I Long for a Calling Driven church

At a prayer group in 1988, I felt urged to pray over a man. As I prayed I felt God say, “If this man left this prayer group, it would make no difference. And that is a tragedy.”

Instantly I felt grief for this unappreciated man. I prayed, “Yes Father, it is a tragedy. I feel so sorry for him.”

Immediately I heard God respond, “No, his life is not the tragedy —I’ll take care of him. The tragedy is the loss to this body because he was not allowed to offer what I put in him to give. This body will never be what it could have been.”

The ache

I deeply long—I believe it’s a God-given ache—to be a part of a Calling Driven church.

(By church—small “c”—I mean neither the Church through the ages nor an Institution like the Roman Catholic or Lutheran Church; I mean a grouping of “two or more” who regularly gather to worship, pray, and care for each other, like a parish, congregation, intentional community, or prayer group.)

I long to see a body (church) which realizes the clues to its own identity are found in the identities of its members—one that helps each member discover their unique purpose.

Mechanical and Organical

Consider two different models of organization, mechanical and organic. A mechanical organization looks to its mission to find its “parts.” These parts are replaceable commodities. A car engine needs pistons, bearings, spark plugs, etc. When a spark plug fails, we replace it with the identical model, and the car runs as it did before.

Corporations are mechanical organizations. If they lose a receptionist or CFO, they “buy” another receptionist or CFO, and they run as they did before, without missing a beat.

An organic structure functions completely contrary. It looks to its parts to find its mission. Its parts are unique and irreplaceable. A human body has fingers, toes, lungs and elbows. As an infant grows, it learns its life through discovery of its parts and how to use them; it learns how to grab with hand-eye coordination, how to walk with inner ear balance and feet, and what to pursue with its heart and passion.

When a body part is lost or injured, the whole body suffers. A lost limb is irreplaceable. I once jammed my thumb. I was amazed at the life effect of this smallest injury; typing, shaking hands, and grabbing a fork … all hurt like heck.

Most churches—alas—are mechanical organizations. If we lose a Sunday School teacher or piano player we get another “member” to take their place, like a spark plug on a car, and we run just like before, without missing a beat.

The Designer

Mechanical organizations have human designers who create a mission and find parts to fulfill it. Organic structures have a Divine Designer, and they find their mission through discovery and examination of the parts that the Devine Designer provides.

Most churches—alas, maybe all—operate with human designers. Leaders design missions and programs and then look for members to be spark plugs. We turn elbows into toes, and livers into lungs. We wonder why we are ineffective and unattractive.

Because it hurts like heck to walk on our elbows. And it looks weird.

Instant Community

Several years ago I attended a Calling Exploration Experience retreat.* It included twelve hours of small group time with three other men I had never met. In our meetings we applied Calling principles into each man’s individual life. We helped each other discover our God given gift of what to offer to the world.

It was instant community. I came to know each man more deeply  than I had in any other small group experience. We looked into each man’s life. We saw and affirmed God’s imprint there. I experienced deep joy—joy in discovering my Calling, yes—but 75% of the time I was helping others find their Calling. Helping others was equally joyful, perhaps more so.

I long for organic community—church—for every day of my life, something like we had on that weekend.

I long

I long to belong to a Calling Driven church, where we daily help each other discover and develop each other’s calling and character.

I long to belong to a body where we look to the God given unique body parts in order to discover our corporate mission, where we ask, “Why did God bring us Tammy and Tim? How will their new membership change who we are?”


Imagine a body whose leaders could honestly say, “Join us to discover what God designed you to bring to the world and how to deeply experience love, joy, and peace.”

Our buildings would burst like overfilled balloons.

I’m not alone. We all long to belong to a body like this. Besides, our elbows are getting sore.


[See also, The Calling Driven church – Putting Meat on the Bones]

* The best way I know to learn our calling is to participate in a Calling Exploration Experience retreat or an Online Calling Class, and reading, It’s Your Call.

© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart. All rights reserved.


26 Responses to I Long for a Calling Driven church

  1. Laura Cowan says:

    100% completely agree. Do you think modern churches are so ingrained in this mechanical model that you would have to start a new church to find organic health, or that being presented with this idea would be attractive to a lot of people currently leading churches? I would hope it would be the latter, but my unsuccessful search for a church like this makes me wonder. I have found a women’s small group that functions like this, though. Healthy churches are out there, if only a dozen people at a time. (Of course this is in the same church where the other group I am a part of is exactly like the one you mentioned at the beginning of your post. I finally decided I had to leave.)

    • Hi Laura,

      Do I think it would take a NEW church (versus changing a church)? Well, I hope so. I really long for this.

      Someone once said that, we don’t change because the pain of changing is greater than the pain of status quo. But…eventually the pain of the status quo become greater than the pain of change, and then we change.

