Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Calling

call·ing (noun) \ˈkȯ-liŋ\1 : a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence

Over the last few months, I have announced to family, friends, colleagues and students that after fourteen years in public education, I have felt the call of God to enter full-time ministry. The response has been mixed.

From those within my church, I received overwhelming support and congratulations. Many of them expect me to be confident and excited when they hear of plans to begin seminary and start a new life. Those outside the church have been very polite, but confused. Calling? What does that mean? I don’t necessarily think that people within the church understand any better, perhaps they are too embarrassed to ask. I have no intentions in explaining the concept of calling, mainly because I do not think I adequately can, but I hope that my experience can bring others peace.

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14

While the concept of calling has been intimately connected to a career or work in many faiths and cultures, the idea of a specific calling from God has baffled many of those to strive to follow Christ regardless of their area of employment. I have not been an exception to this rule. I struggled with the idea of being called to the ministry since my undergraduate days. My question wasn’t about necessarily about if I was called, but whether or not there were people God didn’t call. Think about it. Are there some that are called to do God’s work, and everyone else is essentially off the hook? It didn’t make sense. I decided at that point in my life, that I wasn’t called to full time ministry. This is good, because at that time, I wasn’t.

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit,
showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

I started a career as a public school teacher because I was called. I felt I was gifted as a teacher and had the ability to reach young people. I myself became a Christian at seventeen, and I thought I could have a greater impact in a public school than in a church setting. So for fourteen years that is what I did. I grew excited every fall and lamented each summer. This time in my life bore fruit in many ways. The students responded as I ministered through after school clubs, as a church youth leader, in my coaching and individual mentoring. In addition, I grew in faith and maturity as a spiritual leader in my home and church. Each school year brought renewed hope and purpose, until this year.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is
—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

Let me clear something up, I have not decided to go into ministry to get away from teaching.  On the contrary, things are going very well. Earlier this year, the student body selected me as their faculty homecoming king and many students request my classes. Though trends in education were diminishing my influence on students, my experience and seniority have made my work relatively easy. I lived quite comfortably with my current salary, and in fifteen years, I could coast into retirement at a relatively young age. I was conforming, and I wasn’t the only one. I saw those around me, many claiming to be Christians, become content with a relaxed, isolated, suburban existence. This apathy among those who claim to follow Christ created unrest in my soul; I sensed God calling me to full-time ministry.

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesians 4:1a

When I first approached the subject of quitting my job to start seminary with my wife, I prepared myself with many arguments and justifications. To my astonishment, my wife completely agreed. Her peace about this situation is significant because of her personality. She is a planner, a “Type A”, yet she is completely convinced that this is something God is calling our family to do. That is it. No audible voice, no visionary dream, no burning bush. I quit my job and applied to seminary. While this ride is exhilarating, it is also terrifying, and though we are concerned with what the future holds, nothing has ever seemed more real than the call.

"Calling." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2012. Merriam-Webster Online.  8 February 2012. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calling

Note: It is my hope not to demystify the calling experience or distill it into something tangible or simple. While I feel confidence in this call, I believe it is a unique confidence that has grown as I deepen in this process. The first steps are always the most frightening.

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