Type A – Called to Christ
The most fundamental calling that any Christian has is our call to Jesus Christ. This is our top level calling (for now we will call it ‘Type A’) and it is from here that any other calling that we may have derives. In Acts 2:39, Peter describes the promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit as “for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” and in Romans 8:30, as Paul describes how God works for our good in all things, he reminds us that God has already called us. “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
In this sense of the word ‘calling’, every Christian has been called.
Type B – Called to God’s Mission
Not only is every believer called to Christ, but we are also all called to play a part in God’s mission in the world.
Throughout the Bible, God has called his people both to enjoy being with him and to join with him in his global mission. Through the call of Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed and Israel was called as a light to the nations.
When Jesus called his first disciples, he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17). Right from the beginning, the call to follow Christ and the call to mission go hand-in-hand. Later, he appointed twelve apostles “that they might be with him and his might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:14-15) As the risen Christ taught his disciples before returning to heaven, two key themes emerge – he will be with them by sending out his Spirit, and they have a mission to do.
One example of this is found in Matthew 28:18-20, where Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Included in the command to ‘teach them to observe all that I have commanded you’ is that the calling to mission is passed on to all disciples.
We are all called to Christ, and we are all called to God’s mission.
Type C – Called to a Particular Ministry
Sometimes, God may call us to a particular area of ministry. We have already seen that Jesus called Andrew and Peter to follow him, and to become fishers of men. We also alluded to the fact that he appointed them as ‘apostles’ and in doing so he gave them a specific calling that is not the same as the calling that all believers have.
In a similar way, we read in the Old Testament that Amos was a shepherd who God called to the particular role of prophet. He writes, “I was no prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'” (Amos 7:14-15)
Working out this kind of call can be wide-ranging and can look different in different phases of life. Upon being called to apostolic ministry, Peter’s next three years were spent being trained and equipped as he joined Jesus in his travelling ministry. This was followed by a season of leading the thriving Jerusalem church and travelling to other places. As time progressed, it would seem that James began to take an increasing level of responsibility in Jerusalem and Peter set up base in Caesarea (see Acts 12:19). We also read of Peter having spent time with the churches in Galatia and Corinth, and tradition has it that he was eventually martyred in Rome.
Peter’s call to this particular ministry did not constrain him to a single place or role, but rather provided a framework and direction for a life of serving God that encompassed many different things. This kind of call isn’t necessarily given to every believer (though we all have ‘good works which God prepared beforehand’ to do) and when such a call is given, it remains with that individual for their whole life, and significantly shapes everything they do.
Type D – Called to a Specific Place
This is the kind of call that Jonah received when the Lord said to him, “Arise, go to Nineveh…” (Jonah 1:2), and also that Ananias received, as the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul…” (Acts 9:11).
In both of these cases, God had a particular thing for that person to do in that place at that time. Neither are asked to stay there forever, but they are expected to go, to obey what God is saying, and then to either return home or go somewhere else to continue living out their more general callings.
When we talk about calling in terms of church planting, this is often the kind of calling that we have in mind. We look for specific words from God about the plans that we have and the places that we are considering going. Sometimes (but not always) God does give such a calling to church planters, and when he does it is very helpful because it guides us in specific ways that we can work out the more general callings that we have to particular ministries and to God’s mission.