by Paul Burton
I believe the call to vocational ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ is essential. This is not the place to get a job, to earn a salary, to pursue a lifestyle, or feel good about oneself through sacrificial service of others. Vocational ministry is for the called. Whereas all Christians are called to seek first the Kingdom of God as partners in the gospel with Jesus Christ, some are called to vocational ministry whether paid or unpaid, and the focus of this call is preaching and leading the local church.
My call to preach had its first seed planted when at around 12 years of age my family attended a missionary meeting at the New Lynn Church of the Nazarene in Auckland. The missionary led an altar call for those willing to commit their lives to full-time service, and I responded. This is the first time I remember responding to an altar call. This meant little to me at the time but as I reflect I see the seed planted.
My Father was pastor of the Dominion Road, Auckland Church of the Nazarene. Even though our family life was saturated in church, as I went through my teenage years I found myself growing disconnected from God. I bought into the science culture of the 1970’s and remember arrogantly and foolishly stating “I will believe in God when He can be proved in a test tube”, the foolishness of my youth. Then at 16 at a youth camp I experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit calling me to surrender my life to Jesus Christ. After some internal resistance one night after the evening service while being prayed for by some ministers, I surrendered my heart to Jesus and at that point heard clearly and profoundly the call to preach. It caught me unawares, it was unwanted, but was so profound I could not deny it.
It was not long after the camp when I renegotiated this call with God. I could not see myself being a good Christian according the perspective I had then, and definitely not a preacher. So I told God, I am going to live life my way for a while, and we will re-visit this call in the future. I was thinking 30 or more years away. God had other ideas.
Over the next three years I graduated from High School, started work, and was only attending church and the youth camps from family culture not personal desire. As I recently told the youth in my church, I never once attended a youth camp for spiritual reasons. In January 1978, I again was at youth camp. One night at that camp there was demonic activity. It was so real I was completely shaken. I remember lying on my bunk in the guys dormitory thinking: the devil is real and I am sitting on a fence that doesn’t exist; I don’t want anything to do with this and I need to reconnect my life with Jesus. I got up and after walking around for a time, I joined a group praying outside the dormitory. It was there I prayed the prayer, “Father, not my will but your will be done in my life”. It was after midnight, I was 19, and yet I still remember clearly the deep peace and joy I experienced. The call to preach I had previously heard was again calling me. Within a month I was attending what is now the Nazarene Theological College in Brisbane, Australia.
This call has shaped every part of my life for the past 37 years. I could never be a preacher from good intentions, or for approval of other. It is only because of the call that I pastor today. And it has been tested! The call has given me confidence to step out when gripped by nerves and fear. The call has led me forward when everything else seemed to be screaming to give up. The call is in every sermon I preach, and every meeting I lead. I have learnt that this is not my call; I am a beloved son of my Father in heaven. But the call is how I partner with Jesus in the work if the gospel; which I see as the family business.
In these days as I pastor a small but effective church in Nelson, New Zealand, I am seeing the most significant fruit of my time in ministry. I have seen a church dreamed about a number of years ago become reality today. Knowing I was called not only to preach, but to this Church, was critical to the faithful perseverance needed to be in the fruitful place we are in today.
The calling is the appointment of God, and with the appointment comes the authority and anointing. I think it was Bresee who said; “without the unction there is no function”. I desperately need the unction of the Holy Spirit. I cannot rest on my education or experience but only on the name of Jesus and the presence of his Spirit within me, every Sunday when I prepare to stand and preach I am aware of my inadequacy and rest again on my call, his appointment, authority, and anointing and preach from that place. Intriguingly my dependence on the call and the Spirit has not reduced but grown over the years. I can testify today that I am less confident in myself than ever before, but more confident in my God than ever before.
Rev. Paul Burton has pastored a variety of churches in New Zealand: Church of the Nazarene, Presbyterian and Unite. Currently, he is lead pastor at Unite, Nelson, NZ