What does it mean to be called to ministry? What does the Bible say about men and women in ministry? Who are the examples in the Bible of being called to ministry? What are the practical tools to help you pursue God’s call for your life?
Bible Gateway interviewed Kristen Padilla (@kristenpadilla) about her book, Now That I’m Called: A Guide for Women Discerning a Call to Ministry (Zondervan, 2018).
What does the Bible say about ministerial calling?
Kristen Padilla: Scripture is not a ministerial calling textbook. However, we can extrapolate from Scripture a loose definition of a ministerial calling.
Humans were created to be in relationship with God and to govern over creation. After the Fall, God employs humans to be involved in his plan of redemption. He reveals himself to individuals like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, etc., to do something on his behalf. Abraham’s task is to travel throughout the land, to believe and to obey. God makes a covenant with Abraham and promises to create a people through Abraham’s line for himself, who will also be part of this covenant.
The Old Testament narrative’s focus is largely on the covenant people of God. As the narrative unfolds, we watch as God calls and sends out individuals to serve on his behalf for the people of God communicating his word to them. These people serve in various shepherding, leadership, and intercessory roles for the purpose of God having a people for himself.
In the incarnation event, God continues to call out and set apart individuals for special roles in salvation history: Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, and Elizabeth. In Jesus’ ministry, Jesus calls and sends out his 12 disciples and a larger group of 72 disciples to minister in his name and on his behalf. After his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus commissions all his disciples to make disciples and baptize.
After his ascension, Jesus himself calls Saul to apostolic ministry. We also find other individuals in the New Testament set apart for ministry. These individuals receive their calls within the context of the church and prayer (for example, Barnabas in Acts 13:1-3). Paul writes in Ephesians that Christ has given to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” and “for building up the body of Christ” (4:11-12).
Thus, what we find in the New Testament is God continuing to set apart individuals to serve the people of God by feeding them the Word of God.
Can women be called to gospel ministry?
Kristen Padilla: The answer to this question might be an obvious “Yes!” for some, but for many women this question poses a stumbling block. I read a book once that made a differentiation between ministry that every Christian is called to and “the ministry” reserved only for those called to pastoral ministry. Because pastoral ministry is a vocation solely for men, this author would say, women cannot be called to “the ministry.” Unfortunately, the discussions about women and gospel ministry are most often framed around what women cannot do or around the ministries of women and children (or the nursery). When the discussion is framed around the latter, it’s usually done so not from the approach of calling but out of the need of volunteers or programming. It’s important to recognize this background before attempting to answer this question.
However, Scripture makes clear that:
- God’s plan of salvation history has always included women (for example, Eve, Sarah, Tamar, Ruth, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, etc.).
- God delights in using women to serve as leaders and to communicate his word to others (for example, Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Mary, Phoebe, Priscilla, Euodia, Syntyche, etc.).
- Women were called co-workers in ministry (for example, Rom. 16:12; Phil. 4:2-3).
- Women serve at the pleasure of the Triune God. True Christian ministry only occurs by the initiative and as a work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one who gives gifts to the ministers that are needed for ministry, who interprets God’s Word and who enables a Christian ministry. God says in Joel 2 and Acts 2 that the Holy Spirit will be poured out equally on men and women. The Spirit does not make gender, economic, or age differentiation. Likewise, the gifts of God are not gendered, meaning that only one gender receives a particular gift. If God called women to various Spirit-led ministries in Scripture (for example, shepherding, prophecy, teachers, evangelists, etc.), then he’ll continue to do so today.
What’s the difference between spiritual gifts and ministerial roles within the church?
Kristen Padilla: Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that the Spirit gives to each of God’s children gifts “for the common good” (12:7). The gifts are “empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (12:11). In Ephesians 4:11-12ff, the roles or people listed are descriptive of the gifts they’ve been given. So the one who has been given the gift of evangelism is an evangelist; the one who is given the gift of prophecy is a prophet; the one who is given the gift of teaching is a teacher; and so on. Paul is an apostle, a missionary, teacher, preacher, church planter, etc. Timothy is a missionary, church planter and elder, teacher, etc. We should not think of Paul and Timothy (or anyone for that matter) as having only one spiritual gift. Rather, we should think of spiritual gifts as a package. While we won’t have every spiritual gift, we will likely have more than one.
Today, ministerial roles are not necessarily designed according to gifting. Most church staffs do not have positions for prophets or evangelists, for example. And, which gifts do you need to be a youth minister or a children’s minister? You probably need more than just one gift, and the gifts needed for one role may be different for another.
