To be called or not to be called…the essential requirement for leadership in the church?

This morning we continued a brief series I’m calling New Years Resolutions for Faith Church.  We’re looking at two facets of the church that figure to be a significant focus for us in 2013: leadership and discipleship.  Over the next month or so, we’ll unveil a proposal for changing our church governance structure.  To prepare for that the first two sermons of the year took a look at a couple leadership episodes in the life of the first church.  In Acts 6 the apostles decide to select new leaders to handle a ministry in the church.  We explored that last week, and we saw that the apostles had a specific criteria for who would become leaders. Surprisingly, it was not their business acumen or ministry skills, but that they were full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit.

Is that how we select leaders?  Simply because they have distinguished themselves to be full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit?

Fast forward about 30 years after that Acts 6 story, and we read the teaching Paul gave two young pastors, Timothy and Titus, about selecting leaders in their churches.  What Paul shares are lists of character qualities that essentially boil down to one principle: leaders need to be people of spiritual maturity.  Notice how very similar that is to what the apostles thought was important in Acts 6.

Again, is that how we select leaders?  Because they are the most spiritually mature in the church?

What I found so interesting is that in both of these situations, there was something missing.  Calling.  And yet in many churches, we have elevated calling as primary, essential even to the selection of leaders.  We have said that if God has not called them, they have no business pursuing leadership in the church, pastoral or otherwise.

If that is the case, why doesn’t Paul, who was quite experienced with callings (read about his own in Acts 9), mention a peep about it?  It would seem that if a divine calling is so vital, Paul would have least given it a nod.  Instead he says in 1 Timothy 3:1 that the task of leadership is for “anyone” who “desires it”, “sets their heart on it”.  People can choose to be leaders!

Clearly, this is not to say that God does not call.  He has in the past, and it seems to me based on many testimonies, that he still does.  Sometimes in dramatic fashion, and other times in very subtle ways.  Most importantly, when he calls, we should answer.   What I have seen, however, is that for every person who feels called but has no business being a leader, there are ten, maybe a hundred, who are not called, and feel a sense of relief at not being called so they don’t have to serve.  The lack of divine calling becomes for them an excuse not to serve.

But what if the necessity of divine calling is actually a false premise for serving as a leader?  What if all are called to serve the Lord, and all should consider the possibility that they might be gifted for leadership?  What if, instead of a criteria of calling, we select leaders using the apostles (Acts 6) and Paul’s (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) criteria of spiritual maturity?  Furthermore, perhaps most importantly of all, this passage could serve as the impetus for us to pursue a deepening relationship with Jesus.


Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

4 thoughts on “To be called or not to be called…the essential requirement for leadership in the church?

  1. I just said this morning in Sunday school that many times folks think that someone who is a successful business leader will automatically make a great church leader! Interesting thoughts on the “calling,” Joel.

    1. Thanks Scott. It seems to me that the skills of leadership in business are sometimes transferable to the church, but there are also some dangers. I think of the show The Apprentice where dominance, scheming, and power are applauded. People with character qualities like the apostles and Paul thought were important would likely get a “You’re Fired!”

  2. Really good thoughts and questions here. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher then sometime in the awkward and insecure adolescent years, I decided that would be a mistake because I would have to stand confidently in front of a room full of people (kids!) every single day. I “chose” journalism in college sort of as a default because I liked to write. It wasn’t until I let Christ into my life that I really felt “called” to write. But even now, calling feels like a heavy responsibility sometimes. Not long after I became a Christian, the Sunday School superintendent (do we even still have those??) at our home church asked me to teach a 5th/6th grade class. And I found out I really liked it. That led to teaching high school and youth group, and later leading women’s Bible studies. I would never, never, never have offered to teach a class because I didn’t think I could. I don’t know if that man saw something in me or just needed a warm body, but I think sometimes we have to help people with their calling and leadership skills, not just to fill a slot but to help them find purpose and discover their gifts. And I think we have to be willing for it not to work out either. That if we pick someone for a leadership role and they turn out not to be ready or don’t like it, that doesn’t mean we should never pick people or volunteer for something that we’ve never done before. I agree, though, that when someone says they are “called” to do something, it’s almost like they’re holding a sign that says, “Don’t question me or what I’m doing because I’m called.” Also, I’m wondering if “calling” encompasses everything that comes our way. I’ve heard people say that motherhood is a calling. I don’t feel called to motherhood, but I have two kids that I’m raising the best I know how. Hope that all makes sense! I’m still recovering from our time in Illinois!

    1. Thanks for this, Lisa. I think much has been power has been given to the idea of calling, without the proper biblical framework. Your illustration of motherhood, to me, is a wonderful example that we could carry over to the church. Feelings are not always (rarely?) good indicators of what we should be involved in. It is way too easy to say “No, I don’t feel like serving,” or the spiritualized version “I’m not called to that.”

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