Sometimes the Holy Spirit’s Call is Unexpected and Unfamiliar

Born to Lead; Born to Equip

Born to Lead — Embracing a Calling: Christa’s story

Tomboy. This label still seems far too domesticated a term for my childhood as I loved tromping through creeks, making elaborate forts, crawling around in camouflage, and climbing up pine trees. My parents never discouraged my outlets of energy nor my desires to become a detective, a lawyer, or the president; they encouraged me to be all God made me to be. Interestingly, the message I received in Sunday school and gleaned from weekly sermons did not match my parents’ encouragement. As a result, I found little support as I grew up to pursue my gifts in teaching and communication within the church. These were gifts that men were supposed to foster in order to lead. Not women. Thus, I abandoned pursuit of becoming all I might be in the body of Christ, be it a preacher, a pastor, or a minister. However, as I grew older and my love for God’s Word began to soak down into my spirit, I noticed that the messages I had received in church seemed at odds with my reading and understanding of the gospel. 

A few years later, I went on to major in philosophy and women’s studies at a state university and began to think more critically about the interpretations I had been taught my whole life. I also began to teach more regularly. I had an opportunity to serve at a local church near my university and, after a couple of years, had gained the trust of the leadership to teach the youth group on a regular basis. After five years, they allowed me to serve as an interim youth director and to oversee the teaching and spiritual direction of more than seventy students. While on staff at this church, I also had the opportunity to teach at a youth camp and speak at weekend retreats. During one of the summer camps, I had an intense confirmation from the Lord that I was made to teach and to lead. I saw him using me, and students' lives were changing. Analogies and illustrations often came to me while I was teaching, and I found myself explaining them with ease and clarity. Simplifying the complex was as effortless as breathing, and I knew it was not me, but the Holy Spirit. This is when I met Matt.

Born to Equip — Discovering the Called: Matt’s story

Growing up in a very large and very traditional church, I was steeped in the lingo and doctrine that stereotypically defines such believers. I knew the Romans road and the Sunday morning liturgy. I was even developing my own three-point sermons. I was an active participant in my youth group who was not satisfied with simply praying a prayer and responding to an altar call. Beginning to ask questions and dig deeper into the Word, I stood out among my peers as a leader and an example, or so I was told. 

As a male, I was never discouraged from being whatever I had it in me to be, and I was frequently encouraged to be a pastor. I understood “pastor” to mean someone who spoke well, who could lead a large group, and who could come up with sermon points that rhymed or started with the same letter. No one asked me what my gifts were or encouraged me to discover and strengthen them. I was a “leader” in my youth group and, thus, encouraged to be a pastor, for all real leaders were pastors, and all pastors were men. 

No one ever walked me through the doctrine of the roles of men and women, but I knew full well what each gender was supposed to do. I knew about God’s order, male-female makeup, and positions within the church that each could hold. I never questioned these things. I did hold a relatively high view of women, however, and, as I entered college, I began to have difficulty reasoning through my beliefs on what men and women could and couldn’t do. It wasn’t until serving at a summer camp that I began to more thoroughly seek answers to the questions that arose within me. 

At this summer camp, I met my future wife, Christa. However, if anyone would have told me at the outset that I would marry her, I would not only have laughed, but I also would have high-tailed it out of that camp as fast as my feet could run. I couldn’t stand her. I refrain from saying I hated her because good Christians don’t hate people. But I was close. She was a philosophy and women’s studies major; she was intelligent; she was outspoken; she was a leader. These were traits I learned to be hesitant to affirm in women, because I thought they were out of place and didn’t belong.

However, as the camp progressed, the Lord was working in me in ways I wouldn’t understand until much later. I witnessed a woman who was gifted to teach and to lead, and she was really good at it. I saw the Spirit of God working in and through her in undeniable ways, and I slowly became an advocate for her. She was not someone who commanded attention by a loud voice or some feigned talents. It was a God-given gift within her that necessitated attention and accomplished kingdom-ends. By the close of the camp, I grew to respect Christa because of her giftings, and I later realized a miraculous work taking place within me because of God’s gifts in her. The questions of what women could do and the doctrines I had adopted were now clashing with one another as I adopted a gifts-based service mentality. To me, it was simple: if God had truly gifted this woman to teach and lead, then she should teach and lead. Also, if he had so designed Christa, he had surely done the same thing with many other women. She was not merely the exception to the rule; perhaps, I thought, the rule itself needed to be questioned. 

