The abuse of The Call

I believe there is a great misunderstanding amidst the body of Christ, er, the Church as a functioning community of people who follow Jesus as Christ and Savior. We toss around this phrase called “The Call…” The great, mystical, mysterious event in which an individual decides he/she has been asked by God to be responsible for leading the Church in vocational ministry. And those who haven’t received “The Call” are put into an entirely different category all their own in the Church. There are those who are called, and those who aren’t.

What the?!

What a dangerous hierarchy we’ve created in the Christian Church as the Called seek to lead the non Called… As the Called lead holy, mystical, righteous, and pious lifestyles while the non Called observe a nearly unattainable relationship with Jesus and measure their own spirituality by church attendance.

I observe a tragedy on both sides.

The Called (pastors, youth pastors, elders, leaders, etc.) experience a great deal of pressure to have all their ducks lined in a row… to boast of a neat and tidy spiritual life in which questioning and doubting God does not exist, and God’s voice is heard on a daily basis. Furthermore, the Called are expected, by many an average church goer, to immerse themselves into Christian subculture, a world marked by the Jesus fish car decal and Christian music. No wonder many pastors are creepy (picture blank stare, fake smile, and extended hand).
On the flip-side, the congregation, or the “non Called,” finds Christianity embodied in the pulpit, pointing to their pastor as the great spiritual instructor, often in place of Jesus. Church members don’t get involved because they don’t feel called. They say the janitorial role is just as important as the pastor’s role – because that’s what 1 Cor. 12 says, but I doubt many believe it (leaders and followers alike).

I find an imbalance.

I realize I’m not unpacking this all the way, but hear me out for now…

Jesus called Saul and He called fishermen. He called demon possessed people and prostitutes. He called tax collectors, tent makers, carpenters, homemakers, and doctors. He called children, the crippled, and the blind.

The Call is a Call to follow Jesus.

The Call that we think and know of today, is, in its manifestation, a gifting coupled with a passion for the Body (by the way, the gifting doesn’t necessarily mean extroverted, bold, and skilled at the guitar – I’ve met many a shy pastor who is great at what they do).

Same word… two very different meanings.

I was once told by a college peer that they give me “an A + with God.” Flattering to be sure, but I wonder if my stellar score with Jesus was matched with intimidation that I had somehow reached a level of spirituality that she could never have. I wonder, if she knew the questions, doubts, insecurities, and messiness that actually exists with my faith, that she would have still given me an A +.

I believe God is strategic with His bride. Jesus called a highly influential, zealous, and bold leader to lead the Gentiles into God’s kingdom. Saul was gifted in leadership. He was also a murderer before Jesus encountered him.

Do we believe 1 Corinthians 12:12-40? Do we believe that all who are Called into His kingdom are responsible for the nurturing and function of the Body of Christ? Or do we roll our eyes and nod our heads when we hear this passage, secretly asking what gifts God has possibly given us to contribute to the furthering of God’s kingdom?

I struggle with the word “Call.” My relationship with God has never been so unstable in my entire life and I am in full time ministry. Does this mean that I’m not called, then? Or is God perhaps tweaking my eyes to see the Kingdom in its entirety… Yes, I lead students (and their parents) into a deeper relationship with God as a vocation, and I enjoy my job very much. No, I’m not all that holy. I’m a freak show really. I think the homeless man who lives in our parking lot and maintains the landscape is much more like Jesus than I am. Mel mows our lawn, pulls our weeds, takes other homeless men out to lunch with his pocket money, and gives his homeless friend his spare broken down van to live in so that he will be off the streets. Yet the jr. high students in our youth group turn away when they see him in his raggedy clothes, terrified expressions written on their faces because they’ve encountered a homeless man… and they run to us with open arms when they spot JD and me. Interesting.

There is a lot more to say about this… and to be honest, I haven’t sorted it all out. There are a lot of things that I didn’t say that maybe I should have, and probably even more that I shouldn’t have said but I did.

I do believe in the Call. But I believe it has been misused, and even abused to unhealthily exalt church leadership, and in turn, confuse the people God has gifted to serve the Body through leadership by placing unrealistic expectations for their “spiritual walk.”

And, as my friend Caitlin says, this makes me want to eat cookies. Double Stuf Oreos to be exact.

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7 thoughts on “The abuse of The Call

  1. julie.oldroyd says:

    …and maybe share those cookies with Mel.
    Thank you for this. Thank you for your honest heart & love & passion that don’t let you overlook. your anger towards this is good & right. and yet i know that you approach this with a great love, compassion & heartache for the church, for your kids…
    you are gifted with love. you speak hard truths & they are received because you speak them with a love that says that you want to see this through. you’re not content to let things continue on the way they have been simply because “it’s not broken”.
    God has placed you in ministry to love and to change. [and for many many other reasons i’m sure]

  2. Annie's Dad says:

    Could the people in the examples you have written about forgotten that “the call” does not mean you do it on your own? I would assume that those living under God’s authority and seeking His “way” would not be caught up in the cultural display of being a Christian. As for your “unstable relationship” let me encourage you to continue seeking where God is and follow Him…continue to surrender daily. Keep in mind that through your life you will be on mountain tops and valley lows…at times those memories of our mountain top experiences can sustain us while we are in the valley and while looking up to the mountain tops (from the valley) then we can see Christ again and remember…”I can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me”!…is this when you pass the offering plate?

  3. Annie's Dad says:

    Oops I forgot to say Amen! You are right that the church has confused things as an institution. Keep in mind when humans are involved…well, humans are involved! As for a cookie I’ll have the homemade Oreo please. Oh and coffee too!

  4. Sean says:

    Annie,

    I think you’d like reading “The New Reformation” by Greg Ogden (I think his first name is Greg, definitely Ogden though).

    For me it was one of the more influential ministry books I’ve ever read. “Working the Angles” by Eugene Peterson was one of the others, since someone brought it up. Oh wait, that was me.

  5. Annie says:

    julie – your words are prophetic. honestly, your comment helped open a little space in my soul to search and find peace in this crazy world.

    dad – to be honest, i note this as an overall condition of the present Church – and as you know, even church leaders seeking His Way are vulnerable to Christianes. my walk, though “unstable,” is good. not neat, not tidy, not clean… but good. and yes, i would like some homemade oreos as well 🙂

    scott – thanks for the gracious compliment. to be honest, i don’t know if i’ve thought about it much myself until now. and here come the floodgates

    sean – thanks for the suggestions! i will definitely check those out. i feel like this has become something i will wrestle through for a long time.

  6. Marti says:

    I have been “called” with a salary and “called” as a volunteer. Something different happens in the eyes of the congregation when a person is being paid for their “call”. Nothing different is happening in Jesus’ eyes. Many do not recognize their call as being “called”. Called to mother, called to be a good neighbor, called to patiently care for another family member, called to teach. No one is called to be “religious”–but sometimes we congregants get lazy and like leaving all the spiritual work to those who get paid for it. The very hard part of being on staff is that there are two voices to listen to–Jesus, and Jesus in people. Sometimes it is hard to discern when it is Jesus in people and when it is people being people. God bless you with his discernment so that you may be at peace hearing Jesus voice and following his lead.

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