Ministry is the fourth book in the Transforming Life Series. In Ministry, believers are prepared to discern how God wants them to serve the body of Christ.
In session 1, we saw that all Christians ought to be ministers and that all we do, when done in a certain way, can qualify as ministry. In this session, we will explore the New Testament concept of calling. We will discover that God, in His sovereign authorship of our lives, has been molding and shaping us from birth to be effective ministers. God has uniquely crafted and gifted us and brought us through a specific set of experiences and relationships. He wants us to draw on all of these to make a distinct impact on the world around us.
Individual Aim: To understand what a personal calling is.
Group Aim: To discuss the concept of calling and its implications for us.
Read Session 2: Ours for Others.
Complete the Life Vision: Personal Inventory, Part II exercise beginning on page 83.
Many people say that they aren’t exactly sure what a calling from God is but that they’re pretty sure they haven’t received one: “Aren’t there some people who are ‘called’ to ministry and others who aren’t? Don’t those who become pastors and missionaries go into those ministries because they have received some kind of divine calling?” To answer these questions, we need to carefully examine the way the language of calling is used in the New Testament. When we do so, we discover that all Christians are called.
Although New Testament writers occasionally used the word calling to refer to the selection of certain individuals for special service to the Lord (“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” Acts 13:2), this is not the primary way calling is used. The fact that the term is used in this way so infrequently should teach us that we shouldn’t focus on who has or hasn’t received this kind of divine calling. Instead we should be concerned with the way calling applies to all of us as Christians. The primary way New Testament writers speak of calling is to refer to a person’s salvation. In this sense, every true Christian has responded positively to the divine call to become children of God through Christ. Consider these verses:
God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:9, emphasis added)
He called you to this salvation through our gospel, so that you may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:14, net, emphasis added)
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10, emphasis added)
These are just a few of the many verses that speak of our salvation in terms of calling; therefore, we shouldn’t think that some Christians are called and others aren’t.
But it’s true that we’re called to more than salvation alone. We are also all called to be a part of a community. In our individualistic North American context, we often interpret the Bible in individualistic ways, but at the heart of the New Testament understanding of Christianity is community. In fact, each of the verses quoted above is addressed not to individuals but to a group. Our call to salvation is a call to identify with and to share in the eternal destiny of the community of those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.
R. Paul Stevens sums up the ways the New Testament speaks of calling as belonging, being, and doing. He writes,
The call of God is threefold. First there is the call to belong to God. Thus persons without identities or “names,” who are homeless waifs in the universe, become children of God and members of the family of God. . . . This is the call to discipleship. Second, there is the call to be God’s people in life, a holy people that exists for the praise of his glory in all aspects of life in the church and in the world. This is expressed in sanctification; it is the call to holiness. Third, there is the call to do God’s work, to enter into God’s service to fulfill his purposes in both the church and in the world. This involves gifts, talents, ministries, occupations, roles, work and mission—the call to service.
This third aspect of God’s call is our focus in this study, but we need to understand that all three aspects are inseparably bound up in God’s one call for us. He has called all of us to belong to Him, be His people in life, and do His work.
In his description of the call to do God’s work, Stevens mentions things such as gifts, talents, ministries, occupations, roles, work, and mission. God wants us to see all of these as resources for serving Him. He has given us our gifts and talents in order for us to use them for His purposes. He has placed us in our occupations so we can minister for Him there. He has also brought us through experiences and relationships to shape us into the kind of people He can use to meet others’ needs.
On this aspect of calling, Os Guinness writes, “Calling is the truth that God has called us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.” He goes on to say, “We have nothing that was not given to us. Our gifts are ultimately God’s, and we are only ‘stewards’—responsible for prudent management of property that is not our own. This is why our gifts are always ours for others, whether in the community of Christ or the broader society outside, especially the neighbor in need.”
We often hear sermons on being “good stewards” by giving our financial resources to God. But as Guinness points out, good stewardship involves much more than that. It involves using “everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have” for God’s work. As an example, consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, emphasis added)
Here Paul told the Corinthians that part of God’s purpose in comforting them in their difficulties was to equip them to be His instruments to do the same for others. Sometimes our deepest sources of pain can become our deepest resources for ministry if we make those experiences available to others. Again, all we are and have is “ours for others.” Gifts and talents, joys and sorrows, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, time and money—God has sovereignly allowed all of these into our lives and wants us to use them as resources for ministry.
For example, Jack’s tragic loss of his mother when he was a little boy and his wife when he was an old man gave him an acute ability to speak about pain. His years as a hardened atheist and his keen God-given intellect made him one of Christianity’s great intellectual defenders. His vivid imagination, years of literary study, and gift for telling stories enabled him to write wonderful children’s books such as The Horse and His Boy, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. God’s authorship of the life of C. S. (“Jack”) Lewis made Lewis one of the most influential Christian writers of the twentieth century.
Lewis’s temperament and gifting, along with his unique set of formative experiences and relationships, enabled him to leave his mark on the world. He was never “called” to become a pastor, never trained at a seminary, and never left the security of home to become a missionary, yet his ministry has affected hundreds of thousands of people around the world because what he had he made available to God. And God used him mightily.
We may never have the same fame or influence that C. S. Lewis had, but each of us can and should make a mark on the world around us. God has called us to Himself, called us into community, and called us to do His work in the world. Each of us has a unique contribution to make that is shaped by God’s sovereign design and providential guidance.
Read Session 3: Contexts of Ministry.
Complete the Life Vision: Roles and Needs exercise beginning on page 89.