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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Connecting Call to Grit

Written by: on September 13, 2018

As a missionary, one of the questions I frequently get asked is, “How did God call you to France?”

Everyone loves a good “call” story.

Indeed, most missionaries can point to a moment when they sensed either a pull towards a particular people group or an inclination towards a particular type of ministry. Whether through AWANAS to a young a child, through Urbana to an idealistic university student, or through a vacation to a foreign country (as was the case for me), God finds the means to impress His passion for the lost on the hearts of His own. The testimony of one’s call is often fraught with a combination of the mundane and the divine and represents a holy culmination of past circumstances, present longings, and future aspirations spurring one on to meet her destiny.

With respect to calling, Andy McCullough suggests, “The question isn’t What do I want to do? or What do I want to do for God? but What does God want me to do?”[1]Anyone who has had the sense of calling knows that “I” moves from subject to object, becoming a willing pawn in the hand of the Great Player. We are His, and eager to do His bidding.

“Experiencing a calling is perhaps the single most important phenomenon that takes place in an individual’s life and has many positive consequences for the individual and organizations.”[2]

I wonder if this idea of “calling” is one type of what Tina Seelig, author of Insight Out, refers to as “internal motivation.”[3] Citing the work of Wrzesniewski and Schwarts, Seelig explains that when people depend exclusively on external drivers—such as financial rewards or pleasing people—performance actually suffers. It is those whose work is rooted in a deep sense of meaning, who “desire to make the world a better place,” that tend to succeed in the end.

If a calling becomes a missionary’s “internal motivation,” then shouldn’t that missionary be more effective in his or her work? Unfortunately, it’s hard for missionaries to hold tight to their sense of calling. As is true of secular professionals, “most of us are instructed to blindly follow the path someone else has set, given predetermined assignments with one right answer.”[4] Mission agencies, having prayerfully determined their own “calling,” recruit field workers and train them to accomplish organizational goals. They welcome the energy of a starry-eyed new recruit, but then indoctrinate the novice with their preferred means of evangelization, discipleship, and church planting. Seelig notes, “The problem with following someone else’s plan is that it doesn’t tap into your own internal motivation.”[5]

I think this is why God gives us calling stories to tell. Perhaps it is even a gift that missionaries are often asked to tell and retell the story of their call. We need to hear it ourselves, to remind ourselves, to PREACH to ourselves, the truth of call we have received. When sending agencies, urgent needs, or the whims of supporters pull and prod us away from that call, we must go back to where we started. The ability to stay the course is a quality that has become known as “hardiness” or “grit.”

In a TED Talk entitled, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Lee Duckworth explains, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”[6]

While “grit” is emerging as a key contributor to success in many arenas, my experience is that “grit” often upsets or disturbs the powers that be. Perhaps that it why it is so named, for just as the sand irritates the oyster, so those with grit tend to offend the organizational structures in which they operate. Critics don’t deter those with grit; in fact, gritty people allow conflict and criticism to make them stronger. Seeling observes, “Those who do not seek out ‘universal approval,’ but welcome ‘objective critics’ are building grit and likely to persevere.”[7]

Furthermore, while “grit” seems to epitomize the missionary heroes of old—such as Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael, some might question the grittiness of millennials. Fritz Kling, author of The Meeting of the Waters, asks, “Beyond the hip clothes and cool gadgets, will they bring enough depth and commitment to very difficult cross-cultural assignments?”[8] Missions researcher Detlef Blöecher echoes this concern, stating, “Stamina and self discipline are not their strengths.”[9]

Since organizational structures appear adverse to grittiness and the emerging generation is judged to be lacking in it, what can possibly be done? The good news is that Duckworth believes that grit is something that can be learned.[10] Perhaps instead of training and developing missionaries towards a pre-programed, one-size-fits-all approach to ministry, better results would be obtained by focusing on individual calling and the building of grit. In marrying these two ideas, missions may be able to survive the challenges of the 21st century.

[1] Andy McCullough, Global Humility: Attitudes for Mission (UK: Malcolm Down Publishing, 2018).90.

[2] Fred Wantaat, “Spirituality in the Workplace: Source of a Calling, Levels of Living a Calling, Job Satisfaction, and Life Satisfaction Among Indian and Ugandan Leaders,” Theology of Leadership Journal 1, no. 1 (2018): 49–66.

[3] Tina Lynn Seelig, Insight out: Get Ideas out of Your Head and into the World, First edition (New York, NY: HarperOne, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2015). 68.

[4] Seelig. 67.

[5] Seelig. 68.

[6] Angela Lee Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, accessed September 13, 2018, https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance?language=en.

[7] Seelig, Insight Out.153.

[8] Fritz Kling, The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church, 1st ed (Colorado Springs, Colo: David C. Cook, 2010). 20.

[9] Detlef Bloecher, “World Mission in the 21st Century: 12 Modern Trends – DMG,” DMG, accessed April 20, 2018, https://www.dmgint.de/mission/id-12-modern-trends.html.

[10] Duckworth, Grit.

About the Author

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Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

8 responses to “Connecting Call to Grit”

  1. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Really good Jen. Grit can be taught. Or I might phrase it, Grit can be grown. Hot to have Grit might be able to be taught in a class room, but grit can only be grown or built, one layer at a time. If we can figure out how to build character and grow grit in a classroom, we could change the upcoming generations to be incredible leaders.

    • Yes, I agree. Grit cant be taught, but it can be learned, and it is typically learned throug experiences that develop it. Perseverance begets perseverence, in a way. So how do we creat” “classrooms” or training opportunities that become environments for “grit development”?

  2. Salut Jenn,

    Regarding grit and millennials, I think they do have grit, but it’s a different kind of grit than older generations expect or encourage because their motivations and commitments are to different things. So they may not have stamina and self-discipline to old models that they judge are obsolete (ie. the typical mission enterprise), but many are committed to cross-cultural engagement, lifestyles, and communities. Here is one fantastic example of millennials who Move In to slums and low-income housing as followers of Christ. I have high respect for the millennial founder, Nigel Paul, and his leadership, and my clients have backed their expansion.

    http://www.movein.to

    PS. My friend Fritz Kling would be overjoyed to know his book is being quoted in a DMin blog! I’ll let him know. 😉

    • I quote King in my dissertation too! That’s cool that you know him.

      And yes, I’ve heard of movements like move in, and love them. Interesting, your observations about millennial engagement. (note: I did not question the gritiness of millennials, I just observed that their gritiness is being questioned :)) But you make an important distinction. And if I am seeking to connect grit to calling, that perhaps that is just the key. If we get better at honoring God-given calling, then maybe the grit part will take care of itself.

  3. Greg says:

    My own calling story put me in a place where I was challenged to go to someplace new, creative and unique. My agency then asked if I would go coordinate pastoral leadership training in Mexico. I said “no”. I love the freedom that our profession has allowed us to have.
    The problem with sending agencies is when they get too large and too impersonal to know the calling and understand the gifts of those called. I agree even within my own tribe we have many examples of top down roles that need to be filled rather than creative passions leading to innovation techniques.

  4. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jenn!

    Calling! OH YES. As a superintendent, we can help with competency, but not with calling, yet calling is such a key. It is my opinion that someone without a calling will drift, and may eventually wash out. It is so compelling, this calling, and without it I would not have lasted one month in the ministry, as a church matriarch called for my resignation at our first leaders meeting. Thankfully the CALL was unmistakable, which allowed perseverance, and because of it, much fruitfulness has transpired. Thank you so much for writing on this!

  5. Dona says:

    numerous various angles. Its like men and women aren’t interested except it is something to do withMost impoprtant point is choosing words

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