“People did not pursue ministry in the early church; ministry pursued them” -Chip Brogden
What is the true nature of calling? The very word implies hearing from a second party and in the context of biblical Christianity that second party is God and God alone. We are called into ministry by God, not by anyone else, and that “anyone else” includes ourselves. This may seem obvious but you might not continue to think so upon close examination of the leadership of the American church today from a truly biblical perspective.
As in so many other aspects of contemporary life in this country the church has been deeply affected by the “if you can dream it you can do it” philosophy. This is the idea that whatever we put our minds to we can achieve if we just have enough self-confidence. This “gospel” is the creed of popular American culture in the 21st century and it does seem to work fairly well on a secular level, at least as far as practical progress in the things of this world. We live in a free society, from a secular point of view anyway, and one that embraces the entrepreneurial spirit. To some degree in the U.S. if you dream it, and work hard enough at it, you really can do it. This is especially true in the area of taking an idea and turning it into a successful business.
Unfortunately when this idea gets translated into a religious context what we end up with are self-inspired church leaders instead of Spirit-inspired ones. Of course no pastor or ministry head is consciously aware of this self-inspiration being present in their lives (unless they are truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing). Human beings are self-deceptive by fallen nature and rationalization does not cease to be a potential problem once we become Christians. We can all too easily convince ourselves we are being led by the Spirit when we are actually being led by our own wills.
Add to this another common misconception: the belief that our pre-existing abilities and interests are automatically the determinants of what our primary calling is from God. While God can, and sometimes does use, such “natural” giftings in our life-ministry our true call often has a supernatural aspect to it that might even be counter-intuitive to what we think we are capable of. In the Bible we see individuals who are anointed by God to perform a certain task and are then, and only then, given whatever the specific ability is necessary to accomplish that task. Often they do not think they are capable of doing it. Even more tellingly they also often do not want to try.
This is not the case with the self-anointed church or ministry leader. He or she takes already present talents and capitalizes on them. Often these talents are accompanied by a human charisma that, along with the talents, impresses the average person. It is a truism that when people are impressed by something we do our ego can easily take over. We are gratified by the praise we receive. Suddenly we may think we know our “calling” and it becomes what we want to do “for God”. The problem is that the true calling of God on our lives might very well involve more pain than pleasure. Just look at the lives of the prophets (or, more profoundly, at the life of Christ Himself) the praise of men was not what they received and their lives were anything but easy.
This embracing of natural ability over supernatural gifting has resulted in thousands of pastors and other leaders who have built huge churches and ministries on the basis of human charisma and un-anointed talent. Entities built solely on these foundations are not in the will of God no matter how successful they seem. In fact they are breeding grounds for error because God has not commissioned them, human beings have.
God does not generally choose people for great tasks who sub-consciously believe they can do it on their own (at the least, if He does choose such individuals, one of the preparations for their ministry is the often painful tearing down of their conceit). In the Scripture it appears that He more often picks the truly humble; people who, if asked, might not want to be picked at all. When they are divinely called to take on a life-ministry they ultimately embrace it for one primary reason: love for God and a real desire to be obedient to Him.
It is a matter of God-given discernment to be able to pick out the truly anointed leader from the self-anointed one. This may be one of the most vital forms of discernment we can pray for in the American church today because there are so many “ministries” that look good from a nominally Christian perspective. If we do not cultivate such a discriminating spirit in these last days we can easily end-up on a path that leads us away from God even as we think we are following Him. Such a path always leads to destruction, no matter how popular it is and no matter how many people call it blessed.
Shea Oakley has written over 145 Christian op/ed pieces and devotionals that have been published in both electronic and print media. He holds a bachelors degree in English from Nyack College and a Certificate of Theological Studies from Alliance Theological Seminary (Christian and Missionary Alliance).