What Does it Mean to Be “Called?”

Preston Sprinkle

In my last post, I argued that the ever popular Christianese phrase “feeling called to…” is not a biblical concept. When used theologically, the word “call/calling” is almost exclusively used in terms of election unto salvation, not to authenticate a spiritual nudge we may have toward a particular ministry or vocation. But is there anything wrong with using the phrase “feeling called to…?”

That depends. Most of us are simply echoing the lingo we’ve adopted from our Christian subculture. There’s a good deal of innocence involved. However, we are still responsible agents and need to think critically about the things we say. Therefore, here are a few cautionary thoughts about using this particular buzzphrase.

First, it’s always best to echo biblical language, especially when the Bible uses a term in a particular theological sense. The Greek word klesis (“called”), for instance, is a rich term that showcases God’s unswerving delight, unconditional love, and unyielding power to forgive. Let’s not dilute it. We’ve all been called—called by God’s scandalous grace to unleash our Spirit-given gifts in all areas of life. Waiting around for some feeling could stifle the mission. You’ve got a Ferrari with a tank full of gas—just step on the peddle!

Second, some Christians could feel less spiritual because they never “feel called” to a particular job, ministry, mission, or potential spouse. You may not need to wait around for some deep, divine feeling (the “call”) to ask her out. If you think she’s hot, she’s a godly woman, and those who know you are supportive (not in that order, of course), then go for it. Got an unsaved co-worker but don’t “feel called” to witness to him? Your feelings are probably wrong since Jesus already summoned—or called—you to take the gospel to all nations (Matt 28). I fear that we sometimes over spiritualize our decisions. The blowback, of course, is that we could wrongly make others feel less spiritual, all because they don’t use the same Christianeze lingo.

Third, the modern idea of “feeling called” has become way too individualistic—and dangerous. I’ve seen this time and time again. A person claims to “feel called” to a particular ministry, job, or city, and so the person moves forward with his desire despite what his community thinks. “If I feel that God is calling me to the ministry, then who are you to disagree with God?” Ever been in that position? I have. And it’s sadly dangerous. The biblical criteria for being qualified for ministry, for instance, is both a desire (1 Tim 3:1) and character traits that can be evaluated by one’s community (1 Tim 3:2-7). The phrase “feeling called” sometimes becomes a Christian stiff-arm to anyone who might dare disagree with our feelings.

Lastly, I think the most dangerous thing about the buzzphrase “feeling called” is more the first word than the second. We live in a generation where feelings are nearly inspired and rarely questioned. We’re much more comfortable admitting that our intellect is damaged by the fall, but when it comes to feelings, we act like they’re still Edenic. But they’re not. You may feel so sure about taking that job as a youth pastor or as a Starbucks barista, yet your feelings may very well be dead wrong. Again, Paul never felt like being an Apostle and Ezekiel never felt like being a prophet. The Apostles felt miserable when they were beaten with rods (Acts 5) but they rejoiced anyway because they were in the will of God. We need to therefore test our feelings against other sources of truth, such as the Bible, our church community, and our leaders.

God works through our feelings. But so does Satan. A godly community can help sort this out.

The Spirit may work through feelings, but feelings aren’t the only faculty He works through. The Spirit most often works through community. So take your feelings to the church and see if they confirm what you think the Spirit is leading you to do.

Instead of using the phrase “feeling called to…,” just say you desire to pursue a particular vocation or ministry and let others evaluate whether you have the gifts and character to pursue it. So is the phrase “I feel called to…” terribly wrong? Not necessarily, though I would caution against using it. I would put it on par with using the word “church” to refer to a service or a building. We go to church, clean the church, and leave the church on Sundays at 12:30pm. But biblically, we are the church. Is it wrong to refer to a building or a service as “church?”

 

It may not be terribly wrong; we say it in innocence. But the language we use form habits in our life. Why not pursue language that best reflects the biblical story we’re trying to live out?

We are the called, gifted by our Creator to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

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