God Does Not Call the Equipped. He Equips the Called. Really?
- God exists
- The Bible provides reasonable examples of how God interacts with humans
From time to time an e-mail will arrive in my inbox with the tag-line at the bottom: “God does not call the equipped. He equips the called.” The idea seems to be that a person’s natural or acquired talents are of no consequence to God’s calling of a person for a certain mission. The question I have when I read this tag line is where is the evidence? Is it true?
It turns out, there are a number of stories to support this claim. Let me share a few of them.
- The 12 disciples. The argument goes that if Jesus had selected disciples by their worldly talents, the only one to make the cut would have been Judas.
- Moses. A man who was not able to put a few words together is called to not only lead millions of people out of captivity but keep them together as a God-worshiping nation as they traversed some of the most inhospitable areas in the explored-world.
- King David. The boy who was too young and inexperienced to be conscripted into the Israeli army becomes the hero in one of the greatest underdog stories ever told, is anointed as the most important king in Jewish and Christian history, and becomes the ancestor (both symbolic and literal) to the Son of David, who would save the world.
And so, the preacher concludes his sermon, it doesn’t matter what talents you have. It doesn’t matter what kind of education you have. It doesn’t matter what you are good at. God will give you the skills to do his work.
But then there is Jason (not his real name). He wants to be a singer and lead people to God through music. He prays about this daily, and believes that God has called him to this mission. Unfortunately, Jason is a mediocre, at best, musician. Tuning on long notes is optional. Rhythm and timing are imprecise. He does not quite qualify as a prison singer (always behind a few bars and never in the right key), but no crowd (outside of his family and friends) will ever go see him.
And what about Joni (you guessed it, a pseudonym)? She wants to be a preacher. She has trouble putting together coherent paragraph, never mind a cohesive sermon. She is not good with people and she is part of a denomination which, to put it mildly, does not follow equal opportunity guidelines in their selection of ministers.
Both Joni and Jason believe (or at least believed at some point) they have been called to a specific ministry. Neither is working in the field of their calling. Both are employed in fields that would not be considered by anyone to be related to the areas in which they believed they were called.
Finally, there is Paul from the New Testament. He is educated. He is smart. He is a brilliant theologian. He is a compelling leader who knows how to inspire people and get things done — all of these things before he becomes a Christian. He had all of the things required to become the great church leader and theologian–who influenced the great majority of Christian thought– before he received God’s calling.
The question that we must consider when thinking of Jason, Joni and Paul is how do their stories match up with the statement “God does not call the equipped. He equips the called?” The conclusion I have reached is that they don’t.
There are, however, at least a couple of alternate explanations that would explain these discrepancies:
- If you don’t, eventually, get the talents you need (i.e. you aren’t equipped), you were never called. There is but one argument that can be made against this possibility. It is a tautology – circular in its reasoning. It’s what I like to call a “by definition” argument. These aren’t very helpful because they don’t really explain anything and they can be built around almost any conclusion. For example, I might contend that people with whom I disagree are always wrong. If suddenly I found someone who showed by other evidence that she was right and at the same time disagreed with me, I could, a) agree that my view of the world was wrong, or b) I could simply, which is what the if-you-aren’t-equipped-you-aren’t-called argument seeks to do, point them to be statement which says that since they disagree with me, they must be wrong and all the evidence they have presented must be invalid.
- God doesn’t always equip people for their calling concurrently with that calling. In other words, some people are prepared ahead of schedule of the purpose of God. This assertion answers the question about Paul but does not explain Jason or Joni. So while it is entirely possible that it is true, it does not provide enough support for the question of whether or not “God does not call the equipped. He equips the called.”
Considering all of this, a more reasonable explanation might be that this is not an accurate depiction of how God works. While I don’t deny that God has given people talents they did not have in order to accomplish his purpose, I would argue that this is the extraordinary case. This is the exception, not the rule.
I find that much more often, God calls people to tasks for which they are very well suited. Jeremy, the very successful pastor, who has always loved being with people and has a flare for business and selling things and ideas to people (the perfect skill-set for a pastor). David, the missionary who loves to travel and has a natural flair for languages.
Even in the examples shown above (David, Moses, the 12 disciples) one might argue that they already had some of the skills required to do the job God called them to do. David himself argues that he has gained the skills to kill the giant by shepherding sheep. And while Moses may not have been able to speak, he was trained in the most powerful court in the world of the time. And finally, the disciples…. Actually, it is not clear what skills they had ahead of time.
So what can we conclude? We conclude that our saying needs some modification. God does call those who are equipped. And this is not the exception. Most of the time God uses people who already have the talents, the skills, the experience to do the work. But not all of the time. There are exceptions.
God does not always call the equipped. Sometimes, He retrofits.