When is the last time you heard an appeal in your church to serve a particular group of people? Maybe this summer you’ve heard appeals to serve at children’s VBS. Or in the winter to serve the homeless. Or in the fall to consider becoming a youth teacher or small-group leader.
How many of us have heard these appeals to serve somewhere in the church and have thought to ourselves, Oh, I’m not gifted in that area or I’m not called to those people.
We have to be really careful about this kind of thinking.
While there are certainly legitimate reasons to say no to a request to serve a certain group, using “calling” as an excuse can be dangerous. We are essentially putting our perceived “calling” identity above God’s call for us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30–31).
How We Misunderstand Calling
For many Christians today, “calling” has become a hallowed thing that goes beyond a particular job or profession; it’s now a way to talk about destiny and ultimate meaning. As a result, anything that doesn’t fit squarely within this framework is viewed as a hindrance.
But in the Bible, God’s calling often works through detours and sudden left turns. God called many people in ways that probably felt like their destinies were being uprooted.
In the Bible, God’s calling often works through detours and sudden left turns.
Abraham was happily living with his family when God called him to pack up and leave (Gen. 12:1–4). Moses had run from Egypt and was comfortable as a shepherd, with a wife and two children. Then he happened upon a burning bush at the ripe old age of 80 (Ex. 3:1–6). David was a shepherd boy until the prophet Samuel came and anointed him as king (1 Sam. 16:11–13). Mary was an engaged woman who became pregnant with the Son of God (Matt. 1:18–19). Paul persecuted Christians before God turned his life around and he became persecuted for Christ (Acts 9:1–16).
In each case, God called someone away from the path they felt they were on. Imagine if they’d said, “No, that’s not part of my calling”—instead of holding their perceived destiny loosely?
God’s Glory, Not Ours
The Lord has a habit of taking people where they never expected they’d go—and not for their glory, but for his. Consider Hebrews 10:24–25:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
The author of Hebrews helps us rightly understand biblical community. The church does not exist to help us reach our destiny. We don’t meet together to gain key skills to add to our work résumés. We meet together to encourage and serve.
We are not called to use people in our church for our glory, but to serve them for God’s glory. Rather than using the idea of “calling” and “gifts” to make excuses for why we can’t serve a subset of church members, we should be exhorting one another to take risks in loving and serving others even when it stretches us outside of our comfort zone.
We are not called to use people in our church for our glory, but to serve them for God’s glory.
Admittedly, this is sometimes easier in smaller churches and church plants, where members need to wear multiple hats and fill in the gaps where needs abound. For example, someone on the worship team may also need to help with children’s ministry or small groups. It’s all hands on deck. On the contrary, larger churches and resource-rich ministries typically offer more choices and variety in service opportunities, and often encourage people to serve where they are most passionate. In these contexts, the temptation to find one’s “sweet spot” in serving is more prevalent.
Value of Serving in Weakness
The late Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche International, spent the latter part of his life dedicated to providing love and community to disabled people forgotten by society. He said this about community:
Community is the place where we discover our own fragilities, wounds, and inability to love, where our limitations, our fears, and our egoism are revealed to us. We cannot get away from the negative in ourselves. We have to face it. So community life brings a painful revelation of our limitations, weaknesses, and darkness, and the unexpected discovery of the monsters within us.
This is what’s both beautiful and difficult about community. It reveals our own limitations and weaknesses. But rather than avoiding this by using “calling” as a cover, perhaps we should recognize that serving in uncomfortable areas is our calling. It’s how we grow as Christlike servants. Serving out of your comfort zone will expose weaknesses in ways that will cause you to come before the Lord in desperate need of help. This is what God wants for us: not to be affirmed in our strength, but to depend on his. His strength is gloriously seen in our weakness. When we’re able to serve and minister effectively, we’re reminded it wasn’t by our strength, but by God’s, and for his glory.
Serving out of your comfort zone will expose weaknesses in ways that will cause you to come before the Lord in desperate need of help.
I learned this lesson recently while filling in to lead the elementary program at our church for a few nights. I’d always avoided working with young children because I never felt “called” to this particular group. But I had no choice this time. I felt way over my head the entire 90-minute program. Questions, doubts, and prayers raced through my mind each night: How do I lead the children in song without any instruments? They’re used to singing with hand motions, but I don’t know any; should I just make something up? Why can’t I seem to do anything but jazz hands? Oh Lord, please give me the patience to help this child, who can’t seem to release himself from my legs, to memorize the Bible passage. I have to teach the Ten Commandments; how do I explain what adultery means?
But even with these mini moments of panic, I appreciated every moment of working with these children. I needed an extra measure of joy, patience, understanding, and compassion, but the Holy Spirit never failed to deliver exactly what I needed. In my weakness, I saw the Lord’s strength.
The next time you’re asked to help in a ministry that seems outside your skillset, or to serve a group of people you’re not comfortable with, don’t brush it off because you’re not “gifted” or “called” to it. Think of it as an opportunity to step out in faith and draw closer to the Lord in your weakness. Don’t see it as a detour from your calling; see it as an invitation to be used by God however he sees fit—a calling far greater than what we can dream up.