Discerning a Calling (4) When the answer is no

One of the questions we included on the list of things to ask yourself was “What if the answer is no?” By this, I don’t mean that you apply for a particular job and get turned down. I’m specifically talking about when you are considering a course of direction -maybe to get involved in cross cultural mission or go into full time pastoral work and you seek the guidance of your church leaders and they say “I don’t think so.”

In my late teens, early 20s I got involved in some preaching at the Gospel Hall in Bradford. I was also offered the opportunity to work for a little Pentecostal church, I did some things voluntarily and they were prepared to find a way for me to stick with them longer.  However, I realised at the time it wouldn’t be right for them or me.  Then I moved to Kent and began working in aerospace and defence and became a member of a local church.  Whilst there I attend the Keswick convention and was challenged during one of the talks about committing to full time gospel ministry.  I had been at Christchurch Fulwood, whilst at University and my old vicar Phil Hacking was at the convention. I spoke with him and he advised me to go back and talk with the elders at my home church.

When I got back, I did speak with them…and their response was “No.” You see, they saw where I was at that point of time, where my weaknesses were and where I needed to be challenged by God’s Word.

How could I have responded? Well, it would be very tempting to have walked away in a huff. I could no doubt have found a church that would have supported me. I could have used and built up the conversation with Phil Hacking – he was a close to a celebrity vicar as I was likely to meet and have a conversation with.  In reality, it was a quick chat with someone whose church of 600 + I’d attended but I could have read it as an endorsement/encouragement to go ahead with something.  I could have gone onto Bible college and found someone to give me a reference.

In the end, I didn’t. I stuck around.  I realised that the priority was to be part of my local church and serve God where I was and however I was asked.  I grew to love the church, it really became my spiritual home and family.  Then a few years later a friend of mine reminded me that I’d considered possible theological training at some point. He encouraged me to start thinking seriously about it, to investigate possibilities and most importantly to talk with the elders again.  On this occasion the church agreed to send me to Oak Hill and from there we ended up at Bearwood.

So I think that the “how do you respond to the ‘no’ answer?” question is vital.  If we are not prepared to hear the church say “no.” Then we risk pursuing our own ambitions and dreams at the expense of the body.  Indeed, this is one of the problems with the whole language of a calling. It becomes more about my personal expectations and experience and less about discerning what God’s church needs and how God is equipping and enabling me to help meet a particular need.

If the answer is no but the “calling” is right then God is sovereign and he will take charge. It may be a timing issue and in fact, I would normally prefer to say “not at this time” rather than “no never”[1]  Or it may be that God has other ways in which he wants me to exercise the gifts he has given me.

The answer “no” teaches me a lot about myself. It teaches me patience. It teaches me that life isn’t all about me. It teaches me that I cannot expect to get my way all the time. It teaches me to understand God’s bigger plans. It teaches me to identify with the frustrations and set backs of the people God calls me to serve.

[1] As we’ve seen before, there are circumstances where an outright no is necessary.