Archives For Calling

We Are the Called

Preston Sprinkle —  June 4, 2013 — 5 Comments

In the last post, I argued that the ever popular Christianese phrase “feeling called to…” is not a biblical concept. When used theologically, the word “call/calling” is almost exclusively used in individualismterms of election unto salvation, not to authenticate a spiritual nudge we may have toward a particular ministry or vocation.

But is there anything wrong with using the phrase “feeling called to…?” That depends. Most of use are simply echoing the lingo we’ve adopted from our Christian subculture. There’s a good deal of innocence involved. However, we are still responsible agents and therefore need to think critically about the things we say. Therefore, here are a few cautionary thoughts about using this particular buzzphrase.

First, it’s always best to echo biblical language, especially when the Bible uses a term in a particular theological sense. The Greek word klesis (“called”), for instance, is a rich term that showcases God’s unswerving delight, unconditional love, and unyielding power to forgive. Let’s not dilute it. We’ve all been called—called by God’s scandalous grace to unleash our Spirit-given gifts in all areas of life. Waiting around for some feeling could stifle the mission. You’ve got a Ferrari with a tank full of gas—just step on the peddle!

Second, some Christians could feel less spiritual because they never “feel called” to a particular job, ministry, mission, or potential spouse. You may not need to wait around for some deep, divine feeling (the “call”) to ask her out. If you think she’s hot, she’s a godly woman, and those who know you are supportive (not in that order, of course), then go for it. Got an unsaved co-worker but don’t “feel called” to witness to him? Your feelings are probably wrong since Jesus already summoned—or called—you to take the gospel to all nations (Matt 28). I fear that we sometimes over spiritualize our decisions. The backlash, of course, is that we could wrongly make others feel less spiritual, all because they don’t use the same Christianeze lingo.

Third, the modern idea of “feeling called” has become way too individualistic—and dangerous. I’ve seen this time and time again. A person claims to “feel called” to a particular ministry, job, or city, and so the person moves forward with his desire despite what his community thinks. “If I feel that God is callingsuper christian me to the ministry, then who are you to disagree with God?” Ever been in that position? I have. And it’s sadly dangerous. The biblical criteria for being qualified for ministry, for instance, is both a desire (1 Tim 3:1) and character traits that can be evaluated by one’s community (1 Tim 3:2-7). The phrase “feeling called” sometimes becomes a Christian stiff-arm to anyone who might dare disagree with our feelings.

Lastly, I think the most dangerous thing about the buzzphrase “feeling called” is more the first word than the second. We live in a generation where feelings are nearly inspired and rarely questioned. We’re much more comfortable admitting that our intellect is damaged by the fall, but when it comes to feelings, we act like they’re still Edenic. But they’re not. You may feel so sure about taking that job as a youth pastor or as a Starbucks barista, yet your feelings may very well be dead wrong. Again, Paul never felt like being an Apostle and Ezekiel never felt like being a prophet. The Apostles felt miserable when they were beaten with rods (Acts 5) but they rejoiced anyway because they were in the will of God. We need to therefore test our feelings against other sources of truth, such as the Bible, our church community, and our leaders. God works through our feelings. But so does Satan.

The Spirit may work through feelings, but feelings aren’t the only faculty He works through. The Spirit most often works through community. So take your feelings to the church and see if they confirm what you think the Spirit is leading you to do.

Instead of using the phrase “feeling called to…,” just say you desire to pursue a particular vocation or ministry and let others evaluate whether you have the gifts and character to pursue it.

So is the phrase “I feel called to…” terribly wrong? Not necessarily, though I would caution against using it. I would put it on par with using the word “church” to refer to a service or a building. We go to church, clean the church, and leave the church on Sundays at 12:30pm. But biblically, we are the church. Is it wrong to refer to a building or a service as “church?” It may not be terribly wrong; we say it in innocence. But the language we use form habits in our life. Why not pursue language that best reflects the biblical story we’re trying to live out?

We are the called, gifted by our Creator to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Feeling Called?