      Many American churches (and prayer groups, and intentional communities…) find that their people are not real in meetings; they are not themselves. In fact, neither are the leaders. And yet we all want to live with integrity and authenticity. Someday, the pain of our current mechanical approach will be too great, and we’ll change.

      I’m glad you found a women’s group that works this way. We all need that. And, yes, I know about your other experience. I’m sad for that.


      • Laura Cowan says:

        I have wondered for a while if people who think they are being patient with an unhealthy situation just have a high “pain tolerance” that actually causes them more pain, in that they wait far too long to seek good change. This is true of me (I was in that bad group 3 years with no sign of improvement!) as well as people who stay in churches that aren’t headed anywhere good. I think the problem is that people who stay feel the need to belong to some kind of community and don’t know where else to find it, but I recently discovered in letting go of my bad situation without having anything to replace it that God was right there to take care of me. Encouragement, love, faithfulness just came out of the woodwork from the most unexpected places. So I’ll keep taking the leap, I guess. It’s God that provides, after all. Not any church.

        • I love your closing line, “So I’ll keep taking the leap, I guess. It’s God that provides, after all. Not any church.”

          I wonder if that isn’t a life lesson we need to keep learning over and over and over. We have this deep tendency to want to depend on “man” (or woman :-)); so we can be so disappointed when our bosses, parents, friends, and spouse “fail” us.

          But, as you say, let’s keep taking leaps of faith, trusting that it is GOD who provides.


  2. Christi says:


    • Hi Christi,

      I suspect your “sigh” means you sharing this longing. Right?

      Here is the oddity. Everyone–well most everyone–I know longs to be real. I mean believers and non-believers alike. And yet most people I know lain they are least real in church. That is where they “put on a happy face.” (I am not saying anything new.)

      In addition, many (most?) people I know don’t actually know who they are deep inside. Thus all this, “reinvent yourself” stuff. Of course, if we don’t know who we are, it is hard to BE who we are.

      Way if our churches could say, “We’ll help you discover who you are, and this is a place to be real, to BE who you are.”

      I long for that.

      What if our church (body, prayer group…)

      • Christi says:

        Yes…I share that ache. Interestingly I shared a devotional with a body of believers one month ago. It was about the organic body of Christ. And one of my first illustrations referred back to jamming my thumb playing volleyball 20 years ago. I certainly gained a new appreciation for my thumb.

        The thing that came to me while I was actually speaking, and which I thought about afterwards, was the importance of our bones. My thought had been that bones are essential (just as many parts are essential) in order to support the whole body. This little part of the body of Christ that I was speaking to has an underlying structure that allows everything else to work well. Even when leadership flows in and out, and members flow in and out, and focus changes from year to year, it works. Sometimes it does tend towards the mechanical, but I more often see this little group as organic.

        Are there other little gems out there which can give us examples of how an organic body works? What kinds of structures (for I’m sure that there isn’t just one model that actually works) support such an organism? I know that you could have the perfect structure and God could be completely absent. And I’m certain that God could lead organic bodies to be quite different from one another…but I’d love some inspiration and ideas. And I’m curious about *why* things which work well, work well.

        • Alex Thompson says:

          If we’re talking organic, then we need to look to Creation to see how organic works. In the plant and animal kingdom, created beings grow and act from the inside out; they act out of who they are designed to be. A mountain hunts deer because of who he is, not because someone imposed that upon him from outside.
          Of course, the environment around us impacts us and forces adaptation, like the forest fires burning in Colorado right now are imposing significant adaptation like move, get out of here! for the animals who are mobile. For the plants who aren’t mobile, they will be burned off, but except for the hottest burn areas, the roots and seed remain and they will repopulate the area. But the plants will still be the same plants once they grow back, and the elk and bear will return still be elk and bears when the forest grows back and they return.
          Our true calling and design is rooted in our DNA and can’t be imposed from the outside in; it’s got to come from the inside out.

        • Christi,

          I agree we need bones and flesh and muscle and organs.

          Our modern church is so infected with the corporate (post industrial) thinking that this will take work.

          But…wouldn’t it be great to be a part of this process?


  3. Alex Thompson says:

    Sam, there is something very, very significant in this that could change our whole perspective on a lot of things. I think we’re looking at a very significant paradigm shift and I’d like to spend some significant time pondering it, and the consequences of a significant shift of this nature.

  4. Alex,

    I agree. A calling driven community will require a paradigm shift. But it is a shift back. Scripture refers to the church (small “c”) as a body where the hands and feet can’t say they are more important, and the hands and feet can’t tell the rest of the body to be something they aren’t.

    I still long for this type of body, where we are equipping each other to bring to the world what God has called us individually to bring; and where the body can understand itself through the God designed nature of who he brings to each body.

