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Like all true leaders at any level of responsibility, Paul was “sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Gal. 1:1). There is no substitute for the Divine call in the leader’s life. A leader may have impeccable character, a great desire to be a leader and strong technical abilities to lead and manage; but without a Divine vision he will have nowhere to take his followers and he will accomplish little of lasting value (John 15:4-6).
Strong calling, however, must not be disconnected from a deep surrender to and relationship with Christ. Christ comes first! Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned:
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly…. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. (Life Together)
For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God. (Eccl. 5:7)
A true calling comes from God. Then it becomes the leader’s own vision, something he can share passionately with others. Without the Divine initiation, however, man’s vision is mere human ambition.
The calling must come originally from Christ and be received in the integrity of the leader’s heart. Left to himself, man’s vision will often contain a mixture. He might have a genuine calling from God, but there will often be much of himself mixed in with it too. This is one reason why God allows us (like Joseph and Moses) to go through sufferings – to purify our hearts from mixture (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
Thomas Merton wrote about zealous human ambition:
We must be on our guard against a kind of blind and immature zeal – the zeal of the enthusiast or the zealot – which represents precisely a frantic compensation for the deeply personal qualities which are lacking to us. The zealot is man who “loses himself” in his cause in such a way that he can no longer “find himself” at all. Yet paradoxically this “loss” of himself is not the salutary self-forgetfulness commanded by Christ. It is rather an immersion in his own willfulness conceived of as the will of an abstract, non-personal force: the force of a project or program. (Seasons of Celebration)
In addition, the calling must be submitted to community. It is only as the leader is genuinely accountable to his community and allows them to help mold and clarify his calling that he is assured of purity of vision. Thus, the calling of the leader must be birthed in Christ, purified in community and built upon fire-tested character.
Examples of Man-Made Calling
In contrast to true leadership that comes from union with God, Korah appointed himself to be a leader (Num. 16–17). The following characterized his leadership:
- He caused others to rise up against existing spiritual authority (Num. 16:2).
- He publicly criticized and questioned the existing leadership (Num. 16:3).
- He accused the leadership of what he himself was guilty (Num. 16:3).
- He was not satisfied with the position he was given. He wanted more authority and a higher position (Num. 16:10).
- He continually murmured against the Divinely-appointed leadership (Num. 16:11).
- He ended under the judgment of God (Num. 16:31-35).
In one sense, Saul was appointed by man to be a leader. The Lord told Samuel to give them what they wanted – a man to rule over them (1 Sam. 8–10). Then Samuel warned the people that their new leader was destined to rob and spoil them (1 Sam. 8:11-17). It was significant that Samuel anointed Saul with oil poured from a man-made flask (1 Sam. 10:1), whereas he anointed David (God’s choice) with the horn of an animal (1 Sam. 16:13) that was not made by man.
Today, man-appointed leaders look upon Christian leadership as a profession or a career. They are more concerned with the medical benefits or retirement accounts that come with the “job” than they are for the sheep of God. They are the “hired hands” (John 10:12-13). They are religious professionals who do not further the life of God’s people.
In contrast to both self-appointed and man-appointed leadership, true leadership will be appointed by God.
Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. (Gal. 1:1)
True spiritual leadership does not come from loyalty to one’s denomination, or from some personal vested interest in leading – it comes from God.
Marks of the Divine Call
Leaders will be aware of the call of God on their lives. They may fight or deny the call for a while, but they will still know God has called them:
For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. (1 Cor. 9:16-17)
After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.” (Acts 15:7)
Another way we can discern a true Divine call to leadership upon a man’s life is by seeing if people are actually experiencing personal transformation through their interaction with him. That is proof of his calling from God.
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thess. 2:19-20)
The Calling Collage
One’s individual calling will be the result of a very complex interaction between the following elements in the leader’s life:
- Personality: people may have similar callings, but their approaches are entirely different based upon their very different personalities. God uses these differences in fulfilling His own purposes.
- Culture: we are all deeply influenced by our own cultures.
- Gender: gender will influence our callings.
- Age: as we grow, our callings change, develop and mature.
- Physical condition: if you’re called to evangelize the remote tribes on a high mountain, you had better be physically fit! Your physical condition will usually fit your calling.
- Leader/manager orientation: are you a long-term, big picture thinker or more of a short-term, detail thinker?
- Genes: what abilities and orientations were you born with?
- Life experiences: we discern God’s purposes through under- standing the experiences of our lives.
- Relationships: our relationships with others can profoundly influence our own callings.
- Role models: who are your role models that you admire and emulate?
- Mentors: who are the mentors who have profoundly impacted your life?
- Family heritage: we are not isolated individuals, but our lives stand on the lives of those in our families before us bringing continuity and fulfillment.
- Current family (spouse, children, relatives): what are their complementary callings, what are their attitudes and positions that influence us?
- Spiritual gifts: what supernatural gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 do you have?
- Motivational gifts: what are your motivational gifts of Romans 12, etc.?
- Ministry gifts: do you have any of the five ministry gifts of Ephesians 4?
- Formal education: your level of education may have a significant influence on your calling.
- Training experiences: throughout your life you will undergo training of various kinds that may influence your calling.
Thus, there are not only five specific callings (e.g., Ephesians 4) but an almost infinite number of callings that match each individual perfectly in the purposes of God.
Consequently, it is not sufficient merely to do some simplistic “gift assessment.” Instead, we must design relationships, experiences and reflective exercises that help emerging leaders to understand how this very complicated collage fits together in their lives. Only then and with God’s help, can we hope to understand what God is calling us to do.