Static Calling and Dynamic Pilgrimage

I have been a bit down on the concept of Calling to Ministry and Gifting. It is not that these are wrong, but I think they have developed some problems based on poor scholarship, and a tendency to envision ministry in static, rather than dynamic, terms.

Starting with Calling. Some problems with the way it is commonly viewed I see as:

(1) It doesn’t seem to be completely Biblical. There are evidences of people being called to ministry in a very miraculous sort of way… such as Isaiah or Moses. In other cases, however, the calling is done through people, such as Elisha (through Elijah) and Paul and Barnabas (through the church of Antioch). Some seem to simply be responding to the need, rather than answering a specific divine call (such as Daniel or Esther). Some are born into ministry (such as the Aaronic priesthood and the Levites). Some are called to obey or follow but only gradually does it develop into more specific roles (such as the followers of Jesus who gradually became his Twelve, and then Apostle/churchplanters). Some like Apollos appear to seek to serve ministerially before being called (if he ever did experience something we might describe as a call).

(2) It seems to be used more to justify non-service than for justifying ministry. People don’t serve God and use the argument that they were not called or do not ‘feel called.” I have seen it go the other way as well. People say they must serve in a certain way because they were “called by God,” even though the church had not called them. I consider this to be (at least normally) a contradiction. Calling is normative through the church.

(3) Calling tends to be applied to “professional ministry.” This seems to be a belief founded in Clericism than Scripture. Ministers are called. Teachers, Engineers, Bus Drivers are not. Does that actually make sense?

(4) A lot of theology has been dumped into this idea of calling. For example, some teach that if one was called to a certain position, it is for life. What is the basis for this? It does seem as if those serving God, served God for life, but it is far less clear that they did it in the same way. The Disciples in the Gospels served God very differently than in Acts 2-15, and far different still from when they (apparently) scattered from Jerusalem. I personally believe that the confusion about the writer of Revelation comes from the mistaken thought that Apostle John maintained his role as an apostle (traveling churchplanter) all his life, rather than “retiring” to a church elder (John the Elder). Could be wrong… but certainly, time, people, and circumstances change so anyone’s concept of calling should accept such flexibility.

We have a similar problem with the concept of Spiritual Gifts. That is why I have had to downplay them as it pertains to ministry.

(1) The Bible doesn’t really emphasize them. Roles in the body of Christ are recognized as important, along with the need for a proper fit between members and roles, but spiritual giftings are mentioned in relatively few places. They cannot/shouldn’t be ignored, but they should not be placed above equally important things.

(2) A whole industry has developed in theologizing this concept of spiritual gifts… people making dogmatic statements about what,exactly, they are, when you get them, how long they last, how do you lose them (if you can lose them), how many are there, and more. It is fine to speculate… but major ministry decisions are often made based on the idle opinions of some.

(3) There is no way that spiritual gifts should be placed as separate or above other aspects of God’s working in a person’s life… preparing him or her to serve. The idea of spiritual gifts in this case seems to be given higher priority because it is felt to be miraculous. Nothing wrong with miraculous, but it is highly flawed to place the miraculous as being more from God than other things. In fact, a whole lot of factors should be considered: One view looks at SHAPE

  • S – Spiritual Gifts – What has God supernaturally gifted me to do?
  • H – Heart – What do I have passion for and love to do?
  • A – Abilities – What natural talents and skills do I have?
  • P – Personality – Where does my personality best suit me to serve?
  • E – Experiences – What spiritual experiences have I had? What painful experiences have I had? What educational experiences have I had? What ministry experiences have I had?

I would add Sphere of Influence (Role/Status/Relationships). That would make it SHAPES

If one puts all of this together, I believe that it would be best to see

A.  Calling seen more in terms of Pilgrimage. Service (professional or lay) is a journey of following God as he serves.

B.  Gifting seen more in terms of Preparedness. God prepares us for our pilgrimage through SHAPES as well as uses SHAPES to give us insight for the path of our pilgrimage. However, as we go on our journey, our SHAPES change. Our gifts change and develop, Our heart changes. Our abilities change. Our personality changes, Our experiences change, and so does our sphere of influence. Ministry, then, is a dynamic

Since pilgrimage is a changing thing, and so is one’s preparedness for these changes, Ministry should be seen in terms of Dynamic Pilgrimage. There are other useful metaphors as well… but the static view that has seemed to develop from a doubtful understanding of Calling and Gifts appears to me to be clearly inferior.