Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What is a “calling” anyway?

I've been re-thinking what I believe a calling is. Not just my calling-- any calling.

Until the last year or so, I would have defined a calling as a specific end-result-- usually, a particular job or position. Thus, my calling, as I understood it, was to be a pastor, probably a solo pastor, and probably in a particular kind of church. In my mind, as God made my calling clearer, the scope of possible positions narrowed in an inverse correlation. The more precise my sense of calling, the fewer positions fit the bill.

There is a good reason why I defined calling in this way: a position as pastor, assistant pastor, etc. is colloquially referred to as “a call”. When I eventually receive an offer of a position as pastor, I will have a “pastoral call”. Not surprisingly, in my mind I drew an equation between the idea of my “calling” and what would eventually be my “call”. While this is not illegitimate, there is also not a direct equation. In other words, it is not the case that “calling = call”.

A helpful analogy came to me from Greek syntax. When working to translate from one language into another, you are concerned with semantics-- that is, word choice. There are two categories that must be considered: the semantic “range” and the semantic “field”.

The semantic range of a word is simply the different meanings or definitions that the word might have. Thus, the semantic range of the word “class” includes two different ideas: the academic one, where “class” means a group of students that meet together to learn; and the socio-economic one, where “class” denotes a particular level of status. (There are more ideas, but these two are good examples.)

The semantic field of a word is, in a sense, the converse: it is the different words that fit into a given definition. The semantic field, then, of the word “food” includes green beans, steak, bread, and birthday cake.

Depending on the level of precision in a given word, there may be a semantic range that is very narrow indeed. That precise word, however, might fall into a semantic field that is still quite broad. For example, a semantic field of “food” may include the fairly broad “bread” and the quite narrow “Hudson's famous Hush Puppies”, yet both are a part of the same semantic field. But to translate properly (which assumes a clear understanding of the word being translated), both the semantic range and the semantic field must be considered. That is the beauty of language-- it affords us many ways to say what we mean, thereby allowing exacting precision in our statements, questions, and opinions.

Here's the analogy: I think I've been thinking about “calling” with regard to, if you will, the “range of calling” but ignoring the “field of calling”. That is, I've focused on the precision of my calling-- narrowing the definition of what I'm gifted for, passionate about, experienced with, and burdened for. Yet, I've ignored the field of what that precision could lie within; I've assumed that the field was as precise and narrow as the range. This has been my mistake.

To flesh that out a bit: my “range of calling” is fairly narrow. I am equipped for teaching/preaching, leadership development, administration, and vision-casting and implementation. I am passionate about my love for the Church and my care for her leaders. I have experience in a wide range of ministry, but primarily in teaching, discipleship, and leadership development. And I am burdened for the long-term health and advancement of the Church.

All this time, I have assumed that my “field of calling” is also narrow: small church ministry (probably in a revitalization context) as the solo or head pastor for a long-term service of ministry.

But I've begun to wonder if that is a fair assumption. Are there other positions (“calls” if you will) that would scratch those itches and fulfill my calling just as well? Might a different position (other than as solo/head pastor) in a local church fulfill my calling? Could I serve a school, a presbytery, or even a denomination, and accomplish the same or similar results?

If so, I must re-adjust my priorities in the search process.


MTG said...

God already has a place for you. Just mak your last year a profitable one and look for the small directional nudges He gives. (Or in my case the swat and the shove :)).

Wherever you end up....those sheep are going to be blessed with one awesonme shepherd.

Ed said...

Thanks for the affirming words, Morgan.