By Jake Kircher

called-30-hour-famineAs youth leaders and pastors, the aspect of being “called” comes up time and time again to talk about the specifics of where and how we are doing ministry. When I left my first church, I stood before the congregation and explained that I was no longer “called” to that church and it was time to move on. Then months later when I stood before my new church, I explained how God had now “called” me to them. No doubt, this is probably something you have seen and heard numerous times from pastors or ministry leaders, and there is a good chance you’ve probably done it yourself.

But what if the way we use calling like that has nothing to do with the Biblical idea of what it means to be called?

More so, what if using it that way actually has a negative impact on our students and congregations?

The more I have wrestled with the idea of calling in my life and searched the Scriptures and what it has to teach on the topic, the more I have come to the conclusion that the answer to both of those questions is yes.

Two of the most frequent Greek words translated as calling in the Bible are klētós and klésis. Both are roughly translated by Strong’s Dictionary as, “Divinely called- focuses on God’s general call – i.e. the call (invitation) He gives to all people, so all can receive His salvation.” If you go and read the entry in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia on “called” it will tell you the same thing: being called by God has solely to do with the invitation he extends to be in relationship with him and then the opportunity that we have to help others respond to that same invitation. Period.

More so, looking at Romans 11:29 Paul writes that, “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (NIV) In other words, our calling has been extended and it’s not going to change. It doesn’t shift from church to church, or town to town, and it doesn’t end in one place and then start somewhere else. It’s the same no matter where we are or what vocation – secular of ministry related – we have.

So what’s the danger of using the terminology of “called” the way we do?

First, as youth leaders and pastors, using “called” like this can undermine the fact that everyone has the same exact same calling to the Gospel. By not directly teaching people to understand that God has called everyone to participate in the work of his Church, we allow people to think that being called is something special and unique. This a-ha moment where God leads someone into a specific ministry role in the church, whether for a season as a volunteer or vocationally. We’re then left living out our “calling” to the church we’re serving at, meanwhile hoping and praying others will receive their “calling” so we can have some help. No wonder the role of pastor is said by some to be one of the most stressful vocations to be had today!

Second, looking at calling as the specifics about where we are serving and what we are doing, can actually destroy our ability to live into our true calling, as The Navigators put it, “to know Christ and make him known.

At my first church, I was working 80-hours a week (not being paid for all of them!) between three different jobs and my wife had to work a job she hated, all to make ends to meet because, “I was called to that church.” Meanwhile, in our first year of marriage and living at that pace, I began to watch my new marriage fall apart and realized that I was seriously burnt out emotionally, physically and spiritually.

The fact is, my dedication to honoring my “calling” to that church left me with no energy to pursue my own relationship with God. Truth be told, being on empty meant I had nothing to really give the students I was working with either. Nor was I helping my wife deepen her relationship with God or share her faith with others in the ways that God had gifted her as an artist. Neither of us were actually honoring our calling, all because we were so focused on the “fact” that God had “called” us to this specific church.

Now, don’t get me wrong, God leads (key word) us to jobs or situations from time to time that aren’t easy. But Paul’s expression of being content whatever the situation has more to do with taking life as it comes, not the situations we choose to put ourselves in to. More so, he actually writes to Timothy saying, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” If your current role (whether you’re a volunteer or in a paid ministry position) is leading you or your family to reject your relationship with God and/or detracting you from truly helping others connect with God, you can rest assured you’re not “called” to your specific role; and maybe it’s time for a change so you can better live out the calling that truly matters, the one that won’t change no matter what.