Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On being called

Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs fame has an interesting take on Francis Chan leaving his pastorate to do “something else”. I applaud Chan’s decision but I agree that the use of being “called” to describe it is potentially unsettling.

Is the language of “calling” not one of the most overused in the church? We hear it said all the time that so-and-so has been “called” as pastor of a particular church. What does that mean? Was there some sort of mystical call, as Dan describes it an Abram-esque calling to leave one place and go to another? If you made a decision to leave one church for another, whatever your reasons, that is fine. Does you making a prayerful decision that involves resumes and interviews amount to a calling? If I leave my current job for another, am I called to do so or did I choose to do so?

The lingo of “I was called” is shaky ground indeed. I am not saying that no one is every called to do something but I am saying that often times we cover up our own decisions by using that language.

What do you think? What is the difference (or is there any) between a "call" and a "decision"?

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4 comments:

Josh Gelatt said...

The word "call" is problematic for several reasons. I tried to avoid that language as much as I can.

As I am currently in the process of leaving one church and going to another, I find that people WANT to hear me say "I was called". I've heard other pastors share similar observations. Perhaps it is because this allows people to pass the discomfort off onto God, and helps them avoid feeling as if the pastor was no longer satisfied with them or something. After all, its hard to feel rejected when the Almighty is forcing your pastor to leave...

I have found that by avoiding the language of "being called" it makes it very difficult and awkward when talking about reasons for leaving. Recently I was talking to one dear sister in Christ (actually not even from my church, she lives downstate), and explained to her my reasons for taking the new church (better match of gift sets, greater doctrinal & philosophy alignment, a burden for the people, ability to focus more on my areas of passion, etc). I also explained how I submitted the decision to a group of 12 elders (from the church that commissioned me to ministry) and they gave it their blessing/recommendation. When I got done, she just said, "Well, thanks for all that, but the real question is 'do you feel called?'"

It seems to me this ultimately is a wisdom issue.

Arthur Sido said...

Josh,

That is exactly what I am talking about. You should take what you posted as a comment and do a full post on it. We spoke about your reasons for making this move and I think they made perfect sense.

Jeff said...

Dr. Tony Curto recently gave a lecture titled "Called to the Ministry" that might interest you. It was a lecture delievered to high school students at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church conference held at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Semnary.

The audio is located here and the video is located here

Ur Man CD said...

I think I've got the hesitation between applying the term 'call' to different moves we make. It is overused, it's not always understood and so is open to be abused or manipulated as if to cajole God's thumbs up.

Having said that I don't think there has to be a difference between 'call' and 'decision'. In fact the latter sounds like the response to the former. (He called, I decide to follow the call)

The tricky thing is hindsight is the only thing that informs us as to whether it was a decision based on God's call, or whether we were taking a walk on our own initiative.

It's easy to read the Bible and say yeah these great men were following the call, but you can imagine at the time all the people would be left with is the Deuteronomic measure of when God says and God doesn't say - if it happens like you say, all well and good, if it doesn't ... well it's time for the stoning.

So even a guy like Abraham was only really justified as being 'right all along' because of Jesus and his children a fair few years later.

It might be a case then for people to apply the term 'call' to something after it works out, so there's little to quibble about, even if there's that conviction within that it is a response to the call.