Ministry can be a very broad calling. It can encompass church ministry, mission work, chaplaincy, institutional ministry, non-profit ministries and much more. Often we struggle in trying to discern more specificity in our callings than simply “ministry.” We want to know exactly what it is we are called to so we can have certainty about where our lives are going. We want calling to be clean and simple so that we can discern all of the details and move out of the calling phase into the living-it-out phase.
But calling grows with us. If we are faithful to God’s calling, we will continually be in the process of discernment. The calling phase and the living-it-out phase will always coexist. Ben Campbell Johnson writes,
Are you feeling a call? Do you wish to answer it and get the decision over with? I have news for you: This simply won’t happen. You will never finish with this call! The call of God comes long before you hear it, lingers until you name it, and then it never completely goes away. Call is continuous! God is always calling us. One distinctive, unforgettable moment comes when you answer the call. But there will be other moments that will come again and again, marking your way and giving you the assurance that the God who called still calls (Hearing God’s Call, 12).
So with the reality of an ongoing call, learning practices of discernment is essential.
Discerning our callings means listening. When someone calls, the complementary action is that someone hears. So to understand our calling, we must listen. There are three different sources to which we can listen in helping us discern our calling.
First, we must listen to God. We can listen to the different ways that God touches us, inspires us, and speaks to us. We can do that through prayer, silence and reading Scripture.
Second, we can listen to others. People speak into our lives with words of encouragement. When people recognize our gifts and praise our good work, we can listen to them in considering how our gifts relate to our calling. People can also be mediators of God’s voice to us as they pray with us in seeking God’s purposes in our lives.
Third, we can listen to ourselves to discern our callings. What are the things we are naturally gifted in? What activity are we doing when we feel like we are doing exactly what we were created for? What are the life circumstances or challenges we have faced that have made us into who we are? Answering these questions can help us clarify the directions that God may be leading us and preparing us to minister in.
As we grow in ministry, we will change, the world will change, and the church will change. So as we listen to a continuous call in a changing world, we must always be mindful of listening to God, others and ourselves so that we might discern God’s dynamic calling in our lives.