We are continuing the series on the five foundational stones God has shown me that were foundational to my life and ministry. This one is about God’s plan and purpose for my life. For many, God’s plan and purpose may be quite different. However, for me, it was a call to full-time ministry. Let me tell you how it happened.
NOT MY IDEA TO GO INTO THE MINISTRY
I grew up in a denominational church in Sydney, Australia, but I never thought to become a minister. After completing high school, I went on to university to study architecture.
In 1955, I attended our denominational church’s National Christian Youth Convention held in the Sydney showgrounds with thousands of other young people. On the Thursday night of the convention, the Reverend Alan Walker, a nationally known minister, gave the address where he sent out a call for young men to enter the ministry. I remember after the service was over, walking out of the auditorium, saying to myself, “Well, that is the last thing I ever want to be.” I didn’t want to go into the ministry.
Now, during the following two years, before the next National Christian Youth Convention, God began to get my attention. It involved a number of things. One of them was a book entitled “A Man Called Peter,” the story of Peter Marshall, a Scottish immigrant who became a Presbyterian minister and later pastored a prestigious church in Washington D.C. He also became the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, and the book was later produced as a film.
I came across the book in an unusual way. Late one Sunday night, while I was working on a project for my studies in Architecture, I took a break. I picked up a beaten-up copy of Reader’s Digest and started to read the condensed version of the book “A Man Called Peter.” I could not put it down. As I read, it touched my heart and life and, in turn, became one of the major facets that led me into the ministry.
Up until then, I had not observed a minister who inspired me. However, when I read Peter Marshall’s story as told by his wife Catherine, I caught a glimpse of what a minister could be and their impact on the people around them. On top of that, various people, out of nowhere, began to ask me whether God may want me to go into the ministry. This not only included people in the church but others as well. For example, I was in my boss’s office to talk about an architectural situation when my boss looked at me and said, “You know Alan, one day you are going to end up with your collar back to front,” a reference to the clerical collars of the day. So by the beginning of 1957, I had concluded that God was calling me to the ministry. I had one issue, however, to sort out before I did just that.
THERE WAS A PROBLEM
By this time, Dorothy and I had been going together for several years, and we were making plans to get married when I finished my course at university. The problem was, at that time, my Methodist denomination did not accept married candidates unless they were forty or fifty years of age. I can still remember sitting in the car one Saturday morning in a nearby suburb of Campsie. Dorothy and I talked about being willing to lay down our marriage plans and enter the ministry when I had a directive from the Lord. In essence, He said, “Go ahead and get married and then later enter as a candidate for the ministry.” It’s hard to explain exactly how I felt. Looking back, I realized that if I had gone into the ministry before Dorothy and I were married, without settling the issue of believing the Bible to be the authoritative, inspired Word of God, I probably would have graduated seminary as a liberal pastor.
So Dorothy and I got married, and I continued to work as an architect. Settling down to life in our own home, we had our first daughter Beth. I was not in a hurry to give everything up for the ministry. Dorothy and I still remember the day our minister stood on our doorstep and said, in no uncertain way, “You had better make up your mind as to whether you are going to be a minister or an architect.” That shook things up. In the following year, 1962, I became a candidate for the Methodist ministry. I began five years at theological college, beginning graduate studies for a Bachelor of Divinity (The equivalent of an American Master of Divinity). During those five years, I served as a student pastor in a nearby circuit and benefitted from being involved in ministry, not just in theological studies. I was later ordained in the Methodist church in October 1969.
A CHANGE IN DIRECTION
While in my third church in Bondi Junction, a suburb of Sydney, life took a change of direction. After I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I continually felt called out of traditional parish ministry. Together, Dorothy and I began a ministry called the Temple Trust, which became a major ministry in Australia during the Charismatic Renewal.
I can still remember when it happened. I was driving Micheal Harper from England to the airport accompanied by Canon Jim Glennon, best known for the healing services at St. Andrews Cathedral. We had just finished our first National Charismatic Conference, at which Micheal Harper had been a speaker. They both knew my superintendent minister was taking steps to have someone take my place, as he was not pleased with my Charismatic involvement. Both Micheal Harper and Jim Glennon said, “It could be that God wants you to go full-time in a renewal ministry.” That was what Dorothy and I did, but that is another story told in Dorothy’s book “Called Together.”
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CALLING
I believe it is essential to know God’s plan and purpose for your life. For all of us, it is different. For me, it was to lay aside my plans to be an architect and respond to the call of God to go into full-time ministry. It was that call that brought God’s focus to my life. Without focus, you are like ships out on the ocean, taken wherever the current flows. But with focus – a call of God for your life – you have a direction for your life, you are on a journey, and you have a destination to reach. It may take many different turns along the way, but the call of God sets the course for the rest of your life.
This call brought confidence to my life that only increased over the years. Confidence that, as I followed the Spirit, I was where God wanted me to be. Not that it was always easy, there were times when I felt like resigning from the ministry. Yet, I never did because behind it all was the belief that I had received a call from God to do what I have now done for nearly 60 years.
THE ABRAHAM CALL
In 1968, Dorothy and I went through one of the most challenging times of our lives when Dorothy was pregnant with our second child, Joy, and she was sick. Not just morning sickness but sick all the time, and it went on for months. At one stage, she was admitted to the hospital to try and stabilize her. Eventually, they induced the baby ahead of time because of complications.
I was caught up in the middle of this. I had a wife who had been chronically ill, a newborn baby, another daughter with severe asthma (I ended up at the ER with Beth about once a week). I was trying to work on my theological studies, and I was involved in pastoring two churches. I came as close to a breakdown as I ever would. I felt like I was about to fall into a bottomless pit when a hand reached out to save me. It was crisis time for us, so I applied to the church for permission to take a year’s leave of absence to try and get my family back in order. However, we were not confident it was the right decision. On the Sunday, following the approval to step down, Dorothy and I knelt at the bottom of our bed and prayed that God would show us what to do. Should we stay, or should we go?
Here is Dorothy’s account of what happened next, “That morning, we attended our little church that was in the process of closing down and merging with another nearby church. It was a special service, and a guest speaker had been invited. By the time we arrived, the only seats left were in front, right underneath the pulpit, and the preacher was about to read the Old Testament lesson. Later in the service he began his sermon with the arresting words, “Go and take little with you.” He told the story of God speaking to Abraham, calling him to leave his home and family and set out for a land God would show him. We nudged elbows and glanced at each other excitedly. This was God’s answer to our dilemma. He wanted us to leave our home and take an appointment [a new one]. There wasn’t a shadow of doubt about that. As the sermon progressed, it was as though the preacher had received a dossier on our specific circumstances and had prepared a sermon just for us. It was clear God was personally speaking to us through the message. He knew the story of Abraham would become the inspiration for our walk of faith and the Hebrew 11:8, ‘And he (Abraham) went out, not knowing where he was going,’ would become the pattern for our life” – From Called Together by Dorothy Langstaff.
The call on our lives became “To go out (like Abraham) not knowing where we were going.” Eventually, this call led us to America. We titled it “The Abraham Call.” I had received a call to the ministry ten years earlier before we were married, but now Dorothy and I were called together to receive “The Abraham Call.” It makes all the difference when you are both called together.
How we were led and how we were called is not necessarily what other people experience. However, the important thing is to know that God has a plan for your life and what He wants you to do. Believing that He has called you will enable you to fulfill your purpose in life, and that alone will bring you joy and satisfaction. Find out God’s plan for your life and go for it!
Langstaff, D., & Langstaff, A. (2008). Called Together. A Christian Voice.