Mentor Monday: Calling (part 1)

cropped-dscn3561.jpgWith great trepidation, I discuss this particular subject. I have never heard an audible voice telling me to “go” and I have never had my alphabet cereal spell out a destination for mission work.  These are the thoughts that many have when we discuss a “calling” on their life.  As if the only real and true “calling” can come from some kind of metaphysical interaction.  It hasn’t helped recently that everyone who say’s that they were called by God to do something, has been pegged as a crazy person (think Michelle Bachmann in the 2012 presidential election).  So how can mentors tackle this subject?  It begins with knowing what a calling entails.

A “calling” [gk. kaleo] is an invitation.  An invitation to join a party (Lk. 14.16-25).  We are summoned to go on this great quest in trusting God to lead.  It is a challenge to follow God wherever he leads: be it your interactions with others (general calling); or your vocation and ministry [from the latin word vocar, meaning “calling”].  It is a request to let God be the one who chooses the direction as we let Him steer.  It is a beckoning to discover and enjoy the unknown to us, as God takes us where we need to go.  Jesus started off by calling four fishermen, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4.18-22; Mark 1.16-20).  The translation: “Come follow me and you will do things you never once imagined.”  Jesus was asking them to follow, to go, to journey with him to an existence that was farther beyond their ambitions.  Some have been specifically called in Scripture to do specific tasks (which I have written about elsewhere), but what about the men we are mentoring?  We too have calls on our lives, they just might not be spelled out.

The Christian has two different calls on their lives. The first is commonly called a general calling.  All Christians are called by God to live a certain way.  This calling is called a general calling, meaning it was for everybody at all times in every circumstance.  We were called to a life lived in relationship with Christ (1 Cor. 1.9); a life of holiness (1 Thes. 4.7; 2 Tim. 1.9); a life of peace (Mark 9.50; Col. 3.15; 1 Cor. 7.15); eternal life (1 Tim. 6.12); sanctification (2 Thes. 2.13-14).  Henry Blamires put it best describing a general calling as “the responsibility of all mankind to live as children of God.”[1]  In essence it is the call to live out among the rest of mankind the relationship that we enjoy with our heavenly Father.  We are to love one another (16 times we are commanded too); be at peace with one another (1 Cor. 7.15; Mark 9.50; Romans 14.19; 1 Thes. 5.13b); encourage each other (Hebrews 3.13; 10.25); speaking truthfully to one another (Eph. 4.25, Col. 3.9); honoring your father and mother, and countless others.  The commands, the stipulations that apply to all mankind are our General calling.  The Puritans had three levels of calling, and the first two [Abide in communion with Christ, and the common] are those that would be expressed in our general calling.

The second type of call is a specific calling. This call is individual to the Christian. No two specific calls are exactly the same.  This call is what we think of when we use the word vocation [the latin word vocare means “calling”].  Our specific calling is “God’s call to man to serve him in a particular sphere of activity.”[2]  Your specific calling is the area where God has gifted, placed, and prepared for you to flourish.  In this life we were created to thrive, not just survive.  Specific calling is the place where God has created us to thrive.  Jethani points out that our culture is moving towards this idea of calling.

Younger people today, perhaps more than previous generations, have a strong sense of their specific calling.  They believe God has called them into business; the arts, government, the household, education, the media, the social, sector, or health care, and they are often very committed to these venues of cultural engagement.  But when their specific callings are never acknowledged by the church, and instead only our common callings or the goal of the institutional church is extolled, the young feel like something important is missing.”

God has placed in you a specific mix of gifting, ability, passion, and desire that is unequaled and unmatched by anyone else on the planet.  Our use of these things is part of our worship and service to God.  Dallas Willard reminds us that the use of our specific calling is part of our stewardship.[3]  Wayne Cordeiro warns that we often get confused about our calling: “It’s easy to get our callings mixed up with our careers…I recall hearing an old saying that still holds true today: ‘Your career is what you’re paid for.  Your calling is what you’re made for.’”[4]

At this point I feel it is necessary to interject a brief statement about the equality of all callings. Our culture struggles with what I call the pendulum paradox.  Our culture has eliminated the middle ground.  The pendulum swings from one extreme to the other.  One the one hand, much of the Christian community has made a bigger deal than necessary about the height of the calling to serve in a Church (based in my opinion largely upon a misapplication of James 3.1).  When I was in college there was an unwritten hierarchy with located church work at the apex.  To work for a church is the only way to make sure that you are doing God’s work.  To that Dallas Willard argues:

“it is as great and as difficult a spiritual calling to run the factories and the mines, the banks and the department stores, the schools and government agencies for the Kingdom of God as it is to pastor a church or serve as an evangelist.”[5]

On the other hand, with the rise of bi-vocational ministry, the increase of the parachurch ministry (especially amongst this generation), and the amount of worldview training (helping people understand how their calling fits into the overall picture of God’s redemption of mankind), there is an undercurrent of distrust and disillusionment of located Church ministry.  In some areas, Church work has taken a nose-dive as a respected profession.[6]  Some believe youth ministry is nothing more than showing up to kids games, playing x-box, and being a paid best friend to a middle school student.  Some believe the pastor works only one day a week.  The work (if you can call it that) of minister has become a punch-line.  In a way of finding the equilibrium position of the pendulum let me argue the equality of callings.  The reformation mindset needs to be at the forefront of our thoughts.  For years the church instead of being a priesthood, had a priesthood.  Luther’s reformation argued for the priesthood of all believers, meaning we all had the responsibility of interceding, and serving the community of mankind for God’s purposes.  The youth pastor, the tire maker, the police officer, the stay-at-home mom, or the accountant has all been charged with the purpose of glorifying God and serving others.   As Tim Keller reminds us, “All work, according to God’s design, is service.  Through work we enrich one another and become more and more interwoven.”[7]

[1] Blamires, Henry.  The Christian Mind (Regent Publishers: Vancouver, 1963) 20.

[2] Jethani, Sky. “Uncommon Calling” Christianity Today. January 2013. pg. 52

[3] Willard, Dallas. Spirit of the Disciplines (HarperOne: San Francisco, 1988) 214.

[4] Cordeiro, Wayne. Jesus: Pure and Simple (Bethany House: Minneapolis, 2012) 39.

[5] Willard 214

[6] As one in this profession, I feel that I can be honest and upfront about the issues.  I will tell you that it is in part due to sin within the ministry, laziness of pastors, a perceived incompetence within the pastorate, and a weird mix of relatability/unrelatability of those in ministry with the parishioners.

[7] Keller, Tim. “Vocation: Discerning Your Calling”


One thought on “Mentor Monday: Calling (part 1)

  1. I really like how you distinguish between the general calling and the specific calling. Great work on this Travis, I think this is something a lot of people could use to read.

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