“What is God calling me to?” For many of us, that question is terrifying and full of uncertainty. What is calling? Does everyone have a single, specific calling from God? If so, how do I figure out what mine is? These are important questions, and they have been at the center of my journey towards moving to New York City.
Primary and Secondary Callings
In examining the nature of God’s calling, or, to put it another way, his specific purpose for your life, it is necessary for us to first understand that there are actually two types of calling that God gives his people. For the sake of distinction, we can call these a “primary” calling and a “secondary” calling. Though most of us spend the majority of our time and effort trying to discern what vocation or location God is calling us to, it is important to realize that these are actually secondary callings. If you are a Christian, then your primary calling is first and always to Jesus. He has called you to himself, and through this primary calling you find your most foundational identity. Your secondary calling, then, works out of this identity to form how you serve Christ. Essentially, your primary calling determines who you are while your secondary calling determines what you do.1
During the past two years of serving as a pastor in New Orleans, there have been several instances were I wanted to quit. I had either been burned by someone leaving the church in a bad way or just overwhelmed by the grind of shepherding real people with real problems. You could say my secondary calling was completely out of whack, and there was a couple times that I started to question it. In every instance, however, I realized that the reason my secondary calling to be a pastor was struggling was because my primary calling to Christ was also out of place. Faced with the difficulties of pastoral ministry, I was turning to myself for strength rather than Jesus. As my primary calling to Christ suffered, I began to question my secondary calling. The two are always linked. Yet, as I repented each time and pursued Jesus in dependence on him, I found my secondary calling would quickly fix itself and become clear once again in the light of God’s plan. Regardless of whether or not you know what God wants you to do with your life, continue to pursue and lean up on him.
This brings me to my families calling to invest our lives in the holistic flourishing of New York City through planting a church in Manhattan. When NYC first came into the picture for me, it seemed similar to other instances when I questioned my calling to be a pastor in New Orleans. Was I simply struggling and naively thinking about “greener pastures” for ministry? Learning from the past, I quickly turned to examine my primary calling to Jesus. I began to pursue him more through prayer, reading my Bible, and fasting. Yet, the more I pursued Jesus, the more consistently I began to think about New York. Through the lens of my primary calling to Jesus, I began to see New York City as something from the Lord rather than from my sin. In whatever and wherever God is calling you to in life, always remember to pursue Jesus personally first and foremost.
Next week, we’ll continue to look at the idea of God’s calling on our lives, examining some principles for how we can discern our secondary, vocational calling.
This blog was originally posted on Rob and Riley Russell’s personal website. You can go to www.robandriley.com to follow the Russell’s as they set out on this journey to plant a church in New York City.
1Check out Dave Harvey’s book, Am I Called?, for more on primary and secondary callings.