Called to Preach

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, February 01, 2016

Called to Preach

Ask anyone who wants to be a pastor why they want to be a pastor, and the answer is almost always the same:

“I feel called to preach.”

Ask anyone who is a pastor what it is they enjoy most about being a pastor, and the answer is almost always the same:


Ask anyone who is a pastor what their top gifting is, and the answer is – again – almost always the same:


So why is it that so many people who want to preach, are preaching, or consider themselves gifted in preaching, aren’t very good at it?

I know, that’s impolite to say. To some, it’s touching the third rail. But we all know it’s true. Many people who want to preach, can’t. Many who are, shouldn’t. And many who consider themselves gifted, aren’t.

Many years ago I was invited by a large seminary to teach a course on preaching. Though I was much better suited to teach theology, or apologetics, or matters related to the interplay of faith and culture, I accepted. Particularly because the bent was going to be on “evangelistic” preaching, which I care deeply about.

By the end of that course, I vowed never to teach that subject again. Why? It was, without a doubt, the most frustrating teaching experience of my life. What I learned was that some in the class were gifted for preaching/teaching, and some were not. But all were convinced they were. 

Those who were gifted were a joy to mentor. They intuitively understood the coaching, had an innate sense of how to package material, were natural in their ability to tell a story, and insightful in their applications.

Those who were not gifted were like molding hardened clay. 

Hear my heart: one group was not “better” than another, less called to ministry than another, less committed to Jesus than another, or more special than another. It was simply a matter of knowing the kind of ministry the Holy Spirit had gifted them to pursue. 

For some of them it was preaching.

For some of them, it clearly was not.

So how can we get a clearer sense of God’s leading and gifting in this highly sensitive area?

Here are some thoughts:

1.  Have someone other than your spouse tell you that you are a gifted communicator. Lots of someones.

2.  Be able to point to disproportionate fruit that comes as a result of your preaching/teaching. In other words, the Holy Spirit obviously anointed it.

3.  Do a very careful, very honest gut-check as to how much of your “call” is tied up with wanting or needing the ego/insecurity strokes of a captive audience.

4.  Do not overlook the foundational principle that when the Holy Spirit calls, He equips. If He has not clearly equipped you for the task of preaching/teaching, then you should question the “calling.” In other words, don’t confuse the desire to do something with the calling to do something. 

5.  Don’t assume that the only way to answer the call to preach or teach is through a senior pastor position, or even through a large group. Your gift might be better suited for a small group, a classroom, a seminar, one-on-one mentoring, student ministry, children’s ministry, adult education… the list is quite long. 

6.  If your gift is preaching and teaching, it didn’t arrive fully matured upon arrival. As Paul instructed Timothy, gifts need to be developed. Being called, even gifted, to preach only means you have a lot of work ahead of you to develop that gift optimally.

Having said all of this, if you are called to the ministry of communication, then pursue it with all your energies. The world needs you. But if not – and be ruthless in your self-examination on this one – then the world needs you even more where you are gifted.

James Emery White

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.