20 June, 2024

A Definite Calling


by | 14 August, 2005 | 0 comments

By Alan Ahlgrim

Many people seem to live with the vague sense they ought to be somewhere else, doing something else; and sooner or later, most will. Where it was once common for a person to have one career and even work in just one place for a lifetime, almost no one expects that to happen anymore.

In the early days of Princeton University, it is said that most of the graduates who went into the preaching ministry served the same parish until they died. A hundred years ago, most people in any trade or profession stayed put. That is virtually unheard of today. Most adults will have many different jobs and even several entirely different careers, and the same is true for most Christian leaders. Whatever happened to a lifelong calling?

Some years ago, Timothy George wrote about a Southern Baptist pastor named Thad Garner. The man was in many ways not a model pastor. He was a bit crude and a little too direct for most people”s taste. However, what he lacked in social skills he made up for in conviction. One day, another pastor cornered him and said, “Thad, why did you ever decide to be a Baptist preacher?” Thad acted as if the question was absurd; he simply said, “Cause I was CALLED, you fool!”


I like Thad”s answer. A calling to something like leading in the local church is not something you choose; it”s something you discover. And while your location may change a few times, your calling doesn”t. That is, you are irresistibly drawn to a role you know is from God. At least that”s the way it”s been for me.

When I was 15 years old, I had a middle-of-the-night answer to prayer that stunned me. I was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that God had called me to some sort of ministry. It was the most dramatic and definite answer to prayer I have ever had. On the top bunk at a camp in Indiana, God moved me from a point of total confusion to a place of total clarity in a moment of time.

On that humid night more than 40 years ago, I was as convinced of God”s will as I was of my own name. I knew that for the rest of my life I was to do something significant in the service of God. It”s just that early on I had no clue as to exactly what sort of service assignment I would be given. I suppose everyone is like that. We don”t begin where we will one day end up.

Now before you begin a mental debate with me, understand that every believer is called. We all have a personal call to follow our Savior and to grow in a love relationship with Jesus. In John 21, Jesus made that clear to Peter when he repeatedly asked him, “Do you love me?” The apostle Paul also reminds us in Romans 1:7 that we are all “called to be saints.” That is, at baptism we have all been set apart to serve our Lord for the rest of our days. That”s our personal calling.

However, in addition to a personal call, there is also a particular call. After repeatedly asking Peter whether he loved him, Jesus also said, “Feed my sheep.” And in the same chapter of Romans where Paul refers to the general calling of all Christians, he makes it clear that he had a particular call to serve as an apostle.

In Os Guinness”s masterpiece, simply entitled The Call, he notes that in an early draft of Fyodor Dostoevsky”s The Brothers Karamazov, the Inquisitor gives a terrifying account of what happens to the human soul when it doubts its purpose:

For the secret of man”s being is not only to live . . . but to live for something definite. Without a firm notion of what he is living for, man will not accept life and will rather destroy himself than remain on earth. . . .

The sad fact is this: those who have no sense that they are called to something definite often do destroy themselves and even others. It happened recently in Minnesota when a young Native American shot and killed his grandfather and several others before turning the gun on himself. What explains this sort of anger, except a total lack of meaning and purpose? Those who lack it will indeed destroy themselves

We see this even among Christian leaders who sometimes become involved in extramarital affairs, knowing that when they are discovered they will no longer be allowed to lead in the church. Oftentimes these affairs are not about sex, but about escape. That is, those who lack a definite calling may be seeking a sure way to get out of a difficult assignment.


John Wimber once did a study of growing churches and discovered that in every case they were led by men who were not only convinced they had been called to preach, but that they had been called by God to preach for that particular congregation! Nothing is more important to a dynamic ministry than the sure and certain conviction that leading the ministry is an assignment from almighty God.

Twenty-two years ago, I was in turmoil. I was serving the Clovernook Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, while grappling with an invitation to start a new church in Colorado. Even though my wife and I had always joked, “If we ever get a call from a church in Colorado, we”ll know for certain it”s from God,” we were clueless.

When we received the invitation, we considered it for five long months. Then I happened to hear an unexpected lecture while attending a class in California; it changed my life. By the time Peter Wagner finished presenting the challenge of church planting and describing the sort of leaders needed for the task, if there had been an invitation I would have gone forward. Right there in that California classroom, I knew we were to move to Colorado.

My story is not all that unusual. In the last two weeks, I have talked with two seasoned leaders who shared similar stunning stories of how God had clearly spoken to them about a certain kingdom assignment. Each situation was different, and yet each was also the same. They were praying and seriously struggling when God provided amazing clarity. There is no way they could have orchestrated what happened. They and their wives knew God had spoken, definitely calling them to move from one assignment to another. When that happens, there is no doubt; and what a difference serving without doubt can be.

In Diary of a Country Priest, George Bernanos writes tenderly about his congregation:

This morning I prayed hard for my parish, my poor parish, my first and perhaps my last, since I ask no better than to die here. My parish! The words can”t even be spoken without a kind of soaring love . . . I know that my parish is a reality. It is not a mere administrative segment, but a living cell of the everlasting Church.

My Boulder County parish is my particular calling. I”ve seen my children grow up here; now I want to see the congregation I serve continue to grow up””and by the grace of God I will. I thank God for my particular place. I celebrate this place. Not just because it is a gorgeous place, but because it is God”s place for me. And while God could change my assignment at any time, I hope to stay put in this place until it”s time to go to Heaven.

I know beyond any doubt that I don”t want to be somewhere else doing something else. This is my definite calling.

Alan Ahlgrim is the lead pastor with Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado, and a member of Standard Publishing's Publishing Committee.


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