P2P: Discerning the Call (part 1) – Am I called?

MazePlanning2Plant (P2P) is a series by Bryan Barley following his year of preparation for church planting.

My guess is there are a number reading this right now who are attempting to discern the call to plant. Especially for you who may be in seminary, where anything from a PhD to being a missionary to an unreached people group are viable options, the question is naturally, “what is God calling me to do?”

There are varying views within the church as to how to understand “God’s will for my life.” The most prevalent I’ve found within churches, yet the one that I tend to disagree with the most, is that God’s will is “like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s-eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel.” Gerald Sittser articulates this conventional view as a “specific pathway we should follow into the future… Our responsibility is to discover this pathway-God’s plan for our lives. We must discover which of the many pathways we could follow is the one we should follow, the one God has planned for us…if we choose rightly, we will experience his blessing and achieve success and happiness. If we choose wrongly, we may lose our way, miss God’s will for our lives, and remain lost forever in an incomprehensible maze.” I’ve found this view to not only lack Scriptural evidence but also encourage paralysis when it comes to taking a risk for God. We have churches full of people who are waiting on goosebumps to confirm that they’re supposed to go and do something great for Jesus.

My wife and I chose to take a different approach as we worked through the call to plant – my central question was not what will God tell me to do?, but rather what has God already told me to do? To put it another way, my decision was based little on a feeling and more on what God has already said through the Bible.

When I looked at the Bible, I found God’s will for my life: to live out the Great Commission the best I can with the time, talents, and desires that God has given me.  God’s will for my life is to figure out how to best take part in the Great Commission.

With this in mind, my wife and I decided it was our responsibility to either go to the nations or a great urban center where the nations have come. This came from examining the status of global Christianity (where are we needed?), as well as evaluating our experiences (my unchurched background and success starting new ministries, my wife’s time helping with North American church plants), gifts (I work best in a predominantly non-Christian context), and desires (we think there is no more amazing way to give our lives to Jesus than to plant a “sending” church that plants more churches in areas of tremendous need). With this in mind, we decided that we would plant a church in a great U.S. city.

But a word of caution: you tend to tell stories about your own life in a way that makes things seem better than they actually were. For us, there were months of agonizingly trying to decide between two or three options, all of which could have been used to God’s glory. There were countless conversations with already established church planters, lots of reading, much time in prayer, and many, many days where my wife gave me that dazed, frustrated look that communicated, “can you at least narrow it down to the continent we’ll live on following seminary?!” Our story is much more complex than what you’ve read above, but this provides the basic logic that we worked through when we decided to move toward church planting.

So are you called to church planting? In one way or another, you absolutely are called. Some of you will stay in the South while others plant your life in a city or go abroad. Some will be pastors while others professors or businessmen. However, all are called to obey the Great Commission, which necessitates all Christians giving themselves to the establishment of local churches throughout the world.

A few resources that may help as you try to discern your own calling:

A talk by my pastor, J.D. Greear, about discerning the will of God.

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung

The Missionary Call by M. David Sills

Part 2 of “Discerning the Call” will deal with our calling to a basic methodology/framework for how we would move forward in the church planting process. Part 3 will speak to how we chose to plant in Denver.

Comments 0

  1. Bryan,

    great stuff… one thing I would add by way of discerning God’s Will (in any area of life and especially in planting) is seeking out the counsel of your pastors. I would be very weary of making any kind of move that was not affirmed by the Pastors that are overseeing my soul.

    thanks for this series


  2. Post


    Thanks for your comment – I love your heart for the local church. The next part of this series is actually entirely about the role of the local church in the call to church planting, so you can rest assured that I still love the local church and our pastors :).


  3. There is an article entitled “Am I Called?” by Sovereign Grace pastor/planter/elder Dave Harvey. It is more towards “am I called to ministry or not…” But its one of the best resources I’ve seen as far as thinking well through a calling, especially the importance of the local church in that decision. Thanks for your honesty and sincerity in opening up your life Bryan. Looking forward to reading some more…

  4. In my own experience I’d say one of the key things that shapes ones “calling” is mentoring from various leaders — especially pastors.

    If you grow up in a church where you have a new pastor every couple of years it short-circuits one of the key ways that people have of understanding their calling. This Paul / Timothy “On the Job” training complements the formal training learned in seminary.

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