Hearing the Call: The first phase in the experience of calling
In a previous article, I noted that researchers Tunheim and Goldschmidt (2013) found that, for their research participants, calling was a three-phase experience. The first phase, Awareness, is the phase in which an individual becomes cognizant of God’s calling to a general area of service or focus in life. The second phase represents a period of interpreting that calling, or, as I learned in my own research, understanding what it might mean and imagining the shape it might take in the future. The third phase is the goal: living out one’s calling. This article will focus on the first phase, Awareness.
Many of us can recall a moment when we sensed God calling us to the work we now carry out every day. Such moments are pivotal points for many of us.
I remember well the moment that God spoke to me about my purpose and future. I was in junior high school, sitting in a Sunday morning service in my home church. A missionary guest was playing his trumpet. I do not recall what song he was playing, or what the sermon was about, or even exactly how old I was. I do remember clearly sensing that God was speaking to me while the missionary played the now-forgotten song. I had asked God to call me to ministry, asked him to let me serve in his work. That request may have been presumptuous, but it was the honest cry of a young heart. And when God’s Spirit spoke to me that day and said, “I am calling you to ministry,” it was unmistakable and brought me great and deep joy.
The experience of calling is, for many others, less an event and more a process. Phillips (2009) conducted research among more than 1000 undergraduate students in a Christian university to learn how they became aware of their calling. Phillips found that there was a process leading to that initial discernment, and that process was influenced by various events and experiences.
One of the unanticipated findings of Dr. Phillips’ research was that she discovered there was a distinctly different process and set of influences for men than for women. The men had gained initial awareness of their sense of calling through active involvement in serving, leading, and experiential learning. Women, on the other hand, took a more relational path to discovering their calling; relationships with peers, mentors, and even a relational perspective on learning were important catalysts of calling awareness among the women students.
A 2015 study (McKenna et al.) of ministry and business leaders also found that becoming aware of a calling is a process. An entire issue of the academic Journal of Vocational Behavior (114, 2019) was dedicated to recent studies of calling, and the editors noted that “the process through which callings emerge is dynamic and complex” (Lysova et al., p. 4). These and other researchers have observed that God is at work in our world through process – by taking us on a journey.
There are several important aspects of these research findings that I believe we can apply as we consider our own calling journey, and as we walk with others on their own journey.
- God’s calling comes in various ways. He is no more limited to my experience as a pattern or formula for calling than Jesus was formulaic in the methods he used to heal people during his physical life on earth.
- Men and women may receive God’s calling differently from one another.
- God calls his people to many forms of work in his kingdom.
- The awareness of calling is just the beginning for a person who wants to live in God’s best plan for their lives.
Lysova, E. I., Dik, B. J., Duffy, R. D., Khapova, S. N., & Arthur, M. B. (2019). Calling and careers: New insights and future directions. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 114, 1-6.
McKenna, R. B., Matson, J., Haney, D. M., Becker, O., Hickory, M. J., Ecker, D. L., & Boyd, T. N. (2015). Calling, the caller, and being called: A qualitative study of transcendent calling. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 34(4), 294-303.
Phillips, S. L. (2009). Predictors of vocational calling in Christian college students: A structural equation model (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation and Theses database. (UMI No. 3385097)
Tunheim, K. A., & Goldschmidt, A. N. (2013). Exploring the role of calling in the professional journeys of college presidents. Journal of Leadership, Accountability, and Ethics, 10(4), 30-40.