    I love your thoughts. Thanks!

  5. Martha says:

    This one brought up a lot of interesting thoughts for me. That ache is painfully familiar to me–I’ve experienced the frustration of seeing a person with a profound but undervalued gift take that gift someplace else where they felt welcomed and given the freedom to work.

    I’ve also known the joy of being pastored by leaders who spotted strengths and perspectives in others that they lacked in themselves and who responded by giving those gifts plenty of rein and a blessing. Things can get a little messy that way, but people grow.

    I’m wondering, though, where filling a perceived need fits into the mechanical/organic spectrum. For instance, say the internal gifts of a church’s members are nourished and appreciated and utilized within, but the community around it has a particular ministry need or speaks a particular “love language” that this church is ill-equipped to address. Is addressing that need just not that church’s calling? I’m sure this is why God blesses communities with multiple churches, but on the other hand I’d hate to think that one of them might miss a call to strengthen a weak muscle or to look for a missing part, so to speak. What I mean is, an external need may be a legitimate tool for discerning a calling. So does the mechanical model hide any babies in the bathwater? Might a purely organic approach have a hidden weakness?

  6. John says:

    Wow, I’m still enjoying being invited and trusted to “take the boat out for a spin”….and then comes this new blog, which is again, golden! I’ve known the “long for” and the ache for way to long now. Understanding “Organic Church” is something I’m very interested in, there is a book about this I see posts about from time to time, but haven’t read it yet.
    I’m not writing this to take a position against “big church”, but, I’m beginning to see things differently. Jesus said….”how I long to gather you like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”. I’ve never seen a “mega-hen”. It encourages my soul to know Jesus also had the same “long” for banding us together. And whether we get banded together by meeting in “big church” or outside in the black market – Great!

  7. Jim says:


    A hearty yes.

    Your blog reminds me of two movies from the past. (Lorenzo’s Oil), where people are awakened to thier actual lives again, rather than a vegetative state. The second one is (Remember The Titans) where individuals come together as a team.

    My organic approach is to infect as many people as I can with the concept of “Calling”. My mens group has nearly finished Gregg Levoy’s book on “Calling” and I am already seeing signs of sprouts from those in the group to pursue clarity in thier own lives for thier personal Calling.

    I say let’s infect all those we can reach!

    • Hi Jim,

      That’s a great image, “Let’s infect all those we can reach!”

      I still hope we can find organizations (churches, bodies, communities…) who discover ways to make Calling part of their DNA. To walk in our Calling, we need outside help, men and women who see us better than we see ourselves.

      Thanks so much for you comments.

      • Jim says:

        Sam, You gave me a great idea. I recently attended a Spiritual gift identification class at my church. When it was done I stood up and commented on how we need to further encourage others to pursue thier Calling. I saw some great descriptions of Calling versus talents etc in a book by Dan Allendar. I think i will ask to be a part of the training group to raise awareness in my home church.

  8. Ron says:

    Hmmm, Sam, even without reading every comment, I think you have really hit something here… I recall some talk about pursuing people’s callings a little while back – how quickly it was pushed aside by other distractions, diversions… While some were able to put the time into a more thorough process, and truly benefit, there is something about having everyone exposed to testimony and teaching and encouragement over time, where they are, that we may have missed things… even just seeing what God is doing now in each person around us; learning to see what God is telling/showing each of us through the people around us…

    • Hi Ron,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I love your closing line, “learning to see what God is telling/showing each of us through the people around us…”

      Yes, we need to learn to “hear” God as he speaks to us through the people he brings. We look for “words” as answers, when God often sends “people” as answers.

      Great point. Thanks.

  9. Mary says:

    I appreciate the “turning elbows into toes” analogy. Along the same lines, God showed me the body of Christ as an orchard. You may be a cherry tree, and I am a pear, and other people in the orchard bear other types of fruit. You might be able to graft a few cherry branches onto my pear tree, and I may even bear a few cherries, but at the roots, I am still a pear. If I’m forced to try to bear cherries, others will surely be disappointed, and I may feel like I’m falling short. Furthermore, if we rid the orchard of everything but cherry trees, we lose the diversity that made that part of the body of Christ attractive and fruitful.

    My question, as I look at the posts, is this: What is the difference between those leaders who give “plenty of rein and a blessing” to those who possess gifts that they, themselves, lack, and who incorporate those into the body, versus those leaders who seek to maintain their “mission” and desire everyone to be the same “type of tree” that they are?

  10. Jim McFarland says:


    You expressed the same question at the end as I have had. It seems some leaders like there ducks in a row.Others seem to be more open to the “Wild Goose Chase”. i.e. Mark Batterson’s book.

  11. It is tremendously encouraging that this longing exists across so many different Christian groups. Well said!

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