Church culture has often dictated that all callings come from divine inspiration and are therefore the will of God, not to be questioned and never to be turned down. I enjoy questioning the dictates of culture and holding them up to the light of the current Church Handbook’s instructions as well as the words of modern prophets and leaders. Let’s see what this can mean for both those inviting and those receiving invitations to serve.
Where Do Callings Come From?
Article of Faith 5 reads:
“We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”
Elder Carl B. Cook referenced this verse in his October 2016 general conference talk when he said,
“All Church callings come from God—through His appointed servants. … It is important that we make that connection—that our callings literally come to us from God through our priesthood leaders.”
This is a clear statement about where callings come from, but it doesn’t mean the leader got a text message from God with a specific name in it. It does mean inspiration was involved, one way or another.
I was once called to serve in the nursery of a new-to-me ward by a newly-called bishopric counselor who frankly acknowledged that the bishopric extended the calling because they didn’t know me at all. I was a little disappointed but accepted and enjoyed the opportunity, later observing those nursery children as they grew through the Church youth programs and went on to become powerful servants of Jesus Christ. I’m sure I could have fulfilled other callings at that time, and others in the ward could also have served as well or even better than I did in the nursery, but it was a good experience with good outcomes as I did the best I could.
Considerations When Extending a Calling
The General Handbook clarifies that callings come from God by inspiration and offers additional guidelines for leaders extending callings (see Callings in the Church, General Guidelines 30.1.1). This can also help those who are invited to serve understand how to respond to a call.
The Handbook instructs leaders to consider “the member’s personal circumstances, including his or her health and work.” This requires knowledge.
Sometimes when a leader extends a calling there are additional circumstances in the member’s life that the leader does not know and which could make that calling difficult or impossible to fulfill at that time. This does not mean the calling was not inspired or the member should not accept it, and it offers a wonderful opportunity for ministering.
Leaders are specifically instructed in the Handbook to consider the potential difficulties with health or work circumstances, the possible impact of a calling on a member’s marriage or family, and the potential to place undue burdens. Leaders can ensure they are doing this by seeking information prior to extending the call and by asking the individual or couple to share what is going on in their life at the time the calling is extended.
Those receiving an invitation to serve in a calling can help ensure leaders are following this instruction by being willing to share personal circumstances which could affect their ability to serve, before they accept or turn down the calling. Knowing that this invitation comes from God can help the member recognize that God sees them and is offering them an opportunity.
The opportunity may be the calling, or it may be to share what they are going through so their leaders can better minister to their needs. So often members want to hide their struggles at all costs. This is normal and we all do it for many reasons, but choosing not to share and be vulnerable can rob everyone of opportunities to minister and be ministered to. Accepting a calling without sharing these struggles can lead to unnecessary burdens for the member, their family, and those they serve with.
Questioning a Calling
Now what of the cultural dictate that all callings are the will of God and not to be questioned? I believe one of God’s greatest gifts is the ability to choose for ourselves, and a calling is not a commandment but an inspired opportunity.
Elder Cook continued:
“Even if we think that our Church calling was simply our priesthood leader’s idea or that it came to us because no one else would accept it, we will be blessed as we serve. But when we recognize God’s hand in our calling and serve with all our hearts, additional power comes into our service, and we become true servants of Jesus Christ.”
God wants to bless us and we receive priesthood power in our service as we recognize the calling’s source. This helps us see God’s hand in our lives and embrace the opportunity to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and even gives us strength and abilities beyond what we have had before.
Church service can be challenging. God seeks to stretch us and give us opportunities to grow, but this can be frightening or wearisome. Questioning is normal, especially when a calling puts us outside of our comfort zone, looks unappealing, or comes at the same time as other difficulties.
When we question, we can turn to God for answers and receive personal revelation that will help us recognize why we were called, where our personal service can impact others for good, and how we can open ourselves up to the power of God when we serve as Jesus would.
This may mean leaders and members work together to find a unique way to fulfill that calling at that time. Seeking additional inspiration and searching for creative, outside-the-box answers can lead to innovation and open up additional blessings for everyone involved.
We can accept a calling and still question as we seek our own inspired answers, but it’s also important to recognize the difference between questioning why a calling was extended or doubting our own abilities, and recognizing when a calling may need to be turned down.
Turning Down a Calling
Through discussion and prayer, both members and leaders can recognize when a calling may need to be turned down.
I recently heard the experience of a member who was extended a calling but could not fulfill it due to personal medical circumstances. She was confused as to why her leader would think to extend the calling to her, but noted that he did not know what she was going through. She expressed frustration with him for not doing enough research or being diligent enough in prayer to receive the revelation of who was best to receive that calling—which clearly was not her—but accepted the calling as it was offered.
My heart went out to this woman and the difficult situation she found herself in, trying to serve and do what she was asked to do, but finding it impossible to fulfill the calling due to her physical health. In circumstances like this it’s easy to ask, “Why would God call me to something I cannot do?”
This is one of those questions we can take to prayer and seek personal revelation about, but one answer could be simply that God wants us to know we are seen, we are needed, and we are qualified to fulfill this calling, even if we cannot do it at that time. As we are willing to be vulnerable and share our circumstances with our leaders, we can also be blessed with help and support we may not otherwise have allowed ourselves to receive—whether or not we accept the calling.
God Sees Us
God knows each of us individually, knows what we are capable of and what we (and others) need, and wants us to grow and learn as we serve. God can inspire leaders in many ways and we can know that callings extended through priesthood leadership come from God.
Sometimes this means we will receive a calling or even multiple callings in the Church. Sometimes it means we will receive a calling that is disappointing or that we cannot accept. Sometimes it means we will not have a specific calling at all. Whatever our circumstances, both leaders and members can seek revelation about what God would have us do as we seek to serve in the Church, and we can feel God’s love as we follow the example of Jesus Christ and serve each other.
Lillian Angelovic works behind the scenes at Leading Saints to keep everything running as smoothly as possible. She tries to limit time on social media while working as a social media manager, but prefers to spend time writing poetry and reading books. At church she has taught every youth Sunday School and Primary class, and loves talks and lessons that encourage vulnerability.