Sunday, January 8, 2012

Discourse on Being Called

{by Katrina Rebsch}

During my time at the Rio Grande Bible Institute’s language school program last year, I was challenged inwardly by a statement I heard on more than one occasion: “Make sure you marry someone who has the same calling in life as you do.” 

At first, when I heard that counsel, it made sense to me and I agreed with it.  But the more I pondered it in my heart, the more questions and doubts I had.

“What is my calling?
“I’ve said for many years, I am called to be a missionary.  Does this mean I should marry a missionary?  I’ve often said I will only marry a missionary or someone involved in full-time ministry.  But what exactly is the definition of a missionary?  What is full-time ministry?  Is it really my job as the woman to have as a pre-requisite that the man who marries me shares my calling?   The woman is supposed to be the follower; not the leader!  So, doesn’t it make more sense to follow his calling? But what if his calling isn’t in missions?  Do I give it up for the sake of being his wife?  Or what if he starts out in full time ministry and then changes gears and works a secular job?  Of course, if I was his wife, I would follow him wherever; even if it meant leaving a foreign field and living in America again.  So if this is my attitude in the middle of marriage, shouldn’t this be my attitude before even entering a marriage?  That it doesn’t matter so much what he does as who he is?”

Around and around these thoughts swam.

When I was in the beginning stages of a courtship with a young man at the beginning of the school year, a trusted friend challenged me with the question, “Are you attracted to this guy because of his vocational choice of being a pastor in South America?  What if one day he says, ‘God has told me to stop being a pastor and to open a tortilla factory.’ Then what?  If you could see the future and knew this would eventually happen, does it change your feelings for him now?  In other words, are you attracted to this guy because of his connection to the Latino culture and his desire to be in ministry or because of who he is as a person?  Are you ready to be this guy’s helpmeet no strings attached?” 

Well, as it turned out, we called the courtship off due to the discovery of several major, irreconcilable differences we had.  However, I continued to ponder the counsel of my friend in future months.

I remember my brother-in-law, Nathan (who is a missionary in Ukraine), asking a similar question to my sister during their courtship.  “If there would ever come a time when God would move us out of ministry in Ukraine and back to the United States, how would you feel about that?”  My sister wisely stated, “When I marry you, I will go where you go.  I am excited about ministering in Ukraine, but my first ministry will always be to my matter where God takes us.” 

Of course, I agree with that statement!  So again, I asked myself, “If that would be my same response to a hypothetical situation after getting married, could I have that same attitude before getting married?  That it doesn’t matter what this man is doing for a living or where he is located, because vocations and locations could change.  It matters who this person is; his relationship with the Lord, his character...because once I marry him, he becomes my main ministry.”  It made sense. 

Nevertheless, I couldn’t escape the fact that despite these revelations, I still found a person who wanted to be in “full-time ministry” more attractive than a person who was going to be a plumber or an accountant. 

I brought this topic up for discussion with a married couple on campus who had become close friends and mentors for me...just to get their perspective on the issue.  The first question out of the man’s mouth was, “Well, what is ministry?”  Bingo!  Exactly!  That was the same question I had been wrestling with.  They encouraged me, when considering a fellow as a potential spouse, to really examine his life.  A person living in “full-time ministry” is one who has a heart to serve the Lord wherever he finds himself in life, one who will be faithful to share Christ with the people around him, whether he works an office job or preaches from a pulpit in a church several times a week.

A missionary is not only someone who receives his paycheck from a mission board or supporting churches; nowadays, there are many “missionaries” who earn their own “support” working in foreign countries on business visas.  They are called “vocational missionaries” and do this either because the country is closed to blatant Gospel work and the only way to get in is under a secular job title, or because they’re not necessarily cut out to be preachers or church planters, but they still want to use their occupational specialty to further the kingdom of God (i.e. graphic design, communications, construction, etc.).  So are vocational missionaries not real missionaries because they work a regular job and do ministry on the side?  Of course not!  We know the story of Priscilla and Aquilla in the New Testament who were tent-makers as well as ministers of the Gospel and helpers to Paul. 

So that then raises the question, what about people in America who work regular jobs, but who share Christ at the office, who preach on the streets, or who participate in children’s ministry at their church on a regular basis?  Does this “count” as full-time ministry?  What about those, like I’m acquainted with, who work at Care Net Pregnancy Center, or Compassion International, or the Rio Grande Bible Institute?  Whether their salaries come from the ministry itself or from supporting churches, are some considered  more “true-blue” missionaries than others?

