As I seek God’s direction for my future ministry I have been reflecting on something that I have often taught in the past, namely how to find God’s calling. In order to discover God’s calling it is helpful to distinguish a number of different aspects of calling.
The Call to Follow Jesus
The most basic calling is the call to follow Jesus as His disciple. Implicit in our response to the offer of salvation is the commitment to become one of Jesus’s followers. It would have been inconceivable to the NT authors to imagine a person who believed in Jesus but had no intention of following Him. Every Christian is called to follow Jesus. The call to follow Jesus forms the foundation for all the other aspects of God’s calling.
The Call to Serve
Closely related to the call to follow Jesus is the call to serve Him as part of the Body of Christ. The church as the Body of Christ is arranged in such a way that every member has something valuable to contribute and every member is needed (see 1 Cor. 12). Every Christian is called to serve in some way as part of the Body.
Not only are we called to serve in a general way, but also in a particular ministry (or a few different ministries). God’s sovereign distribution of spiritual gifts has equipped us each to serve in specific ways. The call to serve in a particular type of ministry is given to every believer, although it might take us some time to discover our divinely appointed area(s) of service.
I think that spiritual gifts are fairly permanent, although different gifts may be emphasized at different points in our lives, and God in His sovereignty may sometimes give an additional gift later in life. Understanding how God has gifted us provides an important form of guidance as to the primary way(s) in which we are called to serve. We may occasionally be called to serve in other areas, but if we can spend the majority of time serving in areas that match our gifting our ministry will be more effective and we will bear more spiritual fruit.
We can consider the example of the Apostle Paul. God had prepared him and gifted him in certain ways, and before long it was clear that he was called to be an apostle, which means he was called to go out to places where there were few Christians and plant new churches. That was his life calling.
The Call to a Specific Situation
In addition to a basic life calling, we each need God”s guidance about specific ministry situations. I can think of three ares of specific calling.
Calling to reach a certain people group
Sometimes God calls us to focus our ministry efforts on reaching a certain people group. It could be a certain ethnic group, age group, occupational group, etc. The Apostle Paul was called to focus on the Gentiles rather than the Jews. For him this was a life long calling. I suspect that this will usually be a longer term calling because once we take the time and effort to learn to reach a certain group it makes sense to continue to use what we have learned. Most people are called to reach others similar to themselves because that is most natural, but some are called to cross-cultural ministry.
Whichever group we are called to reach, we will do it primarily by using the spiritual gifts that God has given to us. Two people called to the same group might end up doing quite different things to reach them. For example one might focus on relief work to help the poor among the target population while another might train church leaders.
Calling to a specific geographic area
God may also call us to serve Him in a certain geographic area. If we are called to reach a specific people group then we need to go to where they live. There may be other reasons that God calls us to a specific location. In the case of the Apostle Paul, he was called to go to many different places to plant churches, so his geographic calling changed quite frequently. But there is still evidence that God wanted him in certain places at certain times. At one point God did not allow him to enter the Roman province of Asia, of which Ephesus was the largest city (Acts. 16:6), but later he had a fruitful ministry there (Acts 19).
Calling to a certain organization
Finally we usually also experience God”s calling to a specific church or ministry organization. Like Paul, a few might be called to launch a brand new organization, but most of us will be called to existing churches or ministry organizations. Our basic ministry calling and spiritual gifting will be a factor in this, as well as any calling to a specific people group or geographic area.
Note that these three areas of specific calling are interrelated, and might occur in a different order. In my own case, my wife and I first felt called to missionary service outside the U.S., a very broad geographic area! Later we felt God directing us to Asia in particular (still very broad). As we continued to seek His direction we decided to join OMF. At that point we were limited to the countries in which OMF had work, and through continued prayer God guided us to serve the Chinese in Taiwan. When we returned to the U.S. it seemed like a natural step to serve in a Chinese church.
What about full-time Vocational Ministry?
I”m guessing that some who read this article might be considering full-time vocational ministry. How does that calling relate to the others? Those called to full-time vocational ministry experience all the other callings as well, with the additional call to lay down their secular employment and serve God full-time. Some ministries such as preaching are usually reserved for those in full-time ministry due to the extensive training required and the considerable amount of time necessary to prepare a quality sermon. Those employed full-time by a church have a lot more time to invest in ministry than those with other jobs. But other than that I don”t think that there is a big difference from the callings experienced by every Christian. We are all part of the Body of Christ.
So what is God”s calling on your life and what are you doing about it?