It’s a word used frequently in Christian circles, typically in reference to location, vocation, or a particular ministry. We make statements like, “God called our family to South America” or “I was called to be a pastor” or “I feel called to youth ministry.”
When the Bible speaks of calling, it most often refers to worship (calling on God), election (being called by God to salvation), or vocation (being called by God to serve Him). As the examples above demonstrate, we usually use it in the third sense, echoing how we talk about God’s will.
In conversations about calling or the will of God, the primary concern tends to be on details like where we live or what we do. What we really want to know is what in the world we are supposed to be doing with our lives. And because we’re praying about it or discussing it at church, we often assume a call from God will be a detailed itinerary of the future with an emphasis on vocational Christian service.
The Bible does offer several examples of individuals who were called by God to specific tasks with clear spiritual significance. God called Abram to leave his country and family for a new land (Genesis 12:1). He called Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery (Exodus 3:10). Paul was called to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16). But what about those of us who haven’t encountered God in a burning bush or on the road to Damascus?
My understanding of calling was refined when I recently started a job that isn’t an overtly ministerial position. While I work for a Christian organization, my role isn’t expressly focused on outreach or discipleship. So I scratched my head and wondered if maybe I’m not really called to ministry after all.
That’s when the Lord reminded me not to confuse calling with context. Admittedly, this is a challenge when, like the biblical examples show, calling can certainly involve the nuts and bolts of where we live and what we do. But whether we’re “ministering professionals” or “professional ministers”, all of us really are called to serve the Lord. Just because some of us don’t get paid to serve Jesus doesn’t mean we’re not called to serve Jesus at the place we get paid. And I’m sure those who do work in paid ministry positions would want us to know that earning a paycheck with a church’s name on it isn’t the extent of what it means to serve Jesus.
God has broadened my perspective so that I now think and live beyond my daily to-do list. In other words, He’s reminded me that just because ministry isn’t on my job description, doesn’t mean it’s not my calling. I’ve stopped viewing my workplace itself as my calling and have started seeing it instead as the context where I walk in my calling. And what is that calling? Or, to put it differently, what is God’s will for my life? Generally speaking, I think God desires that I express my love for Him by faithfully obeying Him and stewarding the gifts He’s given me right where I am. Regardless of the context, we are to love God and love others. We get to walk by faith and in obedience as we use our gifts to serve others in our homes, at the grocery store, on the mission field, and at the workplace.
In several of Paul’s letters, he greeted his audience by reminding them that they were called to be holy (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2). He didn’t exhort them to change careers or uproot their families – although obedience to God could necessitate those things. He challenged them to go about their lives – their eating and drinking and working and relaxing and buying and selling and saving and giving (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23) – in a way that honors the Lord.
Paul, who was called in dramatic fashion, didn’t prescribe his experience as normative. He didn’t expect all believers to become missionaries in the same sense as he was. What he commanded repeatedly was that Christians everywhere love God supremely and others sacrificially as they obey eagerly and serve wholeheartedly.
If we can distinguish our contexts – homes, churches, marketplaces, mission fields – from our overarching calling – to love and obey God by stewarding what He’s entrusted to us – then we will be better poised to minister in those contexts. Not one of us has been relegated to the sidelines to watch the “professional” Christians live for Jesus. We’re all in the game with a position to play for the good of the world, the growth of the Church, and the glory of God.
Can you even imagine what might happen if all of us embraced our current contexts as the God-ordained places where we are to express our love for Him by obeying His Word and using our gifts to serve others? Maybe then we’d realize that whether we’re on the mission field or in the marketplace or in the thick of motherhood, all of us really are called to play a role in what God is doing around the world through His Church.