Should the church help you find your life calling?

Should the church help you find your life calling? April 11, 2013

I’m excited today to feature a guest post by my friend and fellow Patheos blogger Bill Blankschaen. Bill looks at a question provoked by Brad Lomenick’s new book, The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker. Brad’s book releases April 14 from Thomas Nelson.

The Catalyst Leader
The Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick

We all know the church should help you grow in your understanding of the Holy Scriptures. We all know that the church should be known as a house of prayer. We all agree as Christians that the Church should be a place of service and of modeling sacrifice.

But should the Church help you find your life calling? I suspect that question might strike some as a bit odd. Unless, of course, we’re talking about the calling into full-time ministry (which I think means a clergy bumper-sticker and a love for fundraising).

We could write at length on the semantic history of the word calling, but I’m using it in the broadest sense. I’m referring to how God has wired you differently from others, your natural talents, your strengths and weaknesses — but mostly your strengths — and how you could best employ those strengths to intentionally grow the kingdom of God.

What If the Church . . .

In church settings, it’s easy to dismiss such talk about life calling as not all that spiritual. After all, most of our strengths don’t fit tidily into the spiritual gifts inventory used in many new members classes.

For example, I was shocked to learn a few years ago that one of my strengths was what Marcus Buckingham calls Input. I naturally seek out, absorb, and process vast amounts of information — all the time.

I never saw that ability as a strength. I had just assumed everyone could do that if they wanted to. I confess I often wrongly concluded they didn’t do so because they were lazy. Nope. God didn’t wire us all the same. Yet how many adult Sunday School programs are designed to work well for people who can absorb a lot of information within a brief hour of instruction?

What if the Church helped Christians dig down to discover how each of us is wired by our Creator and find our life calling? Imagine the kingdom impact! The wisdom of Proverbs says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (20.5).

In other words, why we do what we do or what we do best, can and should be discovered. It takes intentional effort to get the deep water out of the well. And it takes wisdom and understanding — two things that should be the church’s specialty.

Brad Lomenick on the church and calling

And yet the church is often AWOL when it comes to life calling. I agree with Brad Lomenick, CEO of Catalyst and author of the book The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker, releasing April 14, 2103. In a recent interview with me on this topic of calling, he voiced these concerns:

[T]he church, unfortunately, has dropped the responsibility on this one. I mean in terms of releasing leaders in their congregation into the marketplace and into the general world of work or vocation and saying, “Hey, we want to be as passionate about helping you understand this as we are in understanding it ourselves as the pastor or the minister or the head of the church.” My challenge to a lot of church leaders is not only do you need to figure it out but you need to help your congregation figure it out. They’re sometimes confused because we don’t talk about it enough within those contexts.

I would love for the church to really get back into the seat of being the ones who are leading this leadership world in general and Christian leadership in particular and see that flowing out of the church versus, “Well, we’ve got to go find that somewhere else.”

Read the rest of my interview with Brad Lomenick here.

Why we avoid the conversation

One reason I think we avoid talking about our strengths in church is that, at first listen, it sounds selfish to talk about how one can function at his or her best. We are, after all, sinners in desperate need of grace. We quite understandably tend to focus on our utter moral inadequacy before the holy God who made us. And that’s good, provided it doesn’t blind us to the regenerating miracle now at work within us.

God didn’t execute his masterful plan of redemption so that we could run out the clock glorying in how little Gatorade has been supplied for us courtside.

He gave us talents, strengths, imagination, and a calling to pursue — not for our own selfish gain but so that we can discover new, Spirit-empowered ways to revitalize and replenish the rest of the team.

God gave us talents, he redeemed them, and he expects us to use them. It’s not about greedy gain but a humble question of sound stewardship. Somehow I don’t think God is going to be delighted in our handing back a pack of potential to him, unused and unopened.

My wife is fond of saying that potential doesn’t buy peanut butter. Nor does it move forward the kingdom of heaven. Mark Batterson makes the case that what we do with our life calling is an act of worship: “Potential is God’s gift to us; what we do with it is our gift back to God.”

How to get started

I’ve spent some time over the last few years drilling down into my own life calling. I haven’t figured it all out by any means. But here are five statements that I think each Christian should be encouraged to complete — with help from pastoral leaders, with or without titles:

  1. I’m at my absolute best when I’m ________.
  2. If money were no object, I would ________.
  3. If I could create my ideal day, it would look like ________.
  4. My life calling is to ________.
  5. I want to be remembered as ________.

What do you think: Do you think the church should be doing more to help Christians discern their life calling? What statements or questions would you add?

