Rethinking The Call Of God -- By: Bob L. Royall

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 01:2 (Fall 2003)
Article: Rethinking The Call Of God
Author: Bob L. Royall

Rethinking The Call Of God

Bob L. Royall

Associate Director, Doctor of Ministry Program
Associate Professor of Ministry Formation

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary
201 Seminary Drive
Mill Valley, CA 94941

For nearly two decades now, I have been privileged to rummage around in the lives of young adults as they struggled to identify why God had placed them on this earth. I have observed, participated in, and provided counsel to those various quests, first as a campus minister, later as one who trained collegiate workers in the Pacific Northwest, and now as a seminary professor at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary. My vantage point has been, therefore, not primarily from the halls of academia, but alongside those who were seeking faithfully to live out their calling.

Along the way I have noticed a disconnect between the popular understanding of the call of God, and what the Bible really teaches. Allow me to provide a personal illustration. In 1998 I was approached by a pastoral search committee, which was considering whether God might be leading me to be their next pastor. I was also seeking to discern the will of God. During the course of the interview, I relayed my conversion experience, and how I came to realize my vocational calling.1 Despite this, a layman on the committee grew visibly uncomfortable as he struggled to find the right way to ask a burning question.

Finally, he blurted out, “But when did you come to believe that God was calling you into the ministry [emphasis mine]?” By that time he knew that I had already completed twelve years in full-time Christian service. His question betrayed a theology that the call of God was neither more nor less than a call to the pastorate. If pressed, he might have conceded that there could, perhaps, also be a separate call to missionary service. Beyond those two categories fell everyone else—the great host of un-called people!

Gordon T. Smith, speaking of his own early religious education, echoes a similar experience: “I remember hearing it suggested when I was a young man that if we really loved the Lord we would be missionaries; and if not missionaries, then pastors; and if not missionaries or pastors, then at least business people (in ‘secular work’) who could support those with the ‘sacred callings.’”2

This popular understanding of calling has roots in Christian history. Early Christianity was essentially a movement mostly devoid of a clergy/lay distinction. All believers shared in the ministry of the church, according to ...

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