The LDS Church operates as a lay ministry, meaning they have no paid clergy. Those who serve as ministers, teachers, administrators or who perform any other duties do so on a voluntary basis. It would therefore be assumed that Mormons decide for themselves what positions they want to volunteer for and how long they want to serve. However, that is not the case. Before anyone can serve in any positions in the LDS Church they first must be called by God through prophecy by someone in authority and then have hands laid on their head to authorize them to serve in a particular position.
The process by which this happens is simple. It begins with someone in authority seeking the Lord's will in prayer to find out whom He wants to serve in what capacity. Usually there is more than one person involved in this process and all must agree on the selection. When done in this manner, the answer they receive is considered a revelation from God, which is a form of prophecy. Then the individual is informed by those in authority what God has revealed to them. The person being issued this call from God is then given the choice of either accepting or declining to serve in that capacity. They are also encouraged to pray about this calling to gain their own confirmation that this is God's will for them. If they accept the calling, then those in authority place their hands on the head of that person to set them apart and give them the right to serve in that position. In this way they become duly authorized to serve the Lord and they continue to serve in that capacity until they are released by someone in authority.
However, this is quite different than the way most Christian faiths teach that a man is called of God. They believe that God reveals His will directly to the heart of the individual rather than having it told to them by someone else. Some Christians have described a call from God as being an inner feeling that God has placed or laid on their heart that motivates them to do what they believe the Lord wants of them. This is often referred to as being lead of God.
But no matter how it's described, it's viewed as a summons or directive from God, given directly to the individual themselves, to perform a service for Him. Usually a call is to serve God in the ministry in some capacity. In some churches that would be working as a priest, deacon, or elder. In other churches this could be working as a pastor or as a full-time missionary. It could also be to serve God in a music ministry or to become a minister to the youth. Others have felt they were being led to evangelism, revival, to raise up a church, a bible school, a hospital, etc.
However, this is not a volunteer assignment. In most cases it is considered to be a vocation, a profession, or a career in service to God. It is the dropping of everything else in a person's life to serve the Lord full-time.
As most Christians teach, sometimes a call from God is not easy to discern because the feeling may be very subtle and therefore hard to recognize. This kind of call has been described as an inner discernment where a person comes to understand a little at a time what God wants them to do. As such, this process often takes time to unfold and may even need the guidance of others to help a person understand what they are feeling.
But there are other times when this feeling comes with such power that it is hard to resist. This kind of call has been described as a "holy unrest." It comes as a strong inward conviction that is like a driving force, almost compelling the person to take action in a certain direction. Some have described this kind of call as a pushing, pulling, nudging, or dragging feeling that makes a person do something that they may not normally want to do.
However, regardless of the way this feeling is expressed, most Christians teach that a call from God comes directly to the individual who then takes it upon themselves to pursue whatever course of action they feel the Lord has called them to perform. Depending on the church organization some positions of service may require the approval of others in authority but even here it is usually the individual who initiates the process based on a feeling in their heart.
As biblical proof of their doctrine they point to how God called Moses to become the leader of the Israelite nation (Exodus 3:4), how He called Samuel in his youth to become a prophet (1 Samuel 3:3-4), and how he ordained Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was even born (Jeremiah 1:5). Thus, they contend that the way God calls people to serve Him is by His Spirit touching people's hearts, thereby inspiring and motivating them to serve Him as He directs rather than having someone in authority tell them what God's will is for them.
Since these two beliefs are in opposition to one another it raises the question of which teaching is correct. Does God call people directly, speaking to their hearts, or does He reveal His will to His authorized servants who then relay that message to the person being called? Since both teachings rely on the scriptures perhaps it would be best to take a closer look at what the scriptures say on this matter.
The first recorded incident of someone being called by God to perform a duty was Noah. We are told that "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth…. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast" (Genesis 6:5,7). However, before He did this, He called a man named Noah to build an ark to carry every kind of animal, including man. The question we need to determine is, how did God call Noah to perform this service?
It is agreed by all that God did not call Noah by sending an authorized representative to inform him of this task. However, since the world was filled with wickedness, there was no one whom God could have sent. Therefore, the only way God had of revealing His will in this matter was by directly telling Noah what He wanted done.
But how did God make His will known to Noah?
