Called by God
The staff team at First Baptist Church have been reading J. Oswald Sanders' classic book Spiritual Leadership together. We are only a couple chapters into the book so far, but I have personally enjoyed the book to this point. The most recent chapter discussed the need for leaders in the church who represent a Biblical vision of leadership. Sanders wrote, "If the world is to hear the church's voice today, leaders are needed who are authoritative, spiritual, and sacrificial (pg. 18 of the 2007 edition)."
Overall, the chapter was about the need for leaders who are prepared to serve God's people in God's ways. While it was not the main thrust of the chapter, there was also a sense of God calling these leaders forth. Moses, Gideon and David were all called by God to lead his people. They were not perfect and they had their flaws, but God used them in mighty ways.
This got me thinking, how are Christians called by God? Is there more than one type of call that a Christian might experience?
I began to think about my own life. I was first called by God in a chair at a youth conference in Steubenville, OH. The speaker shared the story of redemption as revealed through Scripture. He explained that God had created the world and loved his creation, but something had gone wrong. Sin had entered the world and broken the relationship that God had with his people. Because of our sin, God had to remedy the situation on our behalf through the person and work of Jesus. The speaker invited us to respond to the call of God and follow Jesus with our lives. It was there in Ohio that God gave me new life. It was there that God called me to be one of his followers.
I also received a very distinct call during my sophomore year in college. I had gone to North Dakota State University (Go Bison!) to be an architect, but God had other plans. While I sat in an auditorium, God called me into full-time vocational ministry. I didn't know how it would all work itself out, but I knew that God had invited me to a life of ministry. It would take ten more years before I was actually in a full-time vocational ministry position... Sometimes it requires patience to wait for God's timing. I was not always patient, but God remained faithful.
These are just two ways that I was personally called by God. But are there more ways that Christians might be called by God? I believe there are. I have come up with five different ways that Christians are called. I do not claim to have produced a complete and comprehensive list, but these may cause you to reflect more on the ways God has called you as a follower of Jesus.
The 5 ways Christians are called by God
1. Called to follow Jesus
Our first and most important call is to follow Jesus. There is no more significant call we can receive than to follow Jesus. On the sea of Galilee Jesus called his first disciples to follow him. He said to Simon and Andrew, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mt. 4:19)." If you follow Jesus, you have received that call. You may not remember it as a particular moment in time, but somewhere along your journey God called you. He woke you up from an eternal slumber. You went from death to life. Through Jesus, God "delivered us from the present evil age (Gal 1:4)." We often limit the notion of a "call" to just those who work in vocational ministry. But for anyone who follows Jesus, we have the most basic and most important call in common. The call to follow Jesus.
2. Called to be his witnesses
The moment you heeded the call to follow Jesus, you were also called to be his witness. Jesus told his first disciples, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)." As followers of Jesus, we are called to be his witnesses in the world. It doesn't matter our profession, income level, marital status, age, race or any other factor. If we follow Jesus, we are called to be his witnesses. They go hand in hand. In the middle of Jesus' high priestly prayer he says that he has sent his followers into the world in the same way that God had sent Jesus into the world (Jn 17:18). We are all the sent ones of Jesus. The word "sent" here is the greek work apostello, which is where we get the word apostle. This doesn't mean that we are all "capital-A" Apostles. It doesn't even mean that we have all received the apostolic spiritual gifts. What it does mean, is that no matter who you are you are Jesus' sent one. You are called to be his witness in the world. You are called to represent him in word and deed through compassionate ministry and the clear communication of the gospel.
3. Called to church leadership
A third way that you might be called by God is to invest in your local church as a leader. There are varying degrees of investment you can make as a leader, and therefore varying degrees of call. We see this notion of call represented in Paul's letter to Timothy. Paul wrote about overseers (elders/bishops), "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task (1 Tim 3:1)." The thrust of this verse is that a man will have aspirations of fulfilling this important role within the local church. I am suggesting that this aspiration comes as a result of God's call upon a man who desires that noble task. When we extrapolate this general principle, we can conclude that God may also be calling you to invest your time and talent into the local church by helping to lead a Community Group or other ministry team.
This call does not necessitate you make a change to vocational ministry. In fact, for the vast majority of people who feel called to local church leadership, it will mean the exact opposite. Many will pursue other professions or careers, while also helping to lead their local church. I have a particular friend in mind who feels a very distinct call to local church leadership, but not as a profession. He serves as an administrator in a public school and has a clear sense of call to that role. He also serves as an elder at a local church in Fargo, and provides fantastic leadership to a growing church plant. In my conversations with him, it was apparent that he has a clear sense of call to local church leadership while also serving as a school administrator.
God might be calling you to local church leadership, but it doesn't necessarily require you to change professions. Where might God be calling you to serve?
4. Called to your vocation
When I first began to write this post, this fourth call was going to be titled - "called to vocational ministry." But in fact, everyone is called to their vocation. Not just pastors or missionaries. When did God call you to your vocation? Do you feel a sense of call to your vocation? Martin Luther did some great work in this area to challenge Christians to view their own work as a vocation to which God has called you. If you are a lawyer, God has called you to that domain in order to bring God's Kingdom to bear on our justice system. If you are a teacher, God has called you to that domain in order to bring God's Kingdom to bear on our education system. If you are in a skilled trade, God has called you to that domain in order to bring God's Kingdom to bear on the craftsmanship of our world. Consider your own vocation. How has God called you there, and how can you see God using your work to bring glory to His name?
5. Called to a specific vocational ministry
When the third and fourth calls intersect, you might be called into ministry as a vocation. This may work itself out with you entering pastoral ministry, going overseas as a missionary or working on a college campus for a para-church ministry. In my own experience, it took ten years from when I first received a call to vocational ministry and actually entering into a full-time role. The call to a particular ministry will involve much prayer, discernment, counsel and the leading of God's spirit. This will also involve the clarity of others to help confirm that call. This process can take weeks, months or sometimes even years. But when God calls you, and you find your specific role, it is an awesome privilege. Do not take lightly the unique call to lead God's people into a vibrant faith in God.
How have you felt God's call upon your life?
I would love to hear your stories about how you experienced God's call. How where you called to follow Jesus? How have you seen God's call to be his witness work itself out in your life? Have you been called to church leadership? Include your own stories in the comments below.