People or churches who have discerned their calling have greater focus and a broader sense of purpose. They are more discerning about what to engage in and what to refuse. And when they live within their calling, they experience freedom to resist the pull of the latest fad or to replicate what others are doing. In addition, they usually see more long-term fruit as they honor God’s specific purpose for them.
But what is your calling? And how do you know?
There are people, and even congregations, who receive their calling in a flash. It comes suddenly, clearly, and powerfully. More often than not, though, it becomes crystallized over time…But whether it comes quickly or slowly, the one thing that is absolutely true is there is no formula to discern God’s calling. It can’t be rushed or manipulated. Yet I do think there are some things you can do to put yourself in a position to better discern it:
(1) Ask the Right Questions -- In his book It, Craig Groeschel suggests churches wrestle with this series of questions in order to determine what God may be calling them to do: Why does your church exist? What can you be the best in the world at? If you could only do one thing, what would it be? If you left tomorrow, what would you hope would continue forever? What breaks your heart and would keep you awake at night?
Let me add a few more of my own: What is God blessing in and through you? What are you doing that is not working or bearing no fruit? Is there anything that almost everyone in your church would say “yes” to? Is there an unmet need or opportunity that no other church appears to be engaging?
(2) Hang Out -- Just as Samuel needed Eli to understand what God was saying, sometimes we need to include other people in the process. In a church context, it is a mistake for leaders to work in a vacuum as they try to discern a vision for an entire group of people. My suggestion is to bring the congregation into it.
Early on, when our church was seeking God for our calling, we did several things I think were helpful. We had all our leaders read and discuss a book on the subject. We surveyed the congregation. We brought in respected people from the outside. We prayed and studied New Testament passages together. We traveled out of state to a conference. We took a short retreat. We looked at churches that had clarity in their calling and were impacting their world.
I’ll be honest with you. It’s scary for a leader to bring other people into the process. But there is nothing more exciting than being with a group of people and seeing the synergy grow as thoughts and ideas crystallize, knowing that all these people are on board and sense God speaking. It’s an awesome experience!
(3) Be Faithful Today -- On the day Paul was converted on the Damascus Road, God shined a light and transformed Paul’s life. But the Lord did not tell him immediately what his calling was. The Lord only said, “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). God was testing Paul to see if he would be obedient.
The Lord then spoke to Ananias and told him that Paul was coming and would be a chosen instrument to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). I find it interesting that God told Ananias that Paul would be ministering to the Gentiles before He told Paul. God was giving Paul what he needed, when he needed it. As Paul obeyed and followed, God made his calling evident.
What are you supposed to do today? Just do it. The best you can—do it. Don’t miss today because you don’t know what God wants you to do tomorrow. He may be testing you. Preparing you. Molding you.
(4) Throw Out Some Fleeces -- Early in my walk with Christ, I knew God had a specific calling for my life, and at one point, I thought I was going to be a missionary. I even went to Bible college with that purpose in mind. But the following summer I took my first foreign mission trip. It was a tremendous experience. I wanted to go back. I also knew without a doubt—100% positive—that God was not calling me to be a full-time missionary.
Sometimes we need to try some things. Get in the game and see what God is blessing. The saying is true enough that it’s worth repeating: “It’s always easier to steer a car when it’s moving.”
Discerning your calling can take time, but it is a necessary first step. When you know what God is asking you to do and be, you have a clearer sense of purpose and can make better decisions about which opportunities to accept and which to decline. Congregations with a clear sense of calling can begin to determine the actual and aspirational values that will help shape the culture of their church in order to live out their calling. Without a clear and comprehensive calling, there is often a lack of symmetry, and you may settle for biblical values that become self-limiting. With a clear calling, your potential to bear fruit goes up exponentially.
--from Chapter 10 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation
Next week, I will offer some insights from Chapter 11: “Testing the Soil”