departed and have never seen Andrew since. Still, it was my on;y stay in the city I so easily fell in love with.
“Can I ask you a question?” was my proposition to the woman at the center door of Downey First Baptist on April 6, 2008. She agreed. “Are you Andrew Newman’s wife?” She confirmed she was, so I asked her my next question, “What are you doing at FBC Downey on the Sunday I am candidating to be the senior pastor?” She smiled, “Oh, this is my home church, I grew up here, and my mom is Arlie Struve.” What is the probability that God would be so gracious to bring someone from Scotland to receive me into my new church family and to confirm my call? I thanked the pastoral search committee for doing an outstanding job, and everyone marveled at the tales that were being told in confirmation of my call. Calling comes through the network of God’s people laboring in His vineyard.
One is encouraged by the Spirit to do what preachers and prophets have always been instructed to do, “Remember, the Lord and His calling.” Another tale of grace is slowly but surely being revealed to us from the mind and will of God. More stories of His divine direction and calling, wrapped with intrigue, and yet made clear on the tables of our hearts will manifest. The Apostle Paul encourages us while we wait, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all peace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Pet 5:10).”
Calling comes with promises, plans, and hope for a more assured future. The last thing we can say about a calling for a preacher to proclaim Jesus Christ is that it is a sure calling. A crown of glory awaits those called to pastor, preach, and persevere. It will obviously not be difficult for me to cast my crown before the One who called me and made me adequate as a slave of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6). All glory and honor to Him who calls us to His beloved Son, does His will and good pleasure, and finishes the good work He began in us. He is faithful and true to the praise of His glorious name.
July 12, 2021