People who meet me today have a hard time believing that I was painfully shy through my adolescence and well into young adulthood. In my college years, when I first felt God nudging me towards ministry, this feeling of call made no rational sense. I was still afraid to speak to boys, let alone preach from a pulpit.
I resonate with the hesitancy and fear with which those who are called react to God. Jeremiah’s objections include his inexperience, youth, and that he’s not a great public speaker. Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel all had their own very rational objections as to why they couldn’t follow God. Apparently, it’s quite normal to feel unqualified when God dials your number.
Presbyterians teach that everyone is called by God — created for a unique purpose, known even before they are born. Sometimes we fail to understand the breadth and variety of call, believing it is meant only for clergy or those seeking a full-time vocation in the church. But God calls us to meet the needs of the world through a variety of roles. Some are called to be pastors, others teachers, community organizers, engineers, entrepreneurs, auto mechanics or architects. With the help of the community of faith, we discern our special call, the purpose for which God created us.
Jeremiah was called to be a prophet to his exiled people, to preach words of truth that were hard to hear, but necessary. He was also called to guide his community into a future full of promise. Jeremiah wasn’t equipped for this work when he first recognized God’s call. He was just a boy! Rather, God equipped Jeremiah as he grew, transforming him into the prophet the Caller needed him to be.
I’m not shy anymore. People often mistake me for an extrovert when they meet me now. But that’s because 24 years of ministry have helped me develop the social and public speaking skills I’ve needed to do the work to which God has called me. In his Feasting on the Word commentary on this passage, Thomas R. Steagald, reminds us of a basic biblical and theological truth: “God equips the called; God does not call the equipped.”
We can easily miss the ways God is calling ourselves or others when we focus on a person’s ready-made gifts or abilities, rather than their potential. When there is work to be done or a role to be filled, we tend to go searching for the person who is already equipped with the experience, gifts and confidence for the task at hand. Yet, this can lead to missed opportunities for growth and transformation and missed potential leaders who might not fit within our norms and expectations but do fit within God’s.
At this summer’s 225th General Assembly, I was fascinated by the conversation surrounding the young adult advisory delegates. Ages 17 to 23 years old, they were informed, articulate and dedicated. Throughout the General Assembly, they were celebrated for their leadership and engagement. Yet the majority of these young adults are not ordained as elders in their home churches, and many bemoaned that their votes on national church issues were only “advisory” in nature. They did not count toward the deciding votes. This led me to wonder why the church is waiting to give these young adults more leadership opportunities. Are we waiting for them to be more equipped, to have more experience, to be more settled in their lives and their opinions? Or, might we trust what God can do in and through individuals before their potential is fully realized?
Churches are hoarders of habit, clinging to familiar and traditional ways. Yet God calls us to growth and transformation. This might make us uncomfortable and fearful, but God knows our potential — and we’ll discover it if we are courageous enough to answer our Creator’s call.
Questions for reflection:
What thoughts, feelings or memories surfaced as you read this passage?
Have you ever felt called to a task or a role for which you felt completely unequipped?
How can your faith community nurture the call of young people and young leaders?
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