By Luke Bolton, reprinted from Faith Driven Entrepreneur.
Over the years I have enjoyed many jobs, from trim carpentry and truck driving to university teaching and financial services. With a passion to serve God, I finished degrees in theology – but did not enter church ministry as a full-time job. In God’s plan, my theological education has been woven into work with investments and a wealth management firm.
As a younger man I often wondered, “Am I called to work in the ministry?” But as I reached midlife, I found myself asking, “Am I called to serve in the marketplace?” Like other Christians, I want to embrace God’s call and do something of significance.
Perhaps you too have wrestled with the idea of God’s call. How does God’s call intersect with being a business-person or entrepreneur? What does it mean to be called in business?
The Many Uses of Calling
The language of calling is used very broadly. Likely you have heard people refer to their job (or hobby) as a “calling”. In the church, people talk about “calling” as one aspect of hiring a new minister. Others will be quick to point out an important distinction between our “calling” and our job.
Perhaps one reason calling is used so many different ways is that it starts with a generic word. The New Testament word for “call” (Greek kaleo) was not a technical term. It meant to invite or summon a person to come – just as you might invite others to the dinner table (call them to supper). The word was also used to describe the act of naming someone (call him John).
Certainly, church history and denominations have played a role in how we understand calling. For example, Catholic traditions often see calling in the context of religious duties, while Lutheran and other Protestant traditions emphasize calling in the context of one’s daily work.
A Biblical Framework for Calling
Rather than digging into a historical overview how the church understood calling, I want to offer a framework to understand its biblical meaning. This framework is not original but has been articulated by theologians and teachers, such as Os Guinness in his book The Call.
The most essential insight about calling is that God primarily calls or summons people “to himself”, rather than to a particular task. Os Guinness defines calling as, “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are…do, and… have is invested with a special devotion…and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.” (p. 29)
This definition highlights the relationship between God, as the Caller, and his people as those called into a relationship with him. Jesus came to “call” sinners to repentance (Matt 9:13). He invites all who labor to come to him (Matt 11:28). Quite often in the New Testament, being called by God is a synonym for salvation itself.
Since the New Testament overwhelmingly uses calling to describe being called “to Christ”, we will identify this as our primary calling. Our primary calling is to respond to the words of Jesus when he said, “follow me.” This is our calling to know, trust, love, treasure, and follow Christ.
However, another aspect of calling shows up in Scripture. This secondary calling recognizes that Christ is our master and is sovereign over all we say, think, and do. Those who answer God’s call embark on a new life. As Paul urged, we must seek to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called, with all humility… gentleness… patience…” (Eph 4:1-2). Our primary calling is to follow Christ; our secondary calling flows from it as we seek to imitate him in the course of life.
While this aspect of calling has implications for work, it does not necessarily mean God is going to announce a specific job assignment. Scripture does not lead us to anticipate words like, “I want you to be a painter” or, “I want you to start a restaurant.” Still, our relationship with Christ must inform everything we do, including how and what we do for work.
Business Leadership and God’s Calling
The topic of God’s calling shows up throughout Scripture and merits further study and reflection than possible in this brief summary. However, building on this framework, I want to offer four simple encouragements to Christian entrepreneurs and business leaders:
1. Your calling “in Christ” is who you are. Called by Christ is your identity – not a company, not a role, not financial performance. As a Christian, you have been called, justified, and loved by God (Rom 8:29-30). That is the foundation to build your life on. Building an identity on your start-up, family business, or work will not support the weight of a meaningful life. At the end of the day, the most important thing about you is that Jesus says to you, “Come, follow me.”
2. Your work matters to God, and to others, even though God’s calling is larger than just your work. In creation, God shows himself to be a skillful, hard-working craftsman. Then God created men and women in his image to continue his work and care for creation. Through your work as business owners and entrepreneurs, God is caring for the needs of others. And through that work, your character and eternal reward are being shaped. “For you [Lord] will render to a man according to his work” (Ps 62:12).
3. God’s calling is not just for those in church work or secular work; rather it encompasses both. In the Gospels we see an unusual experience of Jesus calling 12 apostles to leave their jobs and follow him. By contrast, most other believers were encouraged to continue working as a means of honoring Christ. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col 3:23). “…let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands…” (Eph 4:28). The call to discipleship is more often a call to deepen our work, rather than leave it.
4. Finally, God’s calling is not harmed by failure or confirmed by success. Since your calling grows out of your relationship with Christ, you cannot truly miss your calling unless you miss the One who called you. If you follow your dream at the expense of following the Lord, yes, you have missed your calling. But staying true to Christ and gaining strength from him, even during life’s deepest disappointments, is the measure of truly living up to your calling.
Jesus calls, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden…
and learn from me.” (Matthew 11:28-29)