I came across a blog post in my twitterfeed the other day from a North American missionary [SBC] entitled Did I misunderstand God’s calling?. In the post, Kim Felder recalls her move back stateside after having gone to Tanzania in obedience to God’s call. She is making an honest reflection on God’s direction in the events of her life and she concludes:
When I think back now on my time in Africa, I see God’s faithfulness in sending me there and bringing me home and now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
In the half-dozen comments, other missionaries recall similar experiences and struggling with the ways they have sensed God’s leading in their lives.
I want to affirm Kim, and those who commented on her post. Seeking God’s leading for every decision is a very wise thing to do, especially as it relates to missions. But one finds in reading her post no explicit answer to the question the title raises. I want to twist it a little bit and pose a different, but related question:
Have we misunderstood “calling?”
I’m wondering if we haven’t made our understanding of calling too specialized, technical, or spiritualized for our own good. Some think that only those who would do ministry, much less missions, are called to vocational ministry. They may also believe that only those who become missionaries are called to a specific location or people group. Even within in a particular area or among a people group, missionaries only do certain types of tasks, evangelism, church planting, medical, educational, based on some sort of technical calling. This raises questions regarding the experience of calling:
(1)Is calling an extended process of pursuing open, then shut, then open-again doors or windows (You’ve all heard “If the Lord shuts one door, he’ll open another. If he shuts all the doors, he’ll open a window“); or
(2) does it mean having a sense of spiritual inner peace; or
(3) must a Christian pass through a crisis moment followed by a spiritual experience and certainty of calling?
There may also be other questions. But often our understanding of calling is experientially-based, not scripturally-based. How would understanding calling as Scripture defines change the ball-game? I believe it would radically revolutionize ministry! Before I give my answer, let me ask the following questions:
- Please let me know what you think “calling” best refers to? Please list relevant scriptures.
- Is there a difference between calling and vocation? Is there a Christian vocation?
- What is a missionary? How do we best understand this term biblically/theologically?
Please leave your answers in the comments, and let’s have a lively discussion!