When you go to college, people start asking you, “What’s your major?” When you enter the ministry, people start saying, “Tell me about your call.”
The idea of having a “calling” or receiving a “call” comes from the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and is described pretty thoroughly here, beginning with this definition: “invitation, summons, commission, or naming.”
I have many colleagues who reject the term “call,” and I can understand why. Implicit is the notion that someone is doing the calling, and there is also a sense that the recipient of the call lacks agency. If we are “called” to the ministry, does that mean we didn’t choose this for ourselves? Are we like resentful children, forced to make the bed and serve the congregation against our free will?
The first time someone asked me if I felt I had a call to ministry, my answer was something like, “No, this is just what I want to do.” The idea of being called felt grandiose and self-important.
But I have embraced the term for myself since then. “Call” is a word that has come to have meaning to me, conveying my sense that ministry is the work I’m meant to do, work that allows me to share my gifts and skills in a way that feels good and brings me great joy.
Just last week, a congregant asked me if I felt called to this work, and after I replied yes, she asked me, “Do you think we all have a call?”
It’s a good question, a profoundly theological question. If ministry is work I feel I’m “meant” to do, then do I believe that everyone has work they’re “meant” to do?
Yes, I do.
I think we all have something we’re meant to do, something that brings us joy, something that give to us as much as it takes. Something where our skills, talents, interests, and values all intersect. If we’re lucky, this “something” is work we can be paid to do, a way to earn a living. But it may not be. Maybe our “something” becomes a hobby. Maybe we can teach our “something” to other people. Maybe we volunteer our “something” after work and on our days off. Maybe we lead our “something” at church. Maybe we join a “something” club.
And whatever it is we’re called to do, I think there’s more than one way to answer the call. A hobby may become paid work may become a writing project. A personal passion may become a group project may become something you share with your children. Justice work at your local school may become an interfaith protest may become a non-profit organization.
The challenge, of course, is not just to hear the call, but to find a way to answer it. The time it takes to attend to the tasks of daily living can leave little room for the discernment necessary to recognize our passions, much less time to explore and nourish those passions. I was working with a career coach when I finally discerned my call to ministry.
Hearing and answering the call to share our gifts with the world isn’t easy. But the joy of finding what we’re meant to do and be surely makes up for the effort of discovery. And as Howard Thurman admonishes us, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
May each of us be blessed with coming alive. Amen.