Distinctives Part 2: Calling
The Purpose of the Leader
Biblical leaders must not only concern themselves with how to lead, but they must also address why they are leading—for what purpose. They must find their why before they know their what. Most authors use the term vision to describe a leader’s purpose and the future state for which they influence others. While the idea of vision is at the heart of leading others, to comprehend biblical leadership we must realize that in a biblical paradigm, vision flows first from God’s call to the leader.
Why is this an important distinction? Well, if we’re not careful, vision will turn out to be something we invent rather than something we discover from God. The term “calling” possesses the inherent idea that purpose comes from God to us—not the other way around. With a calling, after all, there must be a Caller. (See Genesis 12:1–4, Exodus 3:1–6, 1 Samuel 16:12, Isaiah 6:1–13, Jeremiah 1:4–7, Mark 3:14–15, John 15:16, Acts 9:1–16, Romans 15:15–18).
Often, a leader’s plans get confused with God’s plan. We have a dream, an aspiration, or a goal, and it becomes what we believe is God’s vision. We then go to God to convince him to get on board with what we want to see happen in the world. In essence we say, “God, please bless and resource MY plans.” This leads to failure, frustration, and misguided achievements, since God did not author the vision in the first place. Here, leaders achieve only to realize the achievements were not of God. As Howard Hendricks profoundly said, “The fear is not for leaders to fail, but to succeed at doing the wrong thing.”
The fact is, God has not committed himself to finance our dreams. He’s not a genie in the bottle who exists to grant our wishes. He wants us to get involved in his plans. Calling therefore communicates something received from God (the One calling) to us (the ones called)—and God is always faithful to supply and sustain that which he initiates. The great promise to leaders who follow God’s call is that he will be faithful to resource it.
Additionally, calling is an inherent biblical concept, as compared to the modern idea of “vision.” The actual word vision in the Bible almost always refers to prophetic visions. This is different from the way vision is described in modern leadership. The term today, mostly used in business and corporate settings, blurs the lines between the purposes of a business and that of the church. Calling, on the other hand, is unique to people of faith. While vision (a mental idea of a preferable future) certainly flows from calling, leaders should first process and possess a strong sense of God’s compelling call to join him in the work he is doing. After their response of faith to God’s call, vision will begin to develop within the hearts and minds of the leaders—and most importantly, that vision will be rooted in a call from God, not in self-centered ambition.
Calling, therefore, is the force that drives and inspires biblical leaders to influence. It keeps them focused, provides accountability to act consistently, inspires them to endure hardships, and ensures that one’s leadership results only in what God wants.