A called man. What is that, anyway? What’s it mean to be “called?” What does calling look like? Darrin brings up the example of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet, called to give the word of God to people. A lot of times, this made him hated, and Jeremiah lamented that fact, but also knew that he couldn’t hold in what God told him to say. It was like a “fire shut up in his bones.” Jeremiah couldn’t give up the call of God on his life despite all of the heartache it caused him.
This illustration resonated with me, because as of yet, it causes me less heartache and more insecurity. Despite the fact that I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing (and more on that later, and I see the Lord dealing with this in me, so by the time I’m done with the book, you’ll likely not see me saying that as much) I can’t get rid of the call of God on my life, and I still so desire to do what He’s called me to do.
Darrin outlines the opinions of different theologians over the years who have defined the call of God, which includes things such as eloquence, teaching capabilities, ability to make a living, good memory, a desire to take the office (presumably of pastorship) unselfishly and out of reverence and understanding that God has offered it, it’s not to be taken by application, external affirmation, sufficiency in gifts and skills, and the providence of God making the time, place, and the means to make that calling realized. But my favorite advice in reference to the calling of God was from George Whitfield, who encouraged people who thought they were called to ask themselves:
Would [I] preach for Christ if [I] were sure to lay down [my] life for so doing? If you fear the displeasure of a man for doing your duty now, assure yourselves you are not yet thus minded.
I’m getting ahead of myself a little, but it’s almost impossible not to – the question here is this: is the calling of God on my life final? Is it everything to me? Can I see myself living an ordinary life, or is that just not good enough? Would I die before I stopped going down the path God’s called me to? If giving my life for the service of God and His people is more important than being normal, being safe, or being liked, then I would venture to say that the call is genuine. (and, in reference to chapter one, that desire to give my life must be out of love for God and the gospel, not out of a desire to save myself or to do great things so that God will love me.)
The different elements of a calling are broken down in more detail, starting with heart confirmation of God’s call. This confirmation of ministry has the most to do with what was previously mentioned: would I give my life for it? Is it the most important thing? It’s an emotional process that takes place in the heart. Patrick uses 1 Timothy 3:1 as a springboard for this part of confirmation. It says, “If anyone desired the office of elder…” which implies that desire may be the first step toward calling! But again, not a superficial desire, but a genuine desire out of love for the Lord, accompanied by joy to do His work. There is caution to be taken because of the nature of the office, he writes, but it is ultimately a pastor’s joy to lay his life down for ministry.
I was really encouraged by a particular block of text, when Darrin writes this:
This strong desire in the heart can sometimes result in anxiety and apprehension. Questions are forced to the surface, like “can I really do this? Can God really use me? What if I fail?” Nothing provokes insecurity like signing up to follow God’s call and do God’s work. …ultimately he will not be able to walk away from it.
This is the heart of the matter [no pun intended] of heart confirmation: there is nothing else for me. I have to do this or my life won’t be good enough. And as someone who has discerned this call, I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who hasn’t heard or felt the call of God for ministry on their life. But it’s not for everyone, and God doesn’t call everyone to vocational ministry. Thank God for that! We need people being Jesus in factories, fast food restaurants, coffee shops, office buildings, sports teams, schools, etc. the Great Commission is still for everyone, not just full-time pastors. Don’t let the fact that you don’t feel called make you feel disqualified or like you’re anything less than a loved and favor son/daughter of God.
As easy as it is to get caught up with the emotional aspect of calling, Darrin writes that we should not forget the head confirmation of calling. Namely, this is the aspect that deals with how I can specifically serve my church and my community. He writes:
The man who is experiencing head confirmation is thoughtful about his own philosophy of ministry, his own ministry style, his own theological beliefs, his own unique gifts, abilities and desires. In short, there is uniqueness to the way he wants to do ministry.
It was important that I read this, because I’m prone to just take the ideas and models of others, while God has been telling me for years to think for myself and really dream and envision what a church under my care would look like. I’ll never forget when I was at a church planter’s conference a few years ago and they had us write down the demographics that we thought we’d serve, with our own unique mission, etc. This was one of the most freeing activities I’ve engaged in, and I’ve since not repeated it as I should. It’s important not to simply model oneself and one’s church after his own experiences. Take note of things that seemed to work, but also realize that in a different city and different culture (and with yourself as a different leader,) adaptability is key. Head confirmation also involves asking myself if I’m doing ministry because it’s just there, or because it seems like the next logical step, or if I know how to use my specific gifts and callings to serve. It puts things into a more pragmatic perspective, reconciling emotional and logical elements of calling.
While the internal aspects of the call are important, Darrin finally writes that there is external confirmation to be had. Basically, the church is to evaluate the man who wants to be in ministry to affirm his character (which will be more thoroughly covered in the next chapter) and to detect his gifts and skills to see how he can use them. It’s the head confirmation aspect of calling, but with a collective element. It’s remarkably easy to want to be in ministry when you don’t detect your own flaws. Patrick also writes that some churches are too lenient in their approach to letting people into ministry and will put people in leadership who have serious character flaws or aren’t gifted for something (ie preaching) or too harsh and require rigorous qualification processes, such as being an abnormally talented speaker, attending seminary, etc.
This made me think of my church, which has been so good about being balanced between the two. We are all for letting people serve, but also try to match character and competency with where we put someone. For example, if someone is notably reckless with their money, we won’t nominate them for the church council, which makes financial decisions for the church. If someone wants to preach, we’ve had preaching groups that meet for the sole purpose of hearing each other and critiquing each other and learning how to be a better preacher. This was the first avenue in which I preached, and I learned a lot from it about the mechanics of speaking as well as the elements of sermon construction (though admittedly I still have plenty to learn!) Foursquare will also assess your skills and give you ways to improve them, such as preaching ability, ability to raise money, teach, sharing your faith, etc. They won’t send out someone who isn’t competent in all of those things, not because they require too much, but because they want you to be able to have a healthy church that sustains itself.
Much more than the first chapter, this one challenged me to think. I wasn’t expecting such an introspective response from this, but it’s a good thing, and I’m glad this book is making me evaluate myself. It’s the call of God that makes me feel like I can’t live a normal life. I’ve tried to pursue other career paths, and they come to nothing simply because there’s no inspiration behind them. I’m not called to be a journalist, I’m not called to work for ESPN, I’m not called to be a psychologist (which is a pain to explain when people ask me what I studied in college.) But that call is a joy, and that call is exciting, just as Patrick wrote about. I want so badly to realize the potential that God wants to unleash in the church. Though I run incessantly, I can’t run forever, and I want to see God move, save lives, redeem people, and bring them into His kingdom. That’s what I have to do with my life. Everything required to do that I trust God with, and I’ll embrace the process of learning what I have to learn and doing what I have to do.