Can You be “Called" Without Talent?

by Joe Plemon on December 18, 2009


Tinsmith
Creative Commons License photo credit: John832

Career coach Dan Miller shares this question from one of his readers,

“I love to share my faith with others and I seem to have many natural talents, skills and abilities suited for a minister. Many people have even suggested I enter the ministry. However, I believe that no matter how suited someone may be for ministry they must be called of God in order to be a minister. Talent is nothing to God. He rather wants a fully surrendered and obedient individual. I suppose my question is how do I know whether I’m called to be a minister or just an entrepreneur with an idea I’m passionate about?" – John

I was tracking with John until I reached the sentence “Talent is nothing to God.” While I admire John’s desire to be fully surrendered and obedient, I question his assessment of talent. He seems to be implying that God will plug us into areas of service where we may have no inclination, passion or skill as long as we are surrendered to Him. This rationale raises some questions:

  • Why does God give us talents if He doesn’t call us to use them?

Based on the parable of the talents, Matthew 25: 14-30, God (the master who went away on a journey) clearly expected his servants to use the talents he had given them. The master not only congratulated those who used their talents; he also gave them more responsibilities. However, this same master was very displeased with the servant who hid his talent. God doesn’t make mistakes; if we have talents it is because He gave them to us and expects us to use them.

  • Does God only call people into full time Ministry or does He call all of us?

Certainly we expect those in full time ministry to know that God wants them in that ministry. I am not a minister, but I don’t think it is unreasonable for me to expect my minister to have clarity that he is indeed pursuing God’s calling for his life. But how about the rest of us? Is God content for us to meander through life with little thought to what His plans are for us? The following quotes help answer this question:

  • Martin Luther, “…the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…"
  • Florence Nightingale, “The first idea I can recollect when I was a child was a desire to nurse the sick. My day dreams were all of hospitals and I visited them whenever I could. I never communicated it to anyone; it would have been laughed at, but I thought God had called me to serve Him in that way."
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, “If a man love the labor of any trade, apart from any question of success or fame, then God has called him."
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all of the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say: Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

Clearly, God does not limit His calls to those who minister in churches. We all have callings.

Exactly how does God call us?

I believe a good clue is to inventory the talents God has given us, while recognizing that talent alone does not constitute a calling. A man with a strong back might be a very talented ditch digger, but that does not mean that ditch digging is his calling. We also need passion for this work and a certainty that this talent and this passion align with God’s plans for our lives. As John said in the opening quote, we need to be surrendered and obedient.

It is not always simple.

I was an engineer before coming to Christ, a profession for which I had some God given talent but very little passion. I was, however, passionate about being a good husband, father and Sunday School teacher. Over the years I have struggled with my calling; while I enjoyed engineering I questioned at times if I should continue in a career that was not my passion. Because I never felt a compulsion to leave, I continued until retirement, eventually figuring out that my calling was being a family man and a teacher, while my vocation was something I also did to pay bills and support my family.

For me, knowing my calling has not been a thing of absolute clarity. It might not be for you either.

Can you be called without talent?

In answer to my title question, I say “no". God will give us talents that are not our calling, but not a calling without the talents to accomplish the calling. As in the parable of the talents, we will develop more talents as we use the ones we have, but we all start with at least one talent.

I cherish your thoughts. Do you struggle knowing what your calling is? Do your talents coincide with that calling?

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