Blog - Grasping Vocation
Rethinking CallingFriday, November 14, 2014
In his book, The Other Six Days, Paul Stevens says: "almost the only people who speak of being ‘called of God’ are ‘full-time’ missionaries and pastors” (p. 72). Why do so few Christians see themselves as called? Has the word "calling” itself taken on connotations that cloud the truth? Let’s examine this from two angles—(1) the words we use in ordinary speech, and (2) the words used in Scripture.
Think of our everyday conversations. If you’re some distance away and I want you to come to me, I "call” you. Once you’re with me, if I’d like you to go into another room to fetch a book, I "send” you. So calling relates to coming, while sending relates to going.
For the most part, the New Testament uses these words in the same ways. Notice each word in Mk. 6:7: "Calling the Twelve to him [coming], he sent them out [going].” In his book, The Call, Os Guinness writes, "We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone” (p. 43). But after we’ve come to God and he wants us to go and do something, he "sends” us. Consider these few examples:
- Jesus described both himself and his disciples as being "sent”: (Jn. 20:21)
- Jesus spoke of "sending” workers, prophets, wise men, and teachers: (Mt. 9:8; 23:34)
- God "sent” John the Baptist: (Lk. 4:18)
- God "sent” Ananias to Saul: (Acts 9:17)
- Stephen said God "sent” Abraham: (Acts 7:4)
- Jesus "sent” Paul: (Acts 26:17)
- Paul spoke of himself as having been "sent”: (II Cor. 2:17)
So "send” is the usual New Testament word for assignments that involve a task—even preaching and teaching. Only rarely is "call” used that way. In Acts 13:2 the Holy Spirit says, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” And in Acts 16:10, Paul’s team decided that "God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Paul speaks of having been "called” to be an apostle in Rom. 1:1 and I Cor. 1:1.
What difference does all this make? Our church traditions strongly incline us to think being "called” refers to work in church organizations—as the quotation from Paul Stevens suggests. But if we speak instead of being "sent” by God, it opens the door for divinely authorized ministry in any legitimate occupation.
Throughout the Bible, God "sent” his people not only by means of an audible voice but also by means of circumstances. That’s how he sent Joseph and Daniel into government work in Egypt and Babylon. Through the circumstance of persecution God sent the early Christians out of Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria. God sends most people today into their life’s work through an outworking of circumstances. But the sending is still God-initiated (e.g., Rom. 8:28).
God, then, sends his people not only into what is traditionally known as "full-time Christian service” but also into so-called "secular work.” Occupational "calling” is not reserved for a few top-tier Christians. God first calls us to himself: Come. Then he sends all his called ones out into his world to work in an amazing variety of roles: Go.