What Does It Mean To Be Called?

Posted On August 3, 2017

Dear Seminarian,

We have all heard the saying “If I only knew then what I know now.” That saying is trustworthy and true and applies to all aspects of life. There are many things in life that we cannot know without the wisdom of hindsight. This also applies to the area of pastoral calling and our life’s work. If you are reading this article, you are either attending Bible College/Seminary, have attended Bible College/Seminary, or are serving the local church in some capacity. You have expressed a calling to serve the Lord and want nothing more than to do His will. But sometimes we can impose our own desires and ambitions into God’s call. We only realize it after trudging down a path that can seem like treading water. When walking down the path toward calling and discovering our life’s work, we have to be careful that we are following the Lord and not trying to do something that we are not gifted/wired to do.

Let’s face it, we all look up to somebody and want to emulate them. This also applies to pastors and church leaders. Looking back, I may have fallen into this trap and desired to be like the rockstar pastors/church planters I looked up to and wanted to be like. I thought, “They have a cool position, I want to do that too.” But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was not happy in the position I was in and wasn’t gifted/wired to do it effectively. As I’ve reflected on this time in my life, I realize now that I also wasn’t even called to it. I had assumed I was called because it seemed like a good thing and was a trend at the time. I was not taking heed of the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3, ESV). Now I’m not saying that church planting and pastoring is not a God called position, but what I am saying is that I don’t think God called, gifted, or wired me to do that. It took me a few years and a lot of struggle to figure that out.

In his book, The Call (Thomas Nelson, 1998) author and philosopher Os Guinness distinguishes between two types of calling: primary call and secondary call. First, he discusses the idea of the primary call which is the same for all believers. This could be called the “who am I” call. Every person who has placed their faith in Jesus has answered the call to “follow me” (Matt 5:19). The call to follow Jesus is the call to lay down our lives and take on a new identity as a child of God. Second, he discusses the idea of a secondary call which is different for all believers. This could be called the “What do I do?” call. Every person who has placed their faith in Jesus has been filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered with differing gifts for the edification of the body of Christ. Though we all have the same primary call, we all have a different secondary call based on the way we have been gifted and wired. As we follow Jesus and grow to love Him more, we will begin to use the gifts and talents we have been given for His glory and the good of others.

Within the scope of the secondary call, Guinness also distinguishes between the ordinary and specific call. The ordinary call is the daily ways that we use the gifts and talents we have been given to advance the Kingdom of Christ. This may be through official church ministry or personal and community involvement. The specific call is a unique calling on a particular person’s life, i.e. the calling to be a pastor, teach, practice medicine, etc. The truth is we have all have an ordinary call, but not everyone is set apart for their life to be dedicated to one particular role. Most of the time we have differing roles in differing seasons of our lives. It is wise not to wait our entires lives for a special calling when we can be used significantly for the Kingdom within the boundaries of an ordinary calling, daily living our lives for the glory of God and the good of others. If only I had known that ten years ago!

Be who you are, who God has created and redeemed you to be as a child of God. He has not called you to be someone else or to do someone else’s work. He has uniquely called and equipped each of us with specific tasks in His Kingdom. We are Americans, and such we often fall victim to the idea of the “American Dream” even when it comes to calling. We all want to do something “big for God” and change the world. But what he has called us to do is follow Him (Luke 9:23) and share the gospel in our specific contexts. That may be to preach in the pulpit on Sunday, teach a class full of rowdy five-year-olds, drive a school bus, work in retail, practice medicine, etc. The Lord is most glorified in us when we are faithful to live out and share the gospel in the context which He has placed us. When we are faithful to do what God has called us to do, no matter how menial, the world sees Jesus in us and the Kingdom advances.

Take the time this week to journal and prayerfully consider the following questions:

  • Have I been called to follow Jesus?
  • What are ways in which the Lord has gifted/wired me and how can I use that for Kingdom purposes?
  • Have I been waiting on a specific/special calling and not been faithful to serve Jesus in ordinary ways?

After you spend time in prayer about these questions, discuss your answers with a friend, spouse, or mentor and let them speak into your life regarding ways you have been gifted and wired for Kingdom purposes.

May God bless you as you continue the work to which you have been called.

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