Calling: My Job or My Life? A True North Leadership Perspective


“A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others — the Audience of One” — Os Guinness

I just read a meme: “Remember, amateurs built the ark…Professionals built the Titanic.”

Don’t even know where to start with a plethora of issues with that truism. First, with God’s very specific blueprint and supervision, I’d argue that Noah zoomed way past amateur to apprentice to expert during his 120-year construction project. So the contrast with the Titanic’s engineering is moot.

But I get the point.

Don’t be deterred if you’re just starting out. Don’t be discouraged by feelings of inadequacy or lack of experience and knowledge. God uses the available, not necessarily the most qualified. Right. I get all that.

The question for True North leaders is this, “How do I know if I’m called to do something–- something specific?” Our modern day Christianese is filled with clichés that you’re not only familiar with, but may well have used: “God told me” ranks right up there as the most frustrating (for me). And I love it when the speaker makes it all the more personal, “God told me, Norm….”

I’m not arguing that God no longer speaks. Far, far from it. His Word is alive. His Spirit is alive in us. And He’s communicating all the time. But it’s past time we stop attributing God’s voice with our own ambitions, imaginations or desires.

Os Guinness is one of my favorite authors. His brilliant volume, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life, has had a profound effect on both my wife and me in many personal and professional ways. In his Introduction to the newer 20th anniversary updated tome, Guinness decries all our ways of defining call,

“God’s call, by contrast, is no cliché. It is clear, powerful, substantive and compelling. And because it comes from God, and its beginning and ending rest on him, there is no pretense that it is all up to us.”

For many of us, our sense of calling is really a core issue that helps us answer the great transcendental question: Who Am I? Our sense of calling defines us. It’s our raison d’être. Having answered what we perceive to be our calling gives meaning to everything we do.

But I wonder if we’ve confused God’s “call” with our “vocation” rather than His intentions when He calls us?

· I was called to the mission field.

· I was called to be a pastor

· I was called to begin a television ministry

That last one has particular poignancy for me. It was the topic of my doctoral dissertation. The actual title was academically and appropriately lengthy. But in essence my study focused on the original intentions of nine founders of Christian television ministries (you know, televangelists). And yes, you would recognize many of them.

In qualitative research, we look first for patterns. My analysis discovered one overarching commonality: a sense of divine calling. A majority of these men (yes, they were all males), actually asserted they could recall the specific location, time and date when they “heard the voice of God” calling them to begin a television station to “preach the Gospel.”

This intensely personalized calling provided for each of them a supra-life purpose and resulted in various versions of “success” and fulfillment. It also created, as a sad side effect, a rather intense mistrust for everyone who didn’t buy into their vision and calling.

One founder hired and later fired his best friend who had begun to use the phrase, “my vision” within the company. When the founder learned that the “new” version of vision did not comport to the official and “divine version,” he terminated the offender.

I spent a great deal of time scouring the biblical texts for “calling.” Actually, a single click gave me 100 verses on the topic. What did I learn from these?

The Call to One

Guinness defines calling this way, “…the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”

And in a fine essay, The Audience of Onehe makes the case for recognizing the higher value of calling: “To follow the call of God is therefore to live before the heart of God. It is to live life coram deo (before the heart of God) and thus to shift our awareness of audiences to the point where only the last and highest — God — counts.”

When you think about answering an omnipotent caller, you soon recognize the invincibility of God to fulfill His intentions in you, “The gifts and call of God are irrevocable,” (Romans 11:29). His purposes for your life are divine. His grasp on you, eternal (John 10:27–29).

When our primary motivation for how we live, what we do and how we communicate is to please our One Audience, we live beyond the need for others’ approval. Winston Churchill famously said following a political opponent’s attack, “If I respected him, I would care about his opinion. But I don’t, so I don’t.”

Let’s live life so that we are inner-directed, by Christ. Those who live under the tyranny of being other-directed live with distractions, condemnations and attacks. I want to live life so fully that my first responsibility is to the One. The other callings I perceive (my career) will be drawn from this first call.

The Call to Join

The word call most often refers to belonging to Christ in the New Testament scriptures. Our call to follow Christ includes participation in His redemptive work in the earth. Peter reminds us that our chosen status should result in the proclamation (witness) of the “…excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light. (I Peter 2:9)

When we join Christ’s purposes, we are empowered by His own words, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:47)

The Call to Work

And here is where we most often find our point of disconnect with the notion of calling. What we do — our vocation, occupation, job — is a common and poorer definition of calling. What we do, Guinness backed by Scripture explains, is merely an outworking of our call from the One.

I’m convinced that God is far less concerned about your career, successes or failures than he is about you and how closely you follow Him.

The aforementioned televangelists may well have heard the voice of God directing them to found a television ministry, or a pastor to start a church, or a plumber to buy a truck and serve his community, but those vocational calls can only be heard when one is truly following the One and is committed to His work on earth. God uses our labor as a functional part of our larger calling.

Frederick Buechner, one of my all-time favorite writers says it this way, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

The Call to Live

Living a life beyond ourselves, a life dedicated to following Christ and honoring the Audience of One will inevitably result in returning glory to God. The call of God always proves effective: it creates what He commands. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) And as we obediently listen and follow we are assured, “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

This glory-giving lifestyle is confirmed by His empowering His call in us. Receive His benediction,

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Let’s discuss Calling. Join me online:

Norm Mintle