Calling is what causes God bliss

“You can’t pay people to do what United Methodist ministers regularly have to do,” Will Willimon said at a gathering of pastors.

He was talking about calling. In the talk, he contrasts the Christian meaning of calling to Parker Palmer’s notion of vocation: “Whatever causes you bliss.”

Christian calling, he says, is whatever causes God bliss. It is something that comes from God first. It is what God wants. It is not what you want. It is not what the church wants. It is what God wants.

I wonder if some of our awkwardness with calling has to do with that fact that one or both sets of human actors have forgotten about God’s role in it all?

We as individuals should not talk about “my” calling. It is God’s calling on me. It is not something I own and certainly not something I initiate or choose. It is God’s claim on me. And that means God might have some ideas about what I should do and how I should be doing it and where I should be doing it that have little to do with my little notions.

The Wesleyan Covenant Prayer should be on our lips at all times.

And the denominational boards need also to remember that God’s call is what they are discerning. The question is not whether a certain person has the right political ideas or the right kind of personality or a proper respect for authority. The question is whether God is calling this person to minister in our denomination.

The problem is not the institutional needs of the United Methodist Church, but the uncontrollable desires of God.

These things are a lot harder to figure out than whether someone has worked through a systematic program of study and mentoring outlined in a PowerPoint slide deck. Like certain kinds of demons, it only comes out with prayers and fasting.

6 thoughts on “Calling is what causes God bliss

  1. Thanks John!

    Is the process of our church (the UMC) ready to support people who are being called by God into full time ministry but who may not fit to becoming a “pastor in the local church”.

    From what I know, everyone who applies to be a full-time minister in our church is entered into a process where they will be tested and trained to be a pastor or deaconess.

    What if I don’t believe my calling fits in any of these categories? How can the church support me in the process?

    1. Floyd,

      I’m not sure, in part because it likely depends a great deal on what your calling might be. Lots of us are called into forms of ministry that require no institutional support or formal supervision.

      Non-pastoral ministry is a very broad set of things. In theory, the local church should be helping and supporting all its members as they move into ministry of one form or another in response to the call of God.

      Do you have a more specific idea of where you calling lies other than not the local church?

      1. John,

        I am not looking for anything specific but I would like to know how we can guide young people to discover their calling instead of immediately referring them SPPR to become candidates for local pastor.


        Thank you for your testimony.

        May God richly bless you and your family.

        1. Floyd,

          I suspect that the key is to have a congregation that richly understands and lives out calling in the lives of its members. If we can teach, preach, and support a church culture in which every member is understood as called, then the young people will be encouraged to do that as well.

          If most of the laity view calling as something “for pastors only,” then I think it will be quite difficult to seriously cultivate a sense of call for young people. The larger church community will be sending too many implicit and explicit signal that tell them calling is not what they think it is.

          I do not know of any quick way to cultivate that sense of calling throughout a congregation. It is slow and patient work that requires preaching, teaching, and celebration. Young people are likely much more open to it, so might be the tip of the spear in any such change of culture. But I would not want to make a “young people only” thing. That treats calling like sitting at the kids table at Thanksgiving.

          These ideas are probably not practical enough to be much help. I think I’ll ask for some help from other blog readers. Stay tuned.

    2. Floyd,
      Our church has many, many ways to help you live out the calling God has for your life. As an example from my life, about 6 years ago, I was in a place of discerning God’s call to me. I began the process toward ordination as a deacon. But in that process, there came an opening with one of our church’s agencies that fit my gifts and talents very well. The family and I left our biological and church families and moved to Nashville for me to live out this call to ministry.

      Long story a bit shorter, I feel like I am meeting God’s call on my life in full time ministry in a way I could not have imagined. I believe the daily work I do is like a gift from God. I pray that my work is making him happy.

      If your local church is not offering the opportunities you need, I encourage you to look to your district and annual conference, or even another local church. As my colleagues across the building would say, even rethink church and work to create that ministry.

      A very good friend reminds me that when we seek God we will find him.

      Blessings and strength for your journey.

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