I have been thinking for many years about the “call”. Early in my Christian life, I heard about “calls”–a call was something mystical, strange, demanding which came to some believers and turned them into pastors, missionaries, evangelists and so on. To be called was to be somehow set apart, changed from “normal” into something different, although it was hard to really describe the difference.
Theologically, I heard the call described as a sacred event that required a person to give up a normal life and become a full time servant of God. The called one became a special messenger who occupied a special place–more than an ordinary person, closer to God, enabled to somehow understand the things of God better.
Even though I grew up Baptist, I (and many others) saw God’s call in a priestly context. A priest is an individual who stands between God and humanity and acts as the communication conduit between the two. The theory behind priesthood is that people are too sinful to approach God directly and God is too holy to approach people directly so both need the “middleman” (or “middleperson” to be politically correct) for effective communication.
While most Baptist I know talked about the servant nature of the call, in practise, there wasn’t much servant hood practised by the one in the middle. The call seems to have brought with is the right to dominate congregations, be as infallible as the pope, knowledgeable about everything religious, ability to do everything the church needed done and a general aura of importance.
While these called ones, especially in the Baptist denomination, taught the priesthood of all believers, the practise was that we had–and often still have–a priesthood of all the called. But for all our insistence on equality and priesthood of all believers, even we Baptists end up with a two tiered faith in practise: we have lay people and the called ones. While officially, the calling is about service and responsibility, in reality, it often becomes about privilege and specialness.
Very early in my ministry career, I began to see problems and inconsistencies with the accepted understanding of calling. I knew that I wasn’t overly spiritual, that others who weren’t “called” often possessed a spiritual vitality and insight that were much better than mine. At times, I tried to compensate by adopting the manner and approach of other “called” ones I saw. While it seemed to fit with the arrogance I possessed in abundance, it really didn’t feel right in the end, nor did it make me all that good at ministry.
At the same time, I began to move in the circles of the “called” and in that process, I discovered several things. First, I discovered some really great spiritual guides, whose influence continues to have an influence on my life. But I also discovered that many of the people who were called were not all that much different from me–insecure, uncertain, afraid of being found out. I began to see that things we said and did in the name of God often came not directly from the heart of God but from our own needs and insecurities.
I saw, for example, preachers who powerfully and clearly denounced some sin from the pulpit, claiming to speak for God. In the early years of ministry, I would then begin to hear the whispers among others of the called that that preacher was guilty of just that sin. In later years of ministry, it wouldn’t be whispers but clear and open revelations.
As I learned more about psychology and sociology, I could see that many of the personal ministry techniques of the called were not necessarily directly from God but instead were spiritual versions of old, well known ways of dominating people and groups.
The end result is that I developed a great many questions about the calling, questions like:
1. Who is called?
2. How are people called?
3. Why are they called?
4. When are they called?
5. How is the called recognized?
6. What happens when the call is ignored?
7. Can the call be rescinded?
I believe very strongly that God calls people–but as I have thought about these questions and other issues associated with calls, my understanding of calling has changed, for the better, I hope. So, for the next few days, I will look at the issue of call in the blog.
May the peace of God be with you.