Am I Called To Ministry? Quick Lesson from John Newton

Earlier this year, Kevin and I took a roadtrip to West Virginia to retreat with fellow pastors. We enjoyed Ian’s hospitality and Don’s teaching. Along the way, we made a stop to visit a dear friend, Aubrey, which in itself was worth the eighteen hour drive.

During the retreat, Don gave us a snapshot of John Newton’s life and call to ministry. You may recall that John Newton was the son of a sea captain and a godly mother (she died when he was six or seven years old), captained a slave-trade ship, was a slave himself, but was converted by the Spirit of God, called to pastor and wrote many songs, including Amazing Grace. (His friend and fellow songwriter, William Cowper, often accompanied Newton on pastoral visits).

Newton’s conversion took about four or five years in his 20s. (There’s a Baxter quote, God breaks not all men’s hearts alike.)

He spent seven years, age 32-39, discerning whether or not to become a pastor. During this time he gave himself to study, including learning the Biblical languages.

Also during the seven years of discernment, Newton sought counsel from friends and engaged himself with ministry opportunities. He held internships with various pastors of various traditions, not knowing which tradition he felt most at home. He considered ordination with the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists and the Anglicans. Later in his life he was appointed an Anglican pastor in the heart of London via Lord Dartmouth (no separation of church and state with The Church of England).

Don’s portrayal of Newton was that of a kind, warm, gentle pastor who discipled others and worked to evangelize London.

So why the John Newton story? Because it fits the narrative of some who wonder if God is calling them to “aspire to be an overseer”.

There are questions one should ask. These questions are drawn from Newton and others. They are nothing original with me:

  • Am I able to do this? (while remembering who is sufficient for such things?)
  • Have I considered the price?
  • What is the end I am seeking? Men’s applause or the Chief Shepherd’s approval?
  • How do I know God is calling me? There is an inward call and outward call: do other people affirm my inward calling?
  • Am I guarding my life and doctrine? Is there integration?
  • What am I going to preach before the people?
  • What is it going to look like me being a pastor? (what does the day-to-day schedule / pattern of life look like? For instance, Newton would use Saturday night to acknowledge God’s grace in his life during the week, thus building a pattern of rest and work in his ministry.)

Thank God for those who have gone before us and developed the questions we may not know to ask…