I did these teaching notes for the video presentation to the South African Vineyard pastors and leaders retreat, March 2021.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle…” Paul to the Ephesians 4:1
What is a biblical overview of the nature of calling? Especially in regard to pastors and leaders? Do we live a life worthy of our calling? The one call we all receive to follow Jesus in his Kingdom (Ephesians 4:4)… but also the specific callings (“graces”, Ephesians 4:7,11-16) related to gifts and functions, roles and places of service in Christ’s Body and in God’s world. This paper is what I have come to understand, over the years, as the nature and life-cycle of biblical calling, drawn primarily from Jesus’ life, leadership and ministry. And also from my own experience, as per the invitation to teach on calling.
The pattern and points below apply to all, though each person’s experience is unique and different. We can learn from the many inspiring examples of calling in scripture (and church history). But don’t be like David trying on Saul’s armour to pursue your calling. Each person must find and do what works for them. In my case, God has worked with specific dates, times and messages. Maybe not the case for you. Either way, we all need the clear conviction of calling.
General Call: Salvation and mission.
Jesus’ generic call to everyone: “Come, follow me and I will form you into fishers of people” (Mark 1:17). We follow Jesus in his Kingdom community for the sake of the world. Being born from above with eternal life, we are discipled (spiritually formed) in God’s family to do God’s mission in the earth. I heard Jesus’ call and gave my life to him on Friday evening, 7 June 1968, at First Baptist Church, East London. That is where and when I began to follow and be formed to fish people for Jesus! The rest (below) followed on from that.
Specific Call: Vocation and service.
The general call informs our specific call in the sense that our worldly occupation (fishing, teaching, doctoring, trading, managing, etc) becomes our Kingdom vocation – where we live God’s reign, doing his will on that piece of earth as it is in heaven. By the age of twelve, Jesus’ consciousness had developed to a deep sense of specific calling: “I must be about my Abba’s business” (Luke 2:46-50). His prayerful study of the Hebrew scriptures and the voice of God’s Spirit in his heart, led him to believe that he was ‘the one’ to proclaim and teach, enact and inaugurate God’s Kingdom. My specific calling was in the early morning of Wednesday 11 November 1970, during my quiet time, while reading a chapter in Isaiah. It was overwhelming. I wept and wept. I knew God had spoken to me! Dare I believe what I heard?
Confirming the Call: Affirmation and empowering.
In various ways and at different times God confirms and empowers his specific call, his destiny for us in our role and place of service in the Kingdom. What Jesus dared to believe about his call and destiny in God was confirmed by power encounter at his water baptism: That God was Jesus’ Abba, affirming his identity as his beloved son, empowering his call to lead a new Exodus into God’s Kingdom (Mark 1:9-11). There were also confirmations of the call during his ministry (e.g. Luke 9:28-36). I’ve needed many confirmations, most of which I wrote down, to refer to when needed (as Paul instructed in 1 Timothy 1:18-19). However, the big confirmation (public recognition and release) came on 20 January 1975 when the elders at the Bellville Assembly of God in Cape Town, laid hands on me and sent me as a youth pastor to Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The call ‘unfolded’ a year later with an open door, a further call, to plant a church in the next town. And so began my journey of planting and pastoring.
Contesting the Call: Testing and warfare.
The devil immediately contested Jesus’ specific call, including the confirmation of identity as ‘Beloved Son’ and empowering for ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus overcame the attack by God’s Word. His calling was contested again and again “at opportune times” throughout his ministry. Satan tried to dissuade and disqualify Jesus from pursuing his destiny – even trying to kill Jesus (Luke 4:28-30, 8:22-25) – culminating in the ultimate test in Gethsemane. Our biggest battles are often toward the end of our lives. The longer we lead and the more we fulfill our call in God, the more Satan attacks. I’ve been through deep dark valleys of the shadow of death – spiritually, psycho-emotionally and physically – that nearly defeated me in God’s call on my life. We can all testify to this. God brought me through as I learnt, like Jesus, to “offer up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Thus) he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8-9). It’s a real life and death battle, but each test/trial is overcome by deeper levels of surrender in trust of the Father: “Father, not my will, but yours be done”.
Unfolding the Call: Discernment and obedience.
The nature of vocation is that it unfolds with further calls within the overall calling. If we follow by the obedience of faith in deeper surrender to God’s will, it brings us through to completion in God’s call on our lives. With each step of the unfolding call we contend for our destiny in God, to reach our full potential and maturity in the Kingdom. The gospels show Jesus’ discernment of his unfolding call in different events and places around Palestine, that eventually led to the cross – vindicated in resurrection. I could share many developments and turning points in the unfolding call of God in my life. Some changed me forever, e.g. 12 years working for Kingdom justice and reconciliation, by planting a multiracial church, in Soweto under Apartheid. To know how to discern, and obey, each next step in the unfolding call is really important.
Completing the Call: Perseverance and finishing well.
Pastors and leaders, the journey of vocation is a long obedience in the same direction. My general call (1968) led to a specific call (1970), resulting in public confirmation and sending (1975). Now, 46 years later – what a journey! I’m currently ‘re-firing’ in the fullness of calling, to end well. I’ve taken Jesus and Paul’s words as companions, often in earnest prayer to persevere and finish well: “Father, the hour has come… I have brought you glory by finishing the work you gave me to do… I am coming to you now” (John 17:1,4,13). Oh that I may complete the work the Father has given me to do! In Paul’s words to Timothy, “Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship… discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:5-8).
The Legacy of the Call: Reward and rule.
Do not allow evil, or uncrucified flesh, or unhealed brokenness, disqualify you. Run in such a way to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Throw away anything that entangles you, looking at Jesus and the cloud of faithful witnesses who have run the race before us (Hebrews 11 & 12:1-2). We live in their godly legacy. Our calling in this age is training for reigning in the age to come. Fellow leaders, will you run a good race and complete your call? Will you leave a good legacy for future generations, for God’s glory, by the grace Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:10?