The Bible declares, "And God said unto Noah… Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it" (Genesis 6:13-16)
While some may argue that when it says that God spoke to Noah, that means He spoke to his heart, such an interpretation is not supported by the scriptures and, in fact, that is not what most Christians believe happened. The Bible indicates that God spoke directly to Noah as one person speaks to another, and what God told him was very explicit. He not only told him to build an ark but told him what kind of wood to use, how to seal the boat with pitch, what its dimensions were to be, how many levels it was to have, and even how many windows were to be on it.
When Christians talk about God touching their heart to serve Him they almost never claim to have received specific instructions of how He wants them to fulfill that service. Instead, the call from God they speak of is usually a feeling that is often very general in nature. By way of contrast, Noah knew every detail of what God required of him.
The next great preacher mentioned of in the Bible was Moses. Although Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all spoke with the Lord, the Bible doesn't indicate that they were "called" to do anything. From the biblical account we read that the direction they received was personal in nature rather than serving others in behalf of God. However, Moses was specifically called to act as God's spokesman. But how did he receive that call? What the Bible specifically states is that God spoke to Moses face to face to face as friends do (Exodus 33:11). In other words, they had a conversation. God told Moses what He wanted him to do, Moses asked questions, God answered them; Moses raised objections and the Lord provided solutions to his concerns.
But this is not what Christians say happens when God touches their heart. Rather than having a conversation with God, they speak only of having an inward feeling. Even if they might question this call, as Moses did, they never claim having had a dialog with God.
Furthermore, like Noah, Moses received very specific instructions of what he was to do and say. For example, on the night before the angel of death took the first born of every household, Moses gave very detailed instructions to the Israelites of what they must do to protect themselves and it was more than just smearing the blood of a lamb on the doorposts. It also included what they were to eat, how it was to be prepared and cooked, and even what they were to wear during the night (Exodus 12:1-11). This kind of specific information doesn't come to a person as a feeling in their heart. Instead, what Moses did was speak to his people the same way God spoke to him, giving them the same message that God had delivered to him.
Prior to his calling to lead his people out of slavery, there is nothing in the Bible that indicates there was someone in authority who could have extended God's call to Moses, but once he was called, Moses became God's authorized authority to the Israelites and it was through him that Aaron received his call to become the high priest of the tabernacle or portable temple. If we are to accept the traditional explanation of a calling we would expect to have seen God touch the heart of Aaron, filling him with a desire to become the high priest who would have then informed Moses of what God wanted him to do. Instead, what we see in the scriptures is just the opposite. There is no indication in the scriptures that Aaron knew what God wanted him to do until Moses revealed it to him. And the same was true of Aaron's sons who were also called to serve God in the temple.
As Moses grew old and the time of his death was approaching, he chose Joshua as his successor. However, Joshua didn't go to Moses saying he felt that the Lord had laid it upon his heart to become the next leader of Israel. Instead, "the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die: call Joshua and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation, that I may give him a charge" (Duet. 31:14). "And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him" (Numbers 27:18)
The way Joshua received his call from God was through prophecy from someone who was authorized to act in the name of God. And then that authorized servant, Moses, revealed that prophesy to Joshua, then laid his hands on him and conferred the right for him to succeed Moses as the political and spiritual leader of Israel after Moses had died.
The next person we read of in the Bible who was called of God was Samuel. The high priest at that time was Eli and he was God's authorized servant for things pertaining to the temple but that didn't authorize him to call Samuel to become a prophet because the office of a prophet is greater in authority than that of a temple high priest. Even so Samuel didn't become a prophet because he had a feeling in his heart that this is what God wanted him to do. Instead, God spoke audibly to Samuel, just as he had done with Noah and Moses, calling him by name, and "Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth." Then God told him some very specific things concerning what was going to happen to Eli. The next morning Eli asked Samuel "What is the thing that the LORD hath said unto thee?... And Samuel told him every whit" (1 Samuel 3:10-18).
As we have already seen, people who believe God has laid a calling on their heart don't receive specific information about their calling but Samuel did and then he communicated that information to others.
When the people of Israel asked to have a king, "the Lord had told Samuel in his ear a day before Saul came, saying, To morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be captain over my people Israel, that he may save my people out of the hand of the Philistines: for I have looked upon my people, because their cry is come unto me. And when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said unto him, Behold the man whom I spake to thee of! this same shall reign over my people. (1 Samuel 9:15-17).
