At distinct moments in time, certain messages or themes seem to be amplified throughout the Christian airwaves. One of the more prominent motivational headlines currently flowing out of social media memes, influencers, podcasts, sermons, and spiritual leaders is one that encourages us to discover our purpose, live our passions, and find our tribe. These three things, they say, are the key to living the kind of fulfilled lives that God desires, even commands, of us.
Sounds perfect, even biblical! Sign me up!
With much gusto, I set out on a journey a few years ago to find my purpose in life. Once that was cleared up, I planned to do work that I was passionate about with people who cared about the same things I did. If I wasn't passionate about what I started, couldn't see the purpose in it, or didn't gel with the people around me, I had permission to drop everything and start anew. This was the message I had been waiting for my whole life!
My enthusiastic quest as a student of the "Purpose, Passion, Tribe" mantra took on many forms over the years, including: waiting for hours, days, and eventually years for God to reveal my purpose, going back to school . . . again, attending many churches, listening to a slew of podcasts, starting jobs, forming the obligatory tribal acquaintances, and taking all the personality quizzes (where are my Enneagram people?).
I valiantly continued my pursuit by leaving churches, quitting jobs (that didn’t match my personality quizzes), listening to more sermons, abandoning tribal acquaintances, waiting some more, praying a lot, crying a lot more than I prayed, and napping more than I prayed or cried because this was exhausting.
This wasn’t playing out quite like the sermons said it should.
Recently, I heard a pastor describe this kind of erratic behavior as indicative of someone who doesn’t possess a vision for his/her life. That was a great point, but I learned it from the church.
I began to realize that I had so taken to heart the message of passion and purpose that I forgot to measure it against Scripture, which is so often the problem as modernity infiltrates Christian one-liners and sound bites. I could find a meme or message to support any desire I had—whether it was leaving my "tribe,” quitting a job, or pursuing a half-baked idea—without looking too hard to find my supportive evidence. Christian Instagram provided escape for every situation I faced and a compelling word to move on when things got hard.
When I wanted to distance myself from others: “People who don’t respect your growth have to go.”
When I was bored with the mundane: “I was born to do something no one’s ever done before.”
When I felt unseen in my service: “You only get one life. Why spend it in insignificance?”
These sayings are not wrong and are even needed sometimes. On the other hand, they’re not right for every situation or person, and we must recognize the difference.
My reason for writing this today is because the “Discover Your Purpose, Live Your Passion, Find Your Tribe” message, when received with immaturity, impulsivity, or disconnection from Holy Spirit, can have serious ramifications for the body of Christ. I'm watching it happen to far too many believers. While it is wonderful to live a life full of passion and purpose, we must realize it comes as a reward for lives of diligence, obedience, and sacrifice, and it is God who will call and reveal in time. What’s more is that we don’t have to chase our purposes and passions down.
Returning to my favorite characters of the Old Testament reminded me that purpose is found in the ordinary. There, in the pages of my Bible, I found Moses and David tending their family’s sheep (Exodus 3; 1 Samuel 16), Samuel in the temple serving his mentor (1 Samuel 3), Esther in the palace as a ward of the king (Esther 2), Gideon threshing wheat on his father’s threshing floor (Judges 6), Elisha plowing (1 Kings 19), and Joshua serving as Moses’ right hand man (Exodus 24).
They might all have had notions that they were "made for more", but we don’t find them erratically searching for it or begging God to reveal it. They were about the business of ordinary until God did something extra-ordinary. And isn’t that the point? As Christians, we know that no matter what we do or aspire to, regardless of how hard we work, it’s God we need, not more of us.
The crisis of this message tends to be that success and contentment depend on us, are designed for us, and are what God wants for us. But when somehow this faith becomes more about me getting my own way, feeling happy, or achieving personal fulfillment, it's not Christianity anymore. It is a subtle descent into myself—a dangerous, modern, humanistic descent—that isn’t worth the price it will cost me.