Calling versus Business Decision

— Rick West

It seems like only yesterday. I was 39 years old, living in Asia and working as an expatriate for a large CPG Company. We had just survived Y2K (our phones continued to work and my ATM still showed that I had cash in the bank), and we had just moved from Hong Kong to Bangkok, Thailand. Everything was going great, we had two healthy kids, in the process of adopting a baby from China and stock was up.

But, I had the itch. After 17 successful years with the company I was thinking about leaving corporate life to try something new. I was in search of my Calling (upper case “C”), my purpose and I was not getting any younger. I had narrowed things down to two possibilities.  I could go into vocational ministry (working for my home church in the states) or join a good friend of mine and start a business.

As I contemplated and prayed through these opportunities, my very wise wife said to me one day, “have you sought out any advice from other men about your decision?” I said, “of course, I talked to Doug, Lance, etc.” She then clarified by saying, “what about an old guy, someone with some wisdom.” I was speechless.  She was correct.  I had only run this past my thirty something friends who were all in the same phase of life as me and if they were honest, were living vicariously through my decision-making process.

So, I reached out to my friend Lee (who has a few years on me) and he suggested that I talk to a mentor of his (who had gray hair). We scheduled time and he listened intently as I talked about option one, a role with my home church in Ponte Vedra Beach Florida. I would be responsible for Men’s Ministry, Small Groups and would oversee the building of a school on some recently donated property. It was going to be amazing going back to the beach, hanging out with old friends and doing God’s work for the Church.

I then shared about the entrepreneurial opportunity in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It would allow me to start up a new business and to form a partnership with a longtime friend of mine. We would be creating a Shopper Marketing company that will be doing business with Fortune 500 companies as they do business with the world’s largest retailer. 

“…if you take this role with the Church I expect that you and your wife will be contemplating divorce within 18 months and that you will find yourself back in the business world.”

After I finished my overview of each option, I shared that I was leaning towards giving everything up and joining the staff of the church.  However, “I need your counsel in helping me discern which one of these is my Calling.” You could have heard a pin drop.  He paused for a moment and then made this statement, “you know Rick, guys like you are a dime a dozen…” This is not what I expected to hear, but there was more. He said, “Rick if you take this role with the Church I expect that you and your wife will be contemplating divorce within 18 months and that you will find yourself back in the business world.”

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I asked him why he would make that statement and with the wisdom of Solomon he answered with a question, “did you make a pros and cons list?” “Of course” I said. “I did it in excel, included multiple categories and had each line item with a weighted average factor. It took weeks to create, but I knew that it was about 95% accurate.”

He then chuckled and said that I was not processing God’s Calling for my life, but that I was making a business decision. He went on to give me a few examples that brought everything to light. 

The first example that he shared was that if a young man comes to you seeking your advice about asking his girlfriend to marry him and lays out a pros/cons list; go to that guy’s girlfriend and tell her to run – not walk from this guy. He is trying to determine what is best for him, not if he is in love with the woman that God created in advance to be his wife. If she was the one, he would fight for her and no one [especially not a friend] could convince him otherwise.

He went on to share that you knew back in the day, that a missionary is following God’s Calling to go on the mission field if they packed their belongings in a pine casket because they knew that they were not coming home. He went on to explain that if they had waited until they found the perfect mission assignment that had a great school for their children, safe drinking water, etc. that God would still be using them for His Glory, but it was not a calling.

I took all of this in and brought him back to his previous statement that I was not going to make it as a Vocational Minister. 

He said, “Rick you have spent 17 years building a career and a platform of business. He asked, “if you called a local prominent business person today, would they take your call and could you get them to agree to a meeting?” I said, “of course.” He then told me that once I became a vocational ministry that he predicted that those calls would go to voicemail and the meetings would be fewer and fewer over time.

Then for the first time, he imparted the wisdom that I was looking for. He said, “that the lay ministry is a powerful thing and that I should not walk away from the business platform that God had allow me to build. Use the platform and be salt and light in the business world the way that God has uniquely designed you to be.”

That was it – the lightbulb went off.  I had assumed that the only way to really sell out for God was to go into full time ministry.  I had discounted the impact that I could have for the Kingdom by being in the business world.

This story happened many years and a few start-ups ago. I can tell you today that my Calling is to be in the business world. No pros/cons list would have me see it differently. God has put me in this position and allowed me to have an impact on people of all ages and from all parts of the world.

So as contemplate your Calling, skip the pros/cons list. Jump right to prayer, spend time with your spouse and find someone with some gray hair to impart truth into your life…