Leading Beyond Your Calling

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Several years ago my dad served as an unpaid staff administrator at a medium-sized church near Vancouver, BC. Fresh from a top level corporate career, some of what he encountered on a church staff left him a bit puzzled as to how things work in the church world.

For instance, on one occasion he had to ask one of the pastoral staff to carry out an assignment slightly outside his usual “job description”. Now, while my dad clearly had the authority to issue this assignment, the pastor gracefully declined. He explained that he simply didn’t have a burden for such a job.

“I didn’t know you could say this to your boss when you work in a church,” Dad would later mention to me.

What he didn’t realize, but would quickly learn, is that sometimes church leaders play the “burden” or “calling” card, when what is required is the “servanthood” card.

A burden, or calling, is that God-given passionate holy discontent that drives you to make a significant Kingdom impact with your one and only life.

Servanthood is an ongoing posture of doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

Here are a few guidelines:

  • When you’re mapping out where God is directing you to go in the long-term, it’s time for the burden card.
  • When it’s all-hands-on-deck cleanup day at the church, it’s time for the servanthood card.
  • When you’re making ministry career choices, play the burden card.
  • When your supervisor asks you to help another department complete a project, play the servanthood card.

Managing the tension between these cards is an important part of leadership development. When we get it wrong the Kingdom feels the strain. But when we get it right God can leverage our leadership and submission for maximum results.

Add to this list of burden versus servanthood guidelines and I’ll post them at a later date.

the author

Scott Cochrane


  1. I appreciated the conversation about calling/burden and servanthood.
    It is right on.

    So how do we deal with those who perhaps don’t put in their best effort and then look to others (often) to bail them out? I think being accountable for doing your part is also important. Interested in your thoughts on this.

  2. Heather, I believe many churches struggle with the tension between ‘grace’ and ‘accountability’. We worry that if we hold people accountable for results we’re not extending grace. This is one reason many Christian organizations struggle to reach their full God-given potential. We need to learn to hold people accountable for results AND still do so in a Christ-like manner. Not always easy to do, but important I think.

  3. Thanks for this Scott!
    “Calling” is a problematic issue in the church. It does seem to be exploited in personally beneficial ways a lot of the time. Beyond that, it’s funny how it seems to be the exclusive domain of the paid clergy (yet to meet a “called” electrician).
    We need to understand that our primary, and often only, calling is to be obedient followers of God. Specific personal calls are not the norm.
    In the Bible I can’t find any examples of calling that didn’t lead to deep suffering. There is no prestige. It seems that God calls people when noone would go there on their own accord.
    I see calling being exploited by both sides in churches. In contrast to your Dad’s experience, I’ve known churches that offered embarrassing salaries and horrid working conditions and expected that someone would accept gratefully because they are “called”.
    I could go on…

  4. Great insights Chris. We want to believe that someone is ‘called’ to the mission field (there’s something enobling about that), but as you say we don’t talk about someone being called to be a plumber or accountant. This has led to a rift in the Kingdom, where we believe that a sense of call is reserved only for professional ministers.

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