Bill Blankschaen is a proven non-profit leader, writer, speaker, and ministry consultant who equips Christians to think, live, and lead with abundant faith. Visit his FaithWalkers blog and find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Those 5 questions are not as helpful as one might think. The “follow your passion” line of thinking has produced way too many unemployable, endebted art history majors (psychology, etc) with no direction. For the Church to really serve its members in this area we should do two things:
    1. Ask questions like, “What are you willing to work hard to become good at?” Recent cognitive science is pointing to the fact that we like what we’re good at – not necessarily the other way around.
    2. Ask questions like, “In what ways can you serve the Kingdom in your desired path?”

    • David, Good thoughts. Thank you. I like your second question especially.

      There is, admittedly, a risk to asking questions/completeing statements like these, but I think it a risk worth taking. We can then figure out where our passions align with our skill sets. It’s in those intersections that we’re most likely to be willing to pay the price. I did not mean to imly that the road to self-discovery would be easy — but that’s why we need wise and biblical counsel right?

      I love your second question. When I taught high school, I often found students who had a career picked out, but no idea how it fit into the greater Kingdom purpose.

      Just to be clear, are you siggesting that we should not enagge the above statements at all, or just keep them in perspective?

      • Joel J. Miller

        I think Bill’s right about asking the question re passion. Whatever the answer, we don’t have to look at it as the last word. It’s one useful step in understanding how God made us and what he might have for us to do. Bill’s comment about counsel is right on. We need others to speak into this process. But the fact that some people make ill-considered decisions based on their passion doesn’t undermine the value of knowing what lights your fire.

      • Bill,
        “Are you suggesting that we should not engage the above statements at all, or just keep them in perspective?”
        I’m suggesting that questions of desire should be kept in perspective, not eliminated. The question is: how much weight do we give that perspective? In the past decade it’s been weighted very highly to the detriment of many individuals who followed it (and, therefore, to society and the Church as well).

        “It’s one useful step in understanding how God made us and what he might have for us to do.”
        I partially agree here. Passion and competence aren’t inextricably linked. Obviously, you participate in those things you like and gain experience; but I will always be terrible at carpentry, basketball and a whole host of things which excite me. If we say that identifying our passions is the key indicator of what God wants us to do then we’ve done a real disservice.
        This is a lot like spiritual gifts: Don’t fill out a multiple-choice “inventory” – which is little more than a personality test – get involved in ministry until God blesses something supernaturally ( In the same way we should encourage our young people to pursue vocational opportunities until they find something they do well. It’s amazing how we begin to enjoy and appreciate something we’re good at. Certainly, passion can help us pick which vocational opportunities to pursue first but pursuing passion for passion’s sake is often a train wreck.
        One final thought: The Church can help by mentoring/offering/encouraging low-risk & low-commitment environments to pursue the above vocational openings through internships or similar opportunities.

        • Joel J. Miller

          I agree that pursuing our passion for its own sake can prove ruinous for some. It seems to me this needs to be folded into the topic of self-delusion. Sometimes our passions need to be challenged and redirected. It also seems to me that the church may provide the right environment for such a redirection. In the Orthodox church, for instance, a spiritual father has opportunity to speak into ones life, to challenge and even confront. If a person is willing to take the counsel seriously, it can save a lot of personal misdirection.

        • David, Those things abut which we are passionate but not good at, I would call a hobby. I should not risk much to pursue those. But where passions and abilities intersect, that is where we can be most effective for the Kingdom — on our end. God may guide and direct to the calling as He sees fit from there, but we at least have done what we could to position ourselves as stewards for maximum impact.

          As to the strengths tests, many of them have become quite scientific, excellent indicators to help us discover how God has wired us.

    • Will you send me a link or a citation to your cognition study? I’m doing some research and that actually changes the paradigm.

    • Stefan Stackhouse

      Shouldn’t our passion be to “seek first the Kingdom of God, and His Righteousness”? Shouldn’t it be to “Love God with all our being, and our neighbors as ourselves”? Shouldn’t it be to “take up our cross and follow Jesus daily”? Should it be to become more like Christ, day by day? If you place these on top, then doing what excites or interests you starts to pale in comparison.

      • Joel J. Miller

        Unless we are seeking the kingdom and loving others in the context of what excites us. I think Bill is getting playing to one’s strengths here. That’s not everything, but getting a charge out of serving is better than not, right?

  • Great stuff Bill. And yes, I think the church should be doing more to help folks understand their calling.

    Calling is an interesting topic these days, in large part b/c of the “follow your dream and quit your job” blogs out there. I write about discovering your purpose and finding your calling every week b/c there is such a need for truth in this area. Many people think there’s some magic job out there that will fulfill all their desires, but that’s simply not the case.

