(Thanks to my friend Greg Johnson for his guest blog today. Greg is a coach for worship leaders and a consultant to church worship ministries nationwide. Check out their website at thedavidproject.com)
CALLING. This is a word tossed around in the church world frequently today. You hear it a lot in the phrase, “I feel called to…” The problem is, it has replaced the phrase “I want to…” for spiritual effect. I can actually hear Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride proclaiming, “You keep using that word … I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Let me clarify – when I speak of calling, I am talking about the spiritual urging by God toward a specific purpose. This is not to be confused by the “callings” of our culture, pursuing a purpose that looks like a spiritual calling, but really only serves the flesh, which is actually a “wanting.” I have had several conversations recently with young worship leaders that feel “called” to a traveling worship ministry, and the fame and notoriety that goes with it. One worship leader actually responded to my question about their call to ministry with, “You know, I feel called to a ministry like Tomlin and Crowder.” My thought was, “Who wouldn’t feel called to that?” Looking back on my ministry career, I totally get the draw toward the road, but I’m not sure that it is a “calling” as much as a “wanting.” Added to that, there is also a huge trend toward embracing the culture as worship leaders, meaning our speech and conduct tend to mirror our culture more than mirroring the way of Jesus. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, and I’m not sure that it’s what God called us to be as leaders or people. So, here a few questions to help qualify a Godly calling in your life.
1. Who is doing the calling? It’s pretty simple. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) If you are not in daily, transforming relationship with Jesus, spending unhurried time with him, don’t kid yourself. God will not call you to do something for Him if you are not intimate with Him. Because modern worship has become so popular today, our culture has set the criteria for the calling: musical gifting, killer hair, quirky charisma and swag apparel. That is a calling … to ROCK STARDOM. The X factor in worship leading is Jesus. So, if you aren’t going to spend daily time with Jesus, get out now and save yourself heartache and/or embarrassment when you are exposed. Trust me, I’ve been there, and I don’t recommend it. Look at it this way; somewhere, there’s a cover band looking for a vocalist with your mad skills…
2. Who will benefit from this calling? Simply put, it’s not about you. Humility is the number one trait of a worship leader called by God, which means less you, more Jesus. If your “calling” is all wrapped up in furthering your career, getting your name out there, then God may use you for a season, but it will only be to serve His purposes, and it will likely be short-lived. Maximus, in the movie Gladiator, says it well to Commodus: “The time for honoring yourself will soon come to an end.” Here’s one way to test the calling: Is the spiritual call so strong that you have to pursue it, regardless of financial gain or wide exposure? If so, this means there is no opportunity, or gig, beneath you. In fact, if you feel called to be a worship leader or player, yet you never give of yourself sacrificially (unpaid), then you are likely living out a “wanting.” I hear the verse, “A man is worthy of his hire” (1Timothy 5:18) used as the standard for compensation. That’s true, but being paid as a worship leader or player should be viewed as a privilege, not an expectation. If God wants you to be paid, He will open those doors – He doesn’t need your help to make that happen. Can worship leading be a career? Of course, but that is completely up to God, not you. Faithfully serve whenever and wherever the opportunity arises, with a servant’s heart, and God will honor it. Unfortunately, that attitude is fairly uncommon in the worship world today, but very attractive and refreshing, so you’ll likely be busier living out your calling than you ever dreamed. Remember, God is no respecter of geography – He is at work in the church of 200 and the church of 2000, and there are a ton more of the former than the latter. He is at work in the grass hut and the convention center. If the Godly calling is there, it may or may not involve an arena filled with worship-crazed young people.
3. What will this calling cost me? Again, in the words of Jesus, “If anyone is going to follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) A call to follow Jesus is a call to die. In every way. It is a call to personal holiness. A call away from compromise. We are ALL called to personal holiness, but ESPECIALLY those who call themselves leaders. This is where I missed the mark for a very long time. A couple of years ago, I had few boundaries with regard to my speech (off-color jokes, cussing), my eyes (what I watched or looked at) and my ears (what I listened to), all of which affected my heart. I routinely justified it all in the name of relevance. However, Jesus didn’t call me to be relevant, he called me to be like him. Please don’t check out here. This is not about legalism – it is about authenticity and leadership. If your personal life doesn’t mirror your stage persona, then it is falsehood and people know it. If your relationship with Christ is not moving you toward a life of personal holiness, it is powerless and ineffective. Am I saying that living out a Godly calling means you can’t get your “slur” on, tell dirty jokes and go see The Campaign this weekend? Yes, that is what I’m saying. It is the price of being a Godly leader. A Godly calling will likely fly in the face of cultural relevance and force you to make some decisions about who you are going to be. The way of Jesus is the narrow path; the road less traveled. Here’s the deal: you can do whatever you want – you just can’t do it and follow Jesus. It’s the difference between living out a cultural calling versus a Godly calling.
Those are just a few thoughts on the subject of calling. I need to underscore that I share from the standpoint of one who lived out “cultural calling” for many years. God has only captured my heart on this subject over the last year or so. There’s a lot more to say, but I’ll stop here and let you join the discussion. How does this track with you? How do you define Godly calling, and how are you living it out?