The Dangerous Mistake

Is “your calling” a thing you do, or a voice you hear?
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Leaders—whether in church ministry or the workplace—often speak of their "calling" as a time of realization, an ah-ha moment. We knew: this is what I was made to do. This is what God has called me to. I am called to lead.

Sometimes calling creeps in like a fog—and we realize that what we've been doing for the last five years actually is our calling. Or worse, that it's not. Maybe we haven't figured out our "calling" yet and we're trying to get clarity: what's the big job God has for me? What is my life supposed to be about? What am I supposed to be doing?

Frederick Buechner wrote many wise things on vocation and calling, including the oft-quoted wisdom that calling is found at the place "where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

That's beautiful, but we can make a dangerous mistake if we assume that those two clues are all we get and it's up to us to figure it out; if we think calling is a memo we get once and are left to implement on our own. Calling becomes a rigid riddle we must solve. We try to discover the right way to live out this calling, the tasks we must accomplish, the work to be done.

What if calling is not just about doing, but about listening? I believe that listening must occur daily and has the potential to be transformative. That's the whole point of hearing and obeying a call: our spiritual transformation, which will change us and then change the world.

Daily Listening

Certainly, there are moments when leaders "receive a call." Two biblical examples: Simon the fisherman dropping his nets in response to a compelling rabbi's "follow me." Saul on the road to Damascus hearing the voice of the same rabbi, with a much less winsome opening line: "Why are you persecuting me?"

Both of them responded to the holy calling and went on to change history. But the key to living out their calling was not the initial encounter, but the daily listening that followed. What we listen to on a daily basis shapes us.

Good leaders seek to hear clearly the voice that calls us into whatever assignment we might have. Both Saul and Simon listened to the voice that both renamed and redirected them: they became Paul and Peter. But both of them continued to listen to Jesus on a daily basis. They were called not just once, but daily, to not just follow but keep following.

Jesus spoke of calling his followers in the way that a shepherd calls his sheep, not once but continually: "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice" (John 10:3-4, emphasis added).

January17, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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