Meeting Christa and seeing her serve in her gifts was God’s way of beginning to answer my internal questions about men and women and their abilities to serve. The transformation of my perspective, however, was not solely experiential. As I took my experience back to Scripture, I began to see service in God’s kingdom in a new light. The exclusivity of male-only leadership I had once betrothed as fundamental to the body of Christ was divorced from me as powerfully as when I had accepted it.

Brought Together — Hoping for Change

A year into marriage, we now eagerly live out our passions and callings together. My (Christa’s) calling is teaching others who they are in Christ because if we know this incredible truth, then Christ can be all he wants to be in us to change the world to further his kingdom. This passion keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning. For this reason, when I have faced the common “that can’t be your calling because you’re a woman” mentality, I pursue the calling rather than an argument. If God wants to change the opinion, he will. Often, I have discovered, our lives are the best argument. Matt is a case in point. He is now my biggest supporter and I am his.

My most difficult struggle, however, has been learning to move past these opinions of dismissal and opposition in a loving way. While in college, it took years of persistently living out my passions to gain the trust of the all-male leadership at my highly conservative church. It took time to read and study what I believe the Bible teaches about men and women but also patience and discernment for when to share my beliefs. Finally, it took countless tears of frustration to finally let go and trust that God was actually using me. Now, looking back, I am so grateful for those opportunities to experience my blood-soaked right to serve. Christ died for it in love, and now, what a joy to live for it in that same love.

Before I (Matt) experienced the Lord changing my heart about men and women, I figured I would get married, but I had no idea what marriage was all about. Now, just over a year into marriage, I still have a lot to learn about what it is all about. But God has given us an awareness of his kingdom and that we can be a strategic force for its advancement together. I used to think marriage would help me accomplish my goals and that a wife would help me meet the plans I had, but now I know that God’s purpose for us is to accomplish his goals and to discover the plans he has. Daily, God unravels his purpose for us a little bit more, and we are finding that our gifts coincide and that our passions collaborate.

Nothing thrills me more than to see people seek to serve God and others in their unique gifts and pursue whatever end God has for them. I love to see people step outside the box of human expectations and pressures and truly seek to follow God and make a positive difference in the world. Seeing people experience the practical outworking of faith has been a passion of mine for quite some time, and it was not until I met Christa that I realized the perfect complement to my calling. Christa’s passion is identity while mine is practicality; she seeks a firm foundation in the transcendent, and I seek a life that truly makes a difference. But, neither passion is most fully realized apart from the other. In order for a life of most practical and powerful impact to exist, it must come from one who is secure in her identity in Christ. An identity truly seated in God’s transcendent reality must have functional and meaningful impact.

The end result of our gifts and passions is yet to be completely realized. But, as we encourage one another to serve God the way we were created to serve, results even greater than we could have imagined are taking place. As the Spirit leads, we trust that the kingdom of God will grow and expand because of his work in and among us. It is not because we are any more capable or gifted than the next couple, but because we seek to build up the body of Christ in the way he has created us to do so (Eph. 4). Each of us has something unique to offer, and each of us is called to offer it.

Recognizing Your Unexpected and Unfamiliar Call

You may be receiving a call from the Holy Spirit if:

  • You can’t shake the thought and find yourself visualizing what the possibilities could be
  • You have a sense of urgency about acting on the calling
  • These thoughts and this urgency keep you up at night and often wake you up in the morning
  • You’ve prayed about it and asked for God’s clarity, and the vision/calling persists
  • You have spent time in Scripture and have tested this calling in light of its kingdom impact
  • You have a peace about devoting your time and energy to this calling, even if that means “failing.” (You can’t really fail if this is what God is calling you to do, but from an external perspective, even if your dedication seems fruitless, are you willing to keep at it?)

Recognizing and Supporting Your Spouse’s Call

If gradually your spouse’s passion becomes your passion, and supernaturally your heart begins to turn in that calling’s direction, this often means the calling is from the Lord. Even if this does not happen, pray for ways to encourage and complement this in your spouse. Keep in mind that the point of marriage is not simply our own happiness, but that happiness is a by-product of pursuing what God has called us to do for the sake of his kingdom