Thriving Leaders: Lessons From the Front Lines of Ministry (pt. 2a “The Call”)

Thriving leaders are called by God in Jesus Christ to serve God’s people in special ways. One’s call to lead starts in the heart of God made known in Scripture through Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

Mark Labberton, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, says,

You and I are to be the tangible evidence of God’s intent for and pursuit of the world today…The Word made flesh in Jesus Christ should show through us. We are meant to be primary evidence of the flourishing love, grace and truth in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.[i]

If God desires thriving leaders to lead and serve God’s kingdom purposes in the church and the world, then how does a leader know he or she is called by God to lead in a special way?

We look at four aspects of a call from God to lead and serve. Four may be a beginning number; there may be more; and the following four are not necessarily in numerical order. But most thriving leaders can identify their call from God in these four ways. We will look at two in this blog and two in our next blog.

  1. The call to be a Christ-follower. God calls all of us “from the creation of the world to be blameless and holy in his sight.” (Eph. 1:4 NIV) God draws us to himself through the Holy Spirit who empowers our response of faith and trust. God’s call to follow Christ may be sudden; it may be gradual; it may occur a number of times. But God initiates our salvation by his grace and empowers our response of faith. (see Eph. 2:8,9)

For me, I knew from childhood that God was calling me to follow Christ. My mother was the initial conduit of God’s call. Early one morning I saw Mom on her knees. I was 6 years old. Unbeknownst to her, I heard Mom pray audibly for me – over and over again. I figured I was in deep trouble or God had something to do with my life. Later in high school God’s Spirit stirred in my soul. I acted on God’s call and began to follow Jesus with greater resolve and intent than before.

In ways too numerous to articulate, God initiates our salvation. God calls forth and empowers our response of faith. God pursues us and we yield our wills to him as Christ-followers in the church and the world.

  1. The inner call of the Holy Spirit. God also calls us by speaking his purposes to our deepest selves. The late Ben Campbell Johnson quotes Carlo Carretto in the mystic’s book Letters from the Desert:

God’s call is mysterious; it comes in the darkness of faith. It is so fine, so subtle, that it is only with the deepest silence within us that we can hear it. And yet nothing is so decisive and overpowering for a man or a woman on this earth, nothing surer or stronger. This call is uninterrupted: God is always calling us! But there are distinctive moments in this call of his, moments which leave a permanent mark on us – moments which we never forget.[ii]

This inner nudge or prodding of God is never finished and is always be wrapped in mystery. But at least there is an acute and growing awareness of some inner rhythmical sense that our souls are being stirred. We respond by serving  God’s kingdom purposes in the church and in the world.

For me, one evening God called me to be a pastor and teacher in the local church. I was in my last year of high school, alone in my bedroom. God’s call was as unexpected as it was sudden. Jesus Christ appeared to me. Shrouded in mystery, he spoke to my heart: “Denn, I want you to preach, teach and renew the local church.” I didn’t hear words per se but I knew what God was saying in those moments that I have never forgotten.

For sure, this inner call of God needed to be honed, clarified, matured, expanded and deepened. I would need outward confirmation from others. Nor was that event the only time God’s call was pursuing me; other stirrings followed. But I’ll never forget that initial awakening of God’s call to pastor, teach and serve. My world was shaken. My sense of inadequacy overwhelming. My fear was palatable. I had much to learn. But God had called me. And I knew it. I needed to rely upon God in ways I had never thought possible.

Most thriving leaders have a sense of God’s inner nudging to be leaders in serving God’s people. But we soon realize we need two more aspects of God’s call – which we will cover in the next blog.



[i] Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today, by Mark Labberton. Pp. 13-14 InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA.

[ii] Hearing God’s Call, by Ben Campbell Johnson, p. 11, Eerdsman Publishing Co., 255 Jefferson Ave. S.E.,Grand Rapids, MI.49505, USA.

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