Preston Sprinkle —  June 3, 2013 — 4 Comments

The Christian faith is cluttered with buzzwords—terms and phrases that spiritually authenticate the stuff we do. We invite Jesus into our heart, ask God to bless our food, and try to live missionally. We “do community,” “live on mission,” and “feel led by the Spirit” to do all sorts of things: attend a Bible college, go to church, or go to a Dodger game.

Some of these Christianized sayings contain a measure of biblical truth. Others have little or no biblical backing. They are pure, grade A, unexamined products of our American Evangelical subculture. In any case, there is one phrase that has received hardly any missionalreflection. It’s so embedded in our lingo that we think it’s a verse, or at least we think it should be. It’s the phrase that contains the words “feel” and “call” somewhere at its core.

We feel called to minister and called to marry.
We feel called to missions and called to serve.
We feel called to go to church, or we feel called to stay home.
We feel called to work at Burger King instead of MacDonald’s, but when we land a higher paying job at Starbucks, we feel called to serve coffee.

Is anything wrong with this? I think there can be. But first, a quick word study.

The Greek verb kaleo is the main word that’s translated as “call.” The word occurs quite often in the New Testament, but it’s never used to spiritually validate our feelings.

Kaleo usually refers to someone audibly summing another person (Matt 2:7, 15; Luke 22:3) or naming somebody (Matt 1:23, 25) or something (Matt 2:23; 21:13; Rev 11:8): Mary’s son was “called” Jesus (Matt. 1:21).

When the verb is used in a deeper theological sense, it most often refers to God’s election unto salvation (Matt 9:13; 1 Cor 1:9; 7:18, 22; Gal 1:6, 15; 1 Thess 2:12; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 1:9). We are “the called.” The only time it’s used in terms of a more specific calling on someone’s life is when Paul talks about being “called” as an Apostle (1 Cor 15:9). But the only “feeling” he had on the Damascus road was terror. Paul never felt called to be an Apostle.

Another word translated “called” is the adjective klesis, which occurs ten times in the New Testament. Nine of these refer to being called to salvation (Matt 22:14; Rom 1:1, 6, 7; 8:28; 1 Cor 1:2, 24; Jude 1:1; Rev 17:14) and one time it refers again to Paul being called as an Apostle (1 Cor 1:1).

The last word related to “calling” is the Greek word proskaleo, which is close to kaleo but simply means “to call to” something or someone. Most of the time, proskaleo is used in a general sense of summoning someone else (Luke 16:5; Acts 5:40; 6:2). However, on two occasions it refers to someone being called to a particular task:

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:7).

“And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10).

These two verses are as close as we come to a biblical basis for our buzzphrase “feeling called to” do such and such. Here, Paul and his companions were summoned by God to embark on a particular missionary endeavor. Even still, there are no feelings dictating their call. Rather, God is objectively and unambiguously (and audibly, I would argue) telling them to pursue the mission that they were already engaged in, only this time in a particular area whether they felt like it or not. One should not use these texts to prove that all aspiring missionaries must feel a particular call from God to venture overseas.

Lastly, 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 uses the term kaleo several times that could be taken to refer to a particular calling on one’s life—to live single or married; to work at Costco or christianese1at First Baptist church. However, a close look shows that the term “call” here refers to salvation and not a particular vocation. Paul is telling the Corinthians to remain in the position they were in at the time of their calling; that is, at the time when they were saved. “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision” (7:18).

Apart from the Apostles’ audible summons to Asia Minor and Greece, the word “call/calling” is never used in terms of particular decisions Christians make in life and it’s never associated with a feeling.

No one in the New Testament ever “felt called” to missions. Christians were called to salvation and were therefore launched into a mission.

No one in the New Testament ever “felt called” to be a pastor. They desired to be one (1 Tim 3:1) and others confirmed that they had the gifts and character. But as far as I can tell, the phrase “felt called” is never applied to pastors or elders.

No one in the New Testament ever “felt called” to ministry. Ministry is something that all Christians have been given gifts to engage in. Our obedience to minister isn’t contingent upon us feeling up for it.

