Is “Calling” a Biblical Idea?

In Calling by adminmark

A few days ago, I got a great question in the comments on a post I’d written on calling to ministry. It’s a topic on which I have well-formed opinions.

Here’s the question:

Where does this concept of a “call” come from in Scripture? I mean, some of the great men of the faith were audibly and explicitly told by God what they were to do, but how do you know that this is normal and expected for Christian ministry? In what sense are there things that we are “supposed” to do or places we are “supposed” to be beyond the precepts of God’s moral will as revealed in the Bible? I must be missing something…

It’s a good question, and a fair one.

To answer that, I think we have to look at how God has acted in history relative to those who were leaders of his people. In the Old Testament, most of those we have sufficient biographical information about have an experience of a specific calling from God, to a task, which was often enveloped in a relationship or identity. Moses for instance, was called to lead Israel out of Egypt, which included a task (lead them out) and a position (as their leader).

Others that stand out to me: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph (via dream), Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. In the New Testament, the 12 apostles were summoned to leadership by direct invitation of Christ, or in Paul’s case, by a vision. Timothy, the most visible second generation leader, was called out and set apart for his task by the laying on of hands by the apostolic leadership—and was instructed to call out / recognize new leaders the same way.

So while the Scriptures don’t address calling in a formulaic way, it appears that either an internal or external call or both seems to be in play for God’s leaders throughout the Bible. The implication of normativity comes from this pattern.

I also wonder what the alternative would be. If leadership in the church doesn’t arise at God’s initiative and calling, then from whom? From us? God doesn’t care who leads and we pick who we like? Or, from the perspective of those going into ministry, do we pick it as a career just like nursing or engineering or teaching? That notion seems kind of Deist to me. I think God is more involved in our lives than that, and has plans and directions and purposes that are specific, both for us and for the congregations and ministries we lead. I guess I’m enough of a predestinarian to believe in a destiny, at least in the broader sense of the term.

Others, like John Ortberg, disagree with me about the experiential call.

What do you think? Is the notion of calling to ministry really legit or not? It’s an important question.