Theological Reflection

God Doesn’t Care If You ‘Feel Called’ Or Not

GodsCall2

This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. The language of ‘feeling called’ seems to be ubiquitous in Christian circles. “I really feel called to say this…”; “I’ve just never really felt called to missions”; “Ever since that point I’ve just really felt called into the ministry.” Why do we talk like that?

The language of ‘feeling called’ is not only completely foreign to the Bible, but also totally non-sensical (see point one below). It can also be quite dangerous. It encourages in many Christians a sense of diminished responsibility for what the Bible does call all Christians to, because they don’t feel particularly drawn to it.

It also attaches a false authority to our own feelings and gives licence to ignore other Christians’ counsel – “If I feel called by God to preach, who are you to say that I shouldn’t?”

Here’s a brief plea on why you should avoid the language of ‘feeling called’.

1. A Calling is Not Something You Feel

This is just a general point – not theological/biblical – but a very important one. And it’s quite basic: a calling is not something you feel. Emotions are things that you feel. Feelings are things that you feel. A calling, however, is never (ever) something you feel.

Someone either called you, or they didn’t.

Say a bunch of people get together for a game of pick-up soccer. Two captains are selected, and the rest of us line up to be picked for teams. The captains start picking their players. And although I haven’t been picked yet, I have this strong urge that I’d prefer to be on one particular team – so I walk out of line and join them.

Everyone looks at me. The captain says to me, “dude, what are you doing? I didn’t pick you.” But I reply to him, “oh no, but I feel picked. I have this inner sense that you picked me.”

That’s ridiculous, right?

Yet that’s exactly what so many Christians do when it comes to ‘where they feel God is calling them.’

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing to discern how and where best we can glorify God with our lives. But the huge danger comes when we start using this special ‘calling’ language, because it attaches the authority of God to our feelings, rather than the more fallible authority of our own discernment.

A calling is not something you feel. 

2. Every Christian is Called

Fortunately, knowing God’s will for your life doesn’t require you to soul-search until you’ve found God’s individual calling on your life. You don’t ever need to worry about whether or not you feel called again. Because God has lovingly, clearly, and objectively called every Christian already.

God makes His call on our lives clear through the Bible.

When the Bible talks about God calling people, it’s usually about the call to follow Jesus with one’s whole life – a matter of repentance/discipleship, rather than a specific vocation, career, or decision. You can see this in Acts 2:39, Romans 1:5-6, Galatians 1:6, Ephesians 1:18, and others.

But there is also a more specific calling on all Christians, and that is the call to make disciples. This specific call came from the lips of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, what we often call the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

God calls all Christians into witnessing service for his kingdom. No one who claims allegiance to Christ escapes the Great Commission.

So I hope you know: if you’re a Christian, it’s quite irrelevant whether you feel called or not. It’s irrelevant if you feel called to missions, if you feel called to full-time ministry, or anything else.

Every Christian is called to make disciples, to spend our lives working for God’s Kingdom.

But at this point someone might say, “come on – are you trying to say that every Christian should go into full-time ministry?”

That’s not at all what I’m saying – every Christian is called to make disciples, but that does not mean every Christian should go into full-time vocational ministry. Christians in every walk of life can be disciple-makers, right where they are.

3. A Better Question: ‘How have I been gifted?”

The Bible never gives us ANY indication that ‘feeling called’ is a factor in making decisions. But the Bible DOES give us very clear guidance that it’s not a person’s feelings that necessarily determine where they can best glorify God, but rather their gifts.

God gives different gifts to different people to build up His church. Some are gifted in teaching, some in leading, some in hospitality… there are countless ways that God gifts His people.

And the picture we see in the Bible is that each person should examine how God might have uniquely gifted them, look for what ways they might be able to serve God’s people and advance His Kingdom, and then… get to work!

1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Not, “Each one should think about whether they feel called to a particular kind of serving, and if they feel strongly, then go with that.” Not, “Each person should consider whether they might feel called to missions or ministry, and if not, don’t worry about it.” 

The question is not, “do I feel called?”

The question, “how have I been gifted?” And by the grace of God, every single one of us has been gifted in various ways to do the work of His Kingdom.

Christian, you have been called.

 

Image by Sergio Alvarez
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5 thoughts on “God Doesn’t Care If You ‘Feel Called’ Or Not

  1. I agree, however in my experience it’s the churches who demand that the people are called, which reinforces the ‘oh but I’m not called’ response from christians. Sometimes I wonder if the people who say they heard a divine call are just faking it because they really want to do ministry.

  2. Do you not believe God ever gives individual direction in people’s lives? As an example, if you had the opportunity to go on a specific missions trip, or if you had the opportunity to start a new job where you could serve God’s people and advance the kingdom in a new way, would you not pray about it, and seek guidance and direction as to whether or not God desires it for your life? And if God did indeed speak into your heart and tell you to take the opportunity, that it’s part of His plans for you and for the kingdom, would you not consider that ‘feeling called’ ?

    1. Hi Meaghan, great question. I don’t mean at all to deny that God can give individual direction in people’s lives, or that that isn’t something we should seek. But I do think that to call such direction ‘feeling called’ is a misnomer. In Acts 13, when the Holy Spirit speaks and commissions Paul and Barnabas, He doesn’t “make them feel called” – he calls them. There’s a big difference.

  3. Amazing insights, Ben. We base so much on what we “feel” and it just turns into a mess. I really needed this–very encouraging. As a missionary, I don’t always “feel” great about it, but I know I’m meant to be doing this work. I like the way you put it: “either someone called you or they didn’t”. Great stuff. Many blessings!

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