When God wanted to call Saul to be the king of Israel, He didn't lay that call on Saul's heart and then expect him to act on that feeling. Instead, the Lord revealed that knowledge to His authorized servant, Samuel, and sent him to convey God's message to Saul. And, from the biblical narrative, we get the distinct impression that Saul wasn't aware that this is what God wanted him to do until Samuel told him.
That was certainly the case with David. When Saul failed to honor the Lord, Samuel wasn't sure what he should do but the Lord said to him, "I will shew thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee." As Samuel looked over the children of Jesse and came to David, "the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren" (1 Samuel 16: 3, 2-13).
Before Samuel arrived, David had no idea that the Lord was going to call him to someday become the king of Israel. Instead, like Saul before him, David learned what the Lord's will was for him from one of God's authorized servants rather than from a feeling he had in his heart. Furthermore, Samuel not only told Saul and David how God wanted them to serve Him but he also set them apart so they had the authority from God to serve in that position.
We see this same pattern being followed in the New Testament. Jesus told His apostles, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit" (John15:16). If these twelve men didn't choose to become apostles on their own then how did Jesus chose them?
Luke tells us "And it came to pass in those days, that he (Jesus) went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles" (Luke 6:12-13).
Jesus had many disciples but, after spending all night praying to His Father in heaven, the next morning He called His disciples together and from among them He chose twelve to be given the title of apostle. God did not put this knowledge in the heart of these twelve men. Instead, God revealed to Jesus - His authorized servant - which men He wanted called to be apostles and Jesus then communicated that message to them.
After Jesus had died and ascended into heaven, Peter was in the presence of a hundred and twenty disciples and told them that since Judas had died, that there "must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection" to take the place of Judas. Two men were worthy of filling this position, "Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias". There is nothing in the scriptures that indicates that either of these men had a feeling in their heart that God wanted them to seek this position. Instead, it was the Holy Ghost who revealed this information through the drawing of lots (Acts 1:15-26).
Most people believe that Paul was called to be an apostle at the time he saw a vision on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-6). Although that's not what the Bible says, the scriptures specifically tells us that what happened on that day was that Paul saw God and had a conversation with Him, much like what happened to Moses. Again, there is no indication that he had a feeling in his heart prompting him to become an apostle.
As we have already seen, what most modern-day Christians believe about a call from God is that it comes to the heart of an individual prompting them to pursue a course that will lead them into some sort of a ministry. This would certainly apply to someone becoming a pastor or an elder. The Bible tells us that as Paul and his missionary companion went from city to city preaching the gospel and converting people to Christ, "they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed" (Acts 14:23). But what prompted Paul to ordain people to the office of an elder? Did these people come to Paul telling him that God had laid it on their heart that they should seek to enter the ministry? In this particular verse the Bible doesn't give us enough information to fully answer this question but we can gain a better understanding of this process if we look at a some other verses of scripture.
In the New Testament we know the names of two pastors - Timothy and Titus - and the Bible indicates that they were ordained to this position by Paul. In his first letter to Timothy Paul said, "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Tim 4:14). The Amplified Bible renders this verse as saying, "Do not neglect the gift which is in you which was directly imparted to you [by the Holy Spirit] by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you [at your ordination]."
In his second letter to Timothy Paul wrote, "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6). While the Bible doesn't specifically say what "gift" Timothy received at the hands of Paul, most biblical scholars agree that it refers to the office of his ministry that was given to him by Paul through the laying on of his hands. And the Bible declares that this ordination "was given thee [Timothy] by prophecy with (by) the laying on of the hands of the presbytery."
Paul told Titus, "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee" (Titus 1:5). The Amplified Bibles translates this as: "For this reason I left you [behind] in Crete, that you might set right what was defective and finish what was left undone, and that you might appoint elders and set them over the churches (assemblies) in every city as I directed you" (Amplified Bible)
An "elder" is an office in the priesthood, as is a deacon, bishop, pastor, or apostle. All of these were ministerial positions and the way people were ordained to these offices were by being appointed by someone in authority "by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." This is not only the way Paul ordained elders in every city he went but he instructed Titus to follow this same procedure.
As we take a close look at what the Bible teaches, in almost every example, what we repeatedly see is that it was those in authority who revealed who should be called to serve in what position. While there may be differences of interpretation concerning certain scriptures, the fact remains that there is a conspicuous absence of any clear example in the Bible that people are to experience a feeling in their heart as a sign that they are called of God.