“Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion… to his summons and service.” —Os Guinness, The Call
In my last blog I talked about what success looks like when following Jesus. As a follow-up, I want to share what comes before that. Simply put, knowing what God might call you to has a lot to do with understanding your story.
Sometime in 2006, I was part of a life-changing leadership class in Orlando called Lifework Leadership. Up until that point I viewed my work as a pastor my life’s calling. But during one of our monthly sessions, I heard Os Guinness speak and everything changed. I learned that God calls us primarily to himself. From there, everything we do becomes a response that call. In this blog, I want to help you discern your unique response, much of which has to do with your story.
In his book, The Call, Guinness notes how problems occur when we view our everyday work as our primary call. Our vocation, he says, is actually our secondary call, and this can change over the course of our lives. We’re always called primarily to walk with Christ. But the things we do for Christ, those can change.
God’s call is progressive. This means he calls us to different things in different seasons of life as a response to walking with him. Each time we say “yes,” we gain valuable tools, wisdom, and experience for the next assignment. Some people work out their secondary calling for an entire lifetime. For others, things change over time and they learn to roll with it. Whichever camp you fall in to, I want to help you understand all the elements to pay attention to as you hone your unique secondary calling. This post is especially important for pastoral leaders because part of your role is to help people understand how they have been uniquely wired so they might more effectively follow Jesus into their everyday lives.
In the book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson shares how innovation comes when someone takes a survey of all the spare parts they have, adds them up and sees something no one else has yet imagined. Discerning one’s vocational work is like that. Helping a church, church plant, a team, or even a missional community discern its mission works like this also. We have to survey the spare parts of our lives, add them up and see where they point.
I’ve worked with many people from varying backgrounds who are asking the question, “what should I do in this world?” The answer to that question can be found by adding up the following spare parts: Story + Calling + Gifts + Invitations.
In his book, The Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thomson, M.D., writes “We…often don’t focus on our feelings, memories, what our bodies are telling us, or the depth and meaning of our narratives. The more we pay attention to these things…the more we are paying attention to God.”
Thomson goes on to examine Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. This statement would have great significance to a first century Jew because the temple was the place you went to meet God. What if all the answers to meeting God could be found in your story? Your own origins, life circumstances, the emotions and experiences those things brought make up your story. How has Christ met you there? How has this positioned you to relate to a unique kind of person or specific kind of work? Knowing this prepares you assimilate the next piece — calling.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that when Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die. What Bonhoeffer meant was that our lives are not the central point of the universe. When we can understand Christ is the center, and our lives as secondary, then we’re ready to serve. But how we serve is a calling that comes out of our story.
Practically speaking, someone raised in a chaotic environment might sense a call to social work or other helping profession. Someone from a home that emphasized linear thinking might go into engineering or accounting. Whoever you are, your profession isn’t the point, if you think it is, you’ll be miserable because it will never give you what you need to heal your wounds. Only Christ can do that. This is why Jesus says we must die daily. We won’t be able to think of others if we are still wrapped up in ourselves.
Understanding one’s gifts is a next crucial piece. In terms of the church, knowing your Ephesians 4 APEST gifts and other spiritual gifts are important because these shape the way we work out our calling. For instance, I grew up in a tense environment where people never seemed to understand each other. It makes sense that I would eventually go into pastoral work, but at some point, working in the corporate world also opened up for me—and the work was similar. Since I’m gifted in leadership and administration, I found a place helping teams strategize, understand personality, and even conflict resolution.
Knowing all these things and adding them up is important. But the last piece is the most crucial—invitations.
I’ve got an exercise for you. From your early adult years till now, what have people consistently asked you to do? Whether it was personal or professional, when have you been invited to participate in anything? How were you invited to participate? What kinds of things to people consistently ask you about? These are the invitations you receive.
People consistently see things in us we need to pay attention to. Whenever we are asked to contribute, there’s something special in there thats being called out. Learning to pay attention to that will enable you to say yes to God’s work, step out in faith, and ask for help when you know you’re not yet 100% equipped. Being unequipped doesn’t mean you don’t do it, it just means you ask for help.
Problems occur when we force ourselves where we haven’t been invited. That’s the difference between being called and driving. We need to train ourselves to look for “come over here and help us,” invitations like Paul had in his dream of a man from Macedonia (Acts 16:9). We’re all uniquely positioned to be good news to someone or group of someones. I urge you, do the hard work to understand your spare parts. What you find will make a big difference for others. Dan Allender says, “Our calling is to reveal God through the themes he’s has woven into our character” (To Be Told). How amazing that a way to reveal an aspect of God is simply by being ourselves?
Adding up your Story + Calling + Gifts + Invitations is a valuable first step. My last blog covered what success looks like as we work all this out. But how do we help people organizationally to think like this and release them to be good news people? That’s the subject of my next blog.
What do people consistently see in you?
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