Jeremy Berg, a youth pastor, has offered a good set of ideas on “calling” and “vocation”. Tell us what you think.
We love to throw around the notion of career “calling” and “vocation,” both in the context of Christian ministry and secular careers. I believe we’ve become sloppy in our concept and understanding of “calling.” What we do agree on is the importance of seeking to live out our individual sense of calling in order to have a life that is both meaningful and satisfying.
The big question is: Who or what is doing the calling when we talk like this? Also: So, who or what is the true source of your calling? How else do we use the concept of “calling”? What is the most biblical definition of calling?
Here’s some of the uses I see at work. See if you agree and tell me if you know of other uses.
1. The Call of God: Ideally, Christians and people of other theistic faiths are primarily concerned with discovering God’s particular calling on their life. What unique mission or task is God calling me to pursue in my life? This is especially the case with those “called” to so-called “vocational ministry” — that is, people who go into full time ministry as their career calling. But every person of faith, whether insurance salesperson or stay-at-home parent, should seek God’s unique calling and sense of purpose for their lives. But it is the call of God we’re seeking in this sense of the word.
2. The Call of one’s Gifts: Since most of us do not encounter God in a burning bush or hear an audible voice calling us to particular tasks for God, we seek to discover our calling by looking at the unique personality, gifts and natural abilities God has given to us. What is my calling in this life? If I’m a gifted scholar, speaker and teacher, perhaps my calling is to be a preacher, inspirational speaker, or college professor. Or, if I’m creative, artistic and imaginative perhaps my calling is to be an artist of some kind. If I’m handy, skilled with my hands, and love fixing things, perhaps my calling is to be an engineer or mechanic of some kind. But notice that we are not listening for God’s direct call anymore, but instead assuming that God’s call automatically lines up with our natural abilities. This may be the case sometimes, or even most of the time; but I would argue not all of the time.
3. The Call of one’s heart or desires: While one’s gifts and natural abilities may be a good indicator of their career calling, sometimes we happen to be very good and skilled at things we hate and don’t enjoy. I’m good at math and administrative tasks, but I hate them. So, many will draw the conclusion that God desires us to invest our lives doing things that we are both gifted at and find personal satisfaction and enjoyment in. But now we are no longer asking what God is calling us to do, but rather what is our heart’s desire. I don’t think this is wrong. I hope God calls me to tasks and assignments I find great pleasure in doing. But now we are very close to making God’s calling equal to our personal desires. Now we are on sketchy ground. I am not comfortable saying that asking “What does God want me to do with my life?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” are the same thing. This is only a small step away from making ourselves God of our own life. Yikes!
4. The Call of the Oppressed: Getting us back toward a more biblical, God-centered understanding of “call” we can see many examples in scripture of people responding to the call of the oppressed, needy and downtrodden. That is certainly the voice God’s ears are most inclined to hear and move towards in his own activity. Moses’ heart was eventually broken for his own people, and that helped lead him to a life of liberating Israel from bondage. The apostle Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man calling him to come and preach the gospel in his region. William Wilberforce heard the call of those in slavery, and spent his life working for their freedom and the abolishment of the evil institution. Many organizations like World Vision and Compassion International began when a servant of God heard the call of the poor, hungry or downtrodden. They discerned the call of God in the call of the oppressed, and made that cause their life’s calling. Saying yes to this kind of a call may sometimes lead one into a season of obedience where we put our own personal desires or primary gift areas on the back burner in order to put God’s mission on the front.
So, I think the process of discerning our personal calling, whether in ministry or any other area of life, probably is a mish-mash of all of four of the above. But I think we need to be careful that we don’t embrace one or two at the expense of the others. Because in a culture that is obsessed with satisfying our desires and looking out for our own well-being first, we all know #2 and #3 will win the day, and we’ll easily lose sight of #1 and #4. And these two should trump the others in the economy of the Kingdom everytime.