Between the job and the calling

In the previous post, I responded to a radio commercial that seemed to overidentify God’s calling upon our lives with the work we do in our jobs.  That way of thinking may actually feed our dissatisfaction, while blinding us to the larger truth that God’s “primary calling” (Os Guinness’ term) is into a relationship with him, which can be enjoyed and deepened no matter what we do for a paycheck.

Earlier this week, I sat in on the staff meeting of a small congregation that was suffering growing pains.  A recent surge in attendance was straining their resources to the limit.  They knew I had written a book on ministry stress, and asked if I might join their conversation.

I didn’t go into that meeting with some six- or seven-point strategy for managing stress in the workplace.  Instead, I reminded them of the difference between a job (whatever we do right now for the income), a career (something we commit to and want to advance in for the long haul), and a calling (implying a sense of gifting and mission).  Ministry involves all three, and in times of greater demand (a spurt in church growth!), the job threatens to trump the calling.  It’s legitimate to ask what things could be done to cope with increased job stress.  But to me, especially where ministry is concerned, a far more important question is, “How do we hold firmly to what God has called us to, as individuals and as a congregation, when the job gets more difficult?”

I asked each of the staff to speak about their own sense of giftedness and calling in relation to the job and recent increases in responsibilities.  Some, of course, were still exploring such questions.  But when I asked them to say what they saw in each other, a wonderful thing happened: a spontaneous flow of mutual admiration and appreciation burst forth.  The conversation had such energy and momentum that we lost track of time.  Some of the things said that day had never been said before; some staff were pleasantly surprised that anyone had noticed the little things they did.

It was a movement of the Spirit, filled with warmth and laughter, and I felt deeply privileged to witness it.

We have a tendency to be a nation of problem-solvers, in our jobs, our ministries, even in our marriages.  But I prefer the positive, proactive approach to the more typical reactive one.  That’s not to say that there aren’t problems to solve.  But so much gets taken for granted in the spaces between the problems.  We miss opportunities to express gratitude and appreciation, to help each other see what God is doing in and through them, and to build a sense of facing challenges together with a common calling.

Imagine: what form might this take in your life, work, and relationships?