A Big Misunderstanding About Ministry Calling

God is capable of calling people in an infinite variety of ways. We live in an era when most people are not called with a trumpet blast from heaven. Each of us listens for “whispers of call” in the events of our lives and the quiet of our hearts. Your calling may be discerned in a combination of what you feel passionate about, what you are capable of doing, and what others ask you to do. Sometimes, God’s call becomes clear to us when we feel a compelling sense of purpose and drive that pushes us in a particular direction. For me, it became clear when I couldn’t imagine any path forward in my life except a life of Christian service.

Sometimes, we see more clearly in retrospect the way God is calling and leading us. It can be helpful to reflect back on the path your life has taken. What clues are in the events and circumstances of your spiritual journey and life story? What were significant turning points? What people and events influenced you?

And sometimes, other people see in us what we are not able to see clearly in ourselves. Friends, family members, fellow church members, colleagues, or partners in ministry can open our eyes to signs of God’s calling on our lives. Because call is never a private matter, the faith community plays an essential role in naming and affirming our gifts and helping discern our call to particular ministries.

One Call

Unfortunately, well-intended Christians sometimes misinterpret the meaning of their call. I’ve known leaders who refuse to deviate from their own personal agenda, saying, “I have to be faithful to my call.” And sadly, I’ve known leaders who use their call as a bully club to deflect criticism or pull rank on fellow church members. But our call from God isn’t a personal possession or something that gives us special power or privilege. It’s not a spiritual entitlement that obliges others to defer to our authority. It’s a gift from God. It’s a sacred responsibility to be lived out not for ourselves but for others.

Sometimes we imagine that some people receive a calling of a different order or magnitude. For example, we assume the call to ordained ministry is a higher calling. And sometimes we think that people who experience God’s call in dramatic or direct ways are somehow “more called” or called to more worthy ministries. But in Christ’s body, no member is more or less essential than any other member, so each of our callings is equally important. There can be no hierarchy within God’s call. If some people experience God’s call more intensely or urgently, I sometimes jokingly suggest that it may just mean that God had to work harder to get their attention! Just as there is one body and one Spirit, one faith, one hope, and one baptism (Eph 4:4-16), there is also but one call. All are called. And all callings are equally important.

The Synergy of Call

Synergy is enhanced when each of us plays the role for which God has uniquely gifted us. God’s call is an instrument of synergy because it guides us to our most meaningful and effective place of service—where our unique contribution magnifies the impact of others. God’s call is energizing because it imbues our lives with a special sense of direction and dynamism that propels synergistic ministry.

Imagine the synergistic potential of a church where not just the clergy but every staff member, every leader, and every member understood themselves to be uniquely gifted and called to a particular ministry! All we have to do is listen and respond to unleash this energy. “Who, me?” you may ask. “Yes, YOU!” God is calling even you.

Excerpted from Synergy by Ann Michel and published with permission from Abingdon Press.

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Ann Michel is the associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.