‘Calling’ is a major theme in much Christian spirituality. Being called to faith, called to serve in a particular way and so on. It’s something that was big in our circuit this afternoon with the ‘ordinand’s testimony service’ for one of my colleagues, a probationer minister who is about to be ordained this summer at the Methodist Conference. We listened to Chrissie telling us the story of her ‘call’. And throughout the process, she will have been asked – as I was – whether she still felt as called to the ministry.
But a recent article in Ministry Today, The Concept of Calling in Christian Discipleship, challenges this popular understanding. David Kerrigan points out that the examples of being called in Scripture are much less common than the more regular pattern of looking for character and qualifications. He argues that the idea God has a meticulous, detailed plan for all of our lives is defective. Although there are exceptions where God does have particular plans for certain individuals, it does not apply to most of us. He argues this on pastoral, intellectual and biblical grounds.
Pastorally, when someone misses what they believe to be the detailed will of God, it can be catastrophic – as it is also when others do not agree with them. Intellectually, he sees providence as more about the overarching big picture than the fine detail. Biblically, there is much on general discipleship to set alongside those examples of specific calling.
In particular, Kerrigan commends a book called Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen (sadly not available through Amazon UK).
Read his article and see what you think.
I haven’t read the extract yet, Dave, but will do so. But I have wondered for some time if in fact God doesn’t really mind too much what we do, as long as we are serving him, using our gifts, telling others about him and doing all in his name and in love.
If I had a choice between X and Y and was suited to, and gifted for, both would it matter which one I went for?
It was an amazing service tonight.
Yes, I’m inclined to think that in the absence of any other indication, we are free to choose between X and Y, and that the talk of calling and guidance can lose sight of God’s will for character formation.
This issue plagued me pretty much all my life, and still does to an extent. I keep thinking I’m not doing what God wants me to do, or that I’m not fulfilling the calling. At some point, I have to just realize that God has allowed me to do His work in the US Navy for 15 years and get on with it.
I think this is one of the things that concerns Kerrigan pastorally, Dan: what is meant to be wonderful – God has a plan for your life – becomes tyrannical.
He argues that the idea God has a meticulous, detailed plan for all of our lives is defective.
If a person believes that God gives us free will, then it most certainly is defective. I don’t believe in a micro-manager God.
David Kerrigan points out that the examples of being called in Scripture are much less common than the more regular pattern of looking for character and qualifications.
I grew up in a tradition that would have cited character and qualifications over ‘calling’ and it’s one area where I actually agree with the church of my upbringing. Even those orthodox Christians who believe in a Spirit-filled calling would argue that one test of true calling is that it is consistent with the teaching of Christ and of Scripture.
I remember you using that expression about a micro-manager God once before, Pam, and I find it very helpful. Mind you, on Myers Briggs, I am very much a ‘big picture’ personality rather than ‘fine details’, so perhaps I am predisposed to Arminianism!
And for all my quiet charismatic leanings, the older I get the more I see character and qualifications as essential. I think certain disasters in the Christian world could have been averted or mitigated if these had been cherished as much or more so than ‘calling’ or ‘anointing’.