Over the course of 20 years of full-time ministry, another 5 years or so of volunteer ministry, along with growing up as a third-generation minister – I have noticed a few things. One of those things that I would like to discuss today is that of “The Calling.” Briefly, I will contrast those who have been called to ministry and those who are hirelings.
There is the one who is called by God to ministry:
This person experienced a catalytic moment in their life that led them from one position to another. This moment could have happened in a variety of manners such as a dream, vision, prophetic word, an overwhelming burden for a perceived need, or a coordinated set of circumstances that point the person towards serving in some form or function.
The person who is called by God offers themselves to respond in obedience to the leading and direction of the Lord. Scripture makes it clear – “to obey is better than sacrifice.” The called person is asked by God to be an obedient person. Obedience to whatever God directs is key to this person’s success. If the called person deviates from a life of obedience, you will see their influence and effectiveness wane. Should that person continue down that path of blatant disobedience, or even distracted obedience, their fruitfulness will altogether be forfeit.
On the other hand, we have the hireling. What is a hireling?
This person is one who has been hired to fulfill a role. The hireling often has special skills, experience, or charisma that engages others around them. The hireling seeks positions that fit their skillset and then serve in such positions. They are a hired hand, a contractor, a ministry mercenary. These people can easily be perceived as exceptional in their roles. Their success is not built on the Lord, rather it is built on their own accomplishments or skills. Their success comes from acquiring more knowledge, developing new skills, and gaining new experiences. Without prophetic insight or discernment, it can be difficult for many well-intentioned Christians to evaluate or determine if a person is a hireling or if they are truly called and anointed by God.
Maybe you are more confused now than when you started reading this article! Don’t misunderstand me.
The need for a person called by God to pursue additional education, skills, experience, and grow in new ways cannot be understated or minimalized. However, this desire to mature and excel should be an outgrowth of their love for the Lord and in response to His calling. The hireling, conversely, seeks more so that they can achieve higher levels of income, status, and influence – not necessarily to do more for the Lord.
Interestingly, the hireling does not necessarily seem to have the ups and downs of success and failure, health and suffering, or growth and stagnation that may seem to be consistent with a person who is called by God. Why would that be? A hireling is seeking their own success, and that success is not contingent upon their obedience to God. Success is achieved by their own strength. Therefore, the more they do or the harder they work – often the more perceived success is in their grasp.
At this point you might be wondering, should we prefer the hireling over the called person?
Absolutely not! To follow a hireling is to follow a man. Sitting under the leadership of a hireling will not deepen your relationship with God. Being mentored by a hireling will not bring you success in terms of Scripture.
“There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21
God’s counsel, His word, and His calling are what will stand!
As I have experienced, served, and observed decades of ministry, I have found that there are many hirelings out there leading churches and ministries. I have also observed that many of these “hirelings” didn’t start out that way. Most of them began their service in ministry – in response to a call from God. However, through distraction and a loss of focus, these men and women began to no longer serve a call, but to serve a position. Having lost sight of the call and serving the activity of ministry, these people often do not realize that they have made “ministry” their god. Sacrificing their call on the altar of ministry success, these folks surrender their lives to the role of a hireling.
But, does it have to end that way? No.
For the last 24 years I have traveled to 72 nations. In many of these nations, the Lord asks me to challenge the leaders with a message about the call of God. He asks me to invite or urge them to return to the call and stop serving the activities of ministry, as well as the goals of numbers, dollars, and buildings. He calls them back to a life of simple obedience to His calling.
There is one other kind of a hireling.
This person is one who never was called by God. This person may be a so-called believer, but they are misplaced in their role. For this person, there was something attractive about ministry. Some stated that it seemed like a good profession to help others. Some even have confessed that they like the idea of working only on Sundays and spending the rest of the week doing whatever they want (clearly, they have no grasp of the realities of ministry).
This hireling should not be involved in ministry at all. These are the kind of people who we now find as false teachers, motivational speakers, and self-help teachers. They are often consumed with financial gain. These are the people that have never had their faith stretched, their theology challenged, and the devil comes after them. Does this mean that this hireling is exempt from attack of the enemy or free from failure? Again, the answer is no. However, I have observed that the hirelings do not typically endure the difficulties and hardship of serving the Lord and pursuing God through obedience like those whom God has called.
A man or woman who is called by God is on a different path. I recall several instances over the years in which the Lord called me, gave direction to the calling, and on occasion, would refine the calling with new specifics or directives. This calling has been reiterated in some form or fashion since I was very young. It is my responsibility to be faithful and obedient to this call of God.
I have observed in my own life, and the lives of others, that when you begin to drift from the call and pursue your own aspirations the fruitfulness and effectiveness in life begins to slip away. Why is that? I believe it is either an intentional or unintentional journey away from what God has anointed the person to do. To live and operate in the anointing of God is much preferred over anything else. It is the only way to live and minister. Without the anointing, we are worthless! Those who are called by God can attest to this truth.
I have preached with the anointing, and I have preached without.
I have led ministry with the anointing, and I have led without.
I have implemented plans and strategies with anointing, and I have implemented without.
Let me tell you, I don’t want to do ANYTHING without God’s anointing, in response to His calling.
So then, where do we go from here?
Let us evaluate ourselves first and foremost. Be sure that you are indeed only responding to God in obedience and not seeking position in your own selfishness. Confess and repent as needed. Secondly, we should look at those whom we follow, read, and listen to. Are these leaders operating in response to a call from God, or does it seem they are seeking their own success and promotion due to selfishness? I know this is a sensitive thing. Don’t go running to this person and call them a hireling! If the Lord leads you to discontinue reading their book or listening to their podcasts, then do so.
As I conclude this “short” post, let me share one final thought.
Just because someone is not doing ministry the way you think they should, this does not necessarily make them a hireling. I have observed Christians tearing down other Christians far too many times. There are some well-known Christian pastors, authors, evangelists, worship leaders, etc. that may seem to be shallow or seeker sensitive. Don’t classify them as hirelings because they may not have the depth you want. Often these men and women are serving a specific demographic that you may not fit within. They are reaching an audience that you and I may not be able to reach. Don’t throw stones at them. Don’t tear them down. Pray that God would use them to reach the lost and the broken whom we may not be able to reach.
Let’s pray that all of us do only what God asks of us.
Nothing more and nothing less.
Obedience is the key to fruitfulness and success.