Around our strawberry shortcake that night, my friends helped me to understand that ministry is a way of life; not a place, not a job title, not the activities that fill one’s day

So, it’s not wrong to be attracted to a fellow who is involved in ministry, because this shows his heart for the Lord and kingdom work!  It is important, however, to hold the right definition of ministry and not narrow it down simply to a vocation: traditional missionaries on the foreign field, evangelists, and pastors.  Because, as we said before, vocations could change. 

In considering a young man as a potential spouse, I need to look at his life.  If he works a regular job, is his interest only in making money and living “The American Dream?”  Obviously, such a focus is completely opposite from a lifestyle of ministry.  If, on the other hand, his job is simply his launching place to sharing about Christ with others, his way of making money to provide for his family and to support kingdom work around the world, that is a ministry lifestyle.  Of course, his convictions on family life need to be taken into consideration as well if I truly want someone whose first ministry will be his family.  Which I do.  Very much.

As the semester continued, puzzle pieces started falling into place about this whole topic of one’s “calling.” 

As I continued pondering these things in my heart, it occurred to me that the very first work God gave the very first man to do was “secular”...if you want to call it that.  He told Adam to tend the garden and name the animals as part of the dominion mandate.  Now, obviously, this was before other people lived on earth and therefore there was no need for “ministry” to bring others to know the Father.  Nevertheless, it struck me that Adam’s obedience to this vocational work God had given him to do brought God great pleasure.  And isn’t that what the purpose of life boils down to anyway?  Glorifying God?

So is God more glorified by a person who works a job as a chemical engineer in Massachusetts or one who directs an orphanage in Africa?  Good question.  I would propose that the vocation itself doesn’t necessarily bring God pleasure; it’s the person and his attitude, and his motive that determines whether or not God is glorified.  Granted, there are specific commands in Scripture we are given to obey and the Bible does exhort us to invest in works that are equated with gold, silver, and precious stones rather than wood, hay, and stubble.  But my point is that God is not necessarily impressed with one vocation over another.  He is looking for men whose hearts are perfect toward Him, who love Him and follow Him and proclaim Him no matter what job they work. 

So if God is not impressed with one vocation over another, why am I?  I guess because in the circles I have been discipled in, the vocation of pastor or missionary has been promoted so much, I tend to think of these jobs as being the highest and best for a Christian.  True, those who pursue such paths tend to have the same desire to live in the light of eternity as I do, and this also influences my attraction toward those who have chosen this vocational pursuit.  However, there are many, many Godly people who are not working as a pastor or missionary and still living in the light of eternity!  How important that I don’t put the kind of husband I want into a vocational box!

The last missionary club meeting of the school year seemed to solidify many of these swirling thoughts into a concrete understanding.  The topic was on one’s calling.  Coincidence?  I think not.  I don’t remember a whole lot of what the speaker shared but this one statement claimed my attention: “Our calling in life is this: to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to bring Him glory.”

That sure simplifies things!  It makes so much sense!  Why was I getting all caught up in the idea of a calling being primarily vocational?  My calling is to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to bring Him glory.  Anything else I do with my life is extra, and should be founded on this calling.

Sometimes, God has to take us back to the clear-cut basics to slice through the fog of all the extras.

The speaker pointed out that on various occasions throughout Scripture, God did call certain people to specific tasks.  Noah.  Abraham.  Moses.  Paul.

So, can a calling involve a certain vocation or specific task?  Yes.  Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that our foundational calling is that of having a relationship with the Lord.

Upon my arrival home after a busy semester, with plenty of time on my hands for Bible study, I decided to dive into a study of this word, “calling” (and its derivatives) to really get an understanding of Scripture on this topic.

My discoveries have been nothing short of fascinating!

check out what Katrina discovered in Part 2, coming soon...


  1. Great post! Thank you so much for sharing. I used to be of the same mentality until the Lord showed me what a true calling was! Thank you again for sharing!

  2. Wow Katrina! What a blessing to me. I have always wanted to minister with my future husband and have thought that I want him in the ministry. Thank you for the reminder that being a Christian is a calling! Thank you so much.

  3. Excellent fresh perspective katrina! Obviously, even your writing is a ministry ! xo

  4. Katrina I can't tell you how much I learned from this post. What a wise question to ask in the midst of courtship...

  5. Great post, Katrina! The important part of vocation is not the calling itself but whether we are good stewards of the gifts He gives and serve faithfully in the opportunities He provides. :)

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