    That’s where the church must come in. If a significant portion of the flock (and this is an area where I think the number is significant) is being filled with so much deception and misguided advice, they need to be confronted with the truth. Especially since the reason we have spiritual gifts is to edify the church and ultimately bring glory to God.

    • Stefan Stackhouse

      I have personally found that a lot of God’s guidance consists of closing and opening doors. I trust that it is no accident when opportunities do or don’t happen, that ultimately God is behind things guiding my pathway. That, I think, is part of what it means to walk in faith.

      What this means is that what we might, in our preconceptions, consider to be our ideal job might not actually be behind the door that God opens. Maybe He has different plans for us. By all means, if you think that you might be good at something and that something would be good for you, test that out. Remain open minded though, and walk in faith. Seeing the doors close on what you and others think your career path should be is not a bad thing, but a good thing! It means that God is leading you along by leading you away from your misconceptions. When that happens, you need to keep and open mind and hear God’s message that perhaps what He really has in mind for you is something different.

  • Good points all. Following a dream or calling –could be two different things — does not necessarily mean quitting anything. It depends, right?

    Ask most Christians to sum up their strengths in a sentence or two and I just don’t think they could do it. If they don’t know who they are how will they know when the best fit for Kingdom service comes along? Hence the need for the Church to step up — and for fatehrs to do the same. Perhaps that’s another topic for another day.


  • TexasJo

    The Church, alone, cannot do all of this. I went to Catholic schools and it took years of study to understand the religion fully. Many people who just go to Church have no idea what they are doing! I talked to a priest who is over a big, intellectual prep school complaining about when I was teaching about the church. He said “it is overwhelming” for the priests these days, and many things are political. Yes, our priest has 20,000 sheep! Well, we have many what they call “Ministries.” They get political! It’s amazing! If you want to get a good job, take my advice. Take the test that shows which way your interests go and abilities. That doesn’t mean do all of them, but it eliminates those which are difficult for as you say “your wiring.” I didn’t do that, instead I started with my passion, music. Played piano and violin orchestra for 5 yrs. a day…WOW…I knew I wasn’t going to be a concert artist, changed to psychology (cause I like it)…found out had too much more schooling to do that…studied education, was good at that…but, took business courses because they paid the most! I turned out to be successful. My daughter took communications and had to go back to get another degree…my other daughter took economics and makes over a million a year…I don’t go to church anymore as it was making me sick, and I got kicked out of R.C.I.
    A and told to continue to teach the young ones…

  • Stefan Stackhouse

    Three big problems with the whole “life calling” business:

    1. Back in his early adult years, a lot of people would have assumed that Jesus’s life calling was to be a carpenter. As we all know, the real life calling came along later. Ditto with Paul and tentmaking, Peter and fishing, Matthew and tax accountancy, and back in the OT, Joseph, Moses and David and shepherding. Nor did this pattern end with the close of the NT. It seems that God has always delighted in calling to His work people that would seem to be completely unqualified and the most unlikely candidates. Yet a lot of our life calling paradigm doesn’t really leave room for that possibility.

    2. Somewhat along those same lines: the world keeps changing, and the pace of change keeps up. Many people will have to change careers over the course of their working life. Does this mean that they somehow got it wrong when they first thought they discerned their calling? Or does it mean that they have some how failed in their calling, and thus as a person, and are no longer any good or of any use? I really don’t think that most of us want to go there. All too many people have ended up there and are psychological and emotional wrecks as a result; some have even taken their own lives. We are not helping people by setting them up for this. A “life calling” paradigm that isn’t flexible and open enough to allow for a change – and even a radical change – in what one does for a livelihood over the course of one’s working life seems to me to be disconnected from reality and not at all helpful.

    3. And here’s the clincher: Is God really more interested in what you DO with your life, or is He more interested in what sort of person you BECOME through your life? When this world has passed away and we are all in His eternal presence, what is going to be there? The things we did, or the persons we have become? It seems to me that God’s life calling for each of us is first and foremost to become the Christ-like, spiritually-fruitful people that He wants us to be. To be sure, our work can be something that God uses to form us, as well as a venue in which our changed character is used by God in the world. This is not of primary importance, however, but secondary. Even very humble, seemingly insignificant jobs can be used by God in very important and significant ways. Let’s not assume that we have to strive after some great and mighty calling for it to be God’s calling; the great and mighty calling is to become like Christ, and even humble, menial laborers can be accomplishing that.

    Given all this, then yes, each church has a very vital role to play when it comes to helping each member discover their life calling: each church should be making disciples of all members, calling them to become more like Christ and helping them to do so. This is not a one time thing for some but a moment-to-moment, life-long thing for all.