Q: What is a call? Do individual congregation members receive calls in the same way a pastor does?”
A: The Lutheran Church has always distinguished between the call to serve in the public ministry of the Word (Eph. 4:11, Titus 1:5, Rom. 10:14-17) and the ordinary calling to do the work of the universal priesthood of all believers while engaged in secular vocation or position in life (I Pet. 2.9, I Cor. 7.17). God, of course, is the one who does the “calling” in both of these instances, for it is he alone who brings people to faith in Christ and who equips them with his grace and necessary gifts to carry out the “calling” wherein he has placed them. But when speaking of the call to do the work of preaching/teaching the Word in a public setting, the Bible sets this apart as a noble office which requires deepest respect and careful adherence to certain qualifications (I Tim. 3:1-7).
When a man receives a call into the office of the pastoral ministry, he views this call as DIVINE, trusting that God himself has drawn him into the vital work of being a pastor by means of a group of Christians extending the blessed right and invitation to serve them in such a capacity. Lutherans firmly believe that “no one should publicly in the church teach or preach or administer the Sacraments except he be rightly called” (Augsburg Confession, Art. XIV). This was the practice of the apostles, as we see for example in Acts 1:22-26 and Acts 6:1-6.
Unlike the prophets and apostles who received the calling to publicly preach the Word in a very direct way (“immediate”) from God, often by means of a direct revelation, pastors today are called through the method of the church issuing a call (“mediate”) in the name of the Lord. But the man who accepts such a call is to view it as being no less divine than the calls received by the prophets and apostles.
It is unfortunate that many today think of the calling of a pastor as being little different than the ordinary “callings” of Christian lay people in various walks of life. There is no command in Scripture for a person to be called into artwork, nursing, engineering, etc., though God does, lead people into these worthwhile occupations in oftentimes unique ways. There is, however, a command from the Lord to appoint preachers arid teachers of the Word of God by means of the decisive issuance of a call on the part of a group of Christians gathered for the purpose of using the Means of Grace. “The church has the command to appoint ministers; to this we must subscribe wholeheartedly…” (Ap. of the Augsburg Conf., Art. XIII, 12).