However, any ministerial role that is over a sector of God’s people, whether that is men, women, senior adults, singles, college, youth, children, etc., providing soul care, spiritual formation and administering God’s Word is one that requires the gift of shepherding. And, any ministerial role that is “equipping the saints for the work of ministry” will necessarily need someone with a gift packaging as found in Ephesians 4:11-12.
Is there value in obtaining a theological education?
Kristen Padilla: The purpose of theological education is to provide a biblical, theological, and practical foundation for faithful gospel ministry. Theological education teaches students how to read and study Scripture; how to think theologically; and how to exegete, teach, preach, and apply Scripture. Students also learn doctrine and hermeneutics within the context of church history, the value of spiritual formation, and the fundamentals of counseling. Theological education at its best is formation for lifelong ministry.
A call to speak about and on behalf of the living God for the people of God is a serious calling. It’s a calling that has eternal weight, and because of its weightiness those who are teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). Therefore, any man or woman who will be in a position of leadership within the church or parachurch providing soul care, teaching authoritatively on Scripture, and administering the sacraments needs adequate preparation.
What if women feel called to ministry, but don’t know what type of ministry?
Kristen Padilla: I remember hearing a man in his 50s talk about his call to ministry. He gave three reasons for his call: strong Christian family, strong Christian church, and strong sense of calling to minister to people and teach God’s Word. He went to seminary and then straight into pastoral ministry. As I listened, I realized I could give the same three reasons to explain my call to ministry, but because there was little to no vocational space for women in my church and denomination, the path wasn’t so clear as his. I knew I was called to ministry but not necessarily what type of ministry.
This is the reality for many women called by God. They want to serve God’s people; they want to communicate God’s Word. They’re open to many positions, but the issue is finding the right one. Many churches want to pigeonhole women into women’s or children’s ministry, but this poses some challenges if you’re in your 20s ministering to women who are older, married, and have children, or if you’re not suited to working with children.
I advise women who feel called but don’t know to what type of ministry to seek internships or volunteer in various types of ministry. I’ve worked in children’s, youth, college, camp, and discipleship ministries. I participated in different types of mission trips. Being exposed to differing types of ministries helped me to discern which types would be a good fit according to my spiritual gifting and which types would not. Also, I believe God calls us to ministry and gifts us for ministry, but the type of ministry may change. As we read the New Testament we encounter many characters that work out their calling in various settings and ways. God may place someone in a type of ministry for a season before moving them to another type down the road. I encourage women to remember that the God who calls us will place us. The calling belongs to him and he will see it through.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Kristen Padilla: I love the Psalms. Just when I think I have a favorite Psalm, I read another one and that one grabs my heart. The Psalms provide a theological framework for my prayers. In the Psalms I am reminded that I have a faithful and mighty God who loves me and cleanses me from all unrighteousness. As a Christian, I can’t help but read the Psalms with Jesus Christ. The Gospels interpret the Psalms for me so that as I read, for example, “the Lord opens the eyes of the blind” in Psalm 146, I see Jesus opening the eyes of the blind man in John 9.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Kristen Padilla: When I wrote my book, I used Bible Gateway every day to look up various passages of Scripture in different translations. The website was a helpful tool that I depended heavily upon and continue to do so in my daily life. I am very grateful for Bible Gateway; it is my go-to Bible resource on the web.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Kristen Padilla: First, the church is often described as a family (1 Thess. 4:10; 1 Tim. 3:5; 1 Peter 2:17) and as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-32). These metaphors point to a complementarity of the sexes. Ideally, families have fathers and mothers serving together, side-by-side, raising children. Unfortunately, many churches look more like businesses run by CEOs than families run by fathers and mothers. When the church functions like a secular business, it sends a very different message to the world. However, if the church is to function like a family and if we say that the best-case-scenario for children is to have a father and mother, then where are our mothers in the family of God, specifically in the leadership of the family of God? This is a question I hope the church and those in leadership will ask and wrestle with.
Second, I want to encourage churches, elders, pastors, etc., to formulate a theology and vision for women in ministry. If God calls women to minister, then how can we join with God to provide space and roles for them within the church? How are we encouraging women to receive orthodox, solid theological education; and are we hiring women with theological education? How are we stewarding the gifts of the Spirit given to women?
Now That I’m Called is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Kristen Padilla received a Master of Divinity degree in 2008 from Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and has been involved in mentoring young women called to ministry, writing Bible studies, and teaching Scripture at women’s events since graduation. She also has written for Credo magazine, IVP’s The Well, and The Gospel Coalition. She currently serves as the marketing and communications coordinator for Beeson Divinity School, where she produces a weekly podcast, magazine, and devotional booklets and she mentors seminary women. Kristen, along with her husband and son, are actively involved in their church, The Cathedral Church of the Advent. You can find her at www.kristenrpadilla.com.
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