But does it matter whether we still use the phrase “I feel called to…?” I think it does. I’ll explore some potential problems with this phrase in the next post.

From the PulpitI sat in my pastor’s office sharing my feelings of being pretty worthless, of feeling abandoned by my peers. I felt like I had sold my soul to the devil, or something worse. After 18 years of steady ministry as solo pastor, senior pastor, or associate pastor, I had reached the point where I just couldn’t keep doing it, and resigned. I was now working in the construction industry as a project manager—running a budget and schedule for major commercial remodeling projects—a long ways from preparing sermons, doing hospital visitation, and discipling men.

My pastor shared a piece of wisdom with me that I will never forget: ‘Chris, there are only two honorable ways to leave the pastorate: retire or die.’ He meant that the vast majority of the ministry world views it that way. Well, I had done neither. I was way too young to retire, and I was pretty sure I was still alive (although on bad days I wondered….). So that meant that I had left the pastorate in a dishonorable way. Or so it seemed.

In the days and weeks that followed, I wrestled with many questions, not the least of which was ‘Can I still pray?’ I wondered if God answered prayer about things that were not ministry related. Was it spiritual to ask God to intervene in a remodeling job I had going? Did God care that I couldn’t find a subcontractor to do the tile work? For nearly 20 years my prayer life had been built around being a pastor and spiritual leader; so now what?

I also wondered what the purpose of Bible reading was now. Of course I had wrestled with the tension of not just reading my Bible for sermon prep, and thought I had struck a pretty good balance. Apparently not.

And then there was the question of calling. God had called me to be a pastor. So now what? Was that call invalidated? Had He never really called me? Is a call revocable?

Probably my biggest question, which took a long time to fully surface, was this: Who am I? I finally realized that my identity had been ‘pastor’ and that was wrong. Completely wrong. And since I was no longer a ‘pastor,’ I had no identity.

Over the next five years I wrestled with each of these questions, and God graciously gave me answers. The answers came slowly in some cases. In fact, over seven years later I am still trying to assess the reasons, the causes, the issues, where I failed and sinned, and where life simply happened. I expect I won’t get the full story till I can sit down with Jesus someday, and ask Him all about it. Maybe then it won’t matter, or I won’t care. But in the meantime, I process. Let me share a few of my ongoing thoughts.

I pretty quickly realized that of course I can pray and read my Bible. And I do those things to maintain a relationship with Jesus, not to achieve a ministry goal, but to get to know the one, true God in a more personal way.

I also determined that yes, I was indeed called to the pastorate. And that I was called out of the pastorate. God’s ultimate call is to salvation and Christlikeness, and I was still on that path. Can’t God call us to different things at different times in our lives? He called Luke to be a physician, then called him to travel with Paul. He called Amos to tend figs, then called him to preach to Israel. He called me to be a pastor, then out of that into construction, then out of that to serve at a Bible college. He could call me to something else someday. What does not change is the call to pursue a passionate, sold out relationship with Christ alone.

And I have slowly learned that my identity is not ‘pastor’ or ‘contractor’ or ‘college professor,’ it is ‘Child of the King.’ I had believed a lie that the pastorate was the ‘highest calling’ and so I placed a very sinful, and fleshly emphasis on my identity as being of the highest calling. O the pride wrapped up in that!

I finally came to grips with the fact that whatever God has called me to—that was the highest calling. When I was a contractor, that was God’s highest calling for me, and not my identity. As Director of Church Relations—that is God’s highest calling for me, and not my identity. My ‘calling’ may change many more times before I die, but my identity never will. I am a Child of the King. Period.

These have not been easy years. This process has been painful, and I have lost friends and colleagues along the way. Probably lost some respect and reputation, too. Right after I resigned, one pastor friend emailed me and told me there obviously was some crisis in my life, or some major problem in the church.

But that is not my concern. I answer to One Person, and only One. I know that I have not always heard His voice clearly. I know that I have not always followed Him perfectly. I know I have had missteps along the way. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.