When what we were created to be doesn’t align with what we’re doing, the result is restless discontent. In this conversation with Exponential Director Todd Wilson and author of the new book More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to the Fullest Measure (Zondervan), Wilson shares some of his own story and what it looks like to live life more abundantly (John 10:10) and function in our sweet spot.
Todd, talk about your experience with the nagging restless discontent that so many people experience. When did you begin to feel that way?
My restless discontent goes back 20 years ago. I have always known from age 12 that I wanted to be a nuclear engineer. I went off to college, got a degree in nuclear engineering, and was hired out of college into the premier engineering organization in the world. I promoted quickly. Success was at every turn. I thought I would spend the rest of my career there. But a funny thing happens with success. It never satisfies itself. My restlessness started with just the question, “Is this what I’m going to do with the rest of my life?”
My restlessness started with just the question, “Is this what I’m going to do with the rest of my life?”
How did you start to get clarity for your life?
Right at the time I was in my restlessness, I saw the book Halftime by Bob Buford. The book’s subtitle, “Changing Your Game Plan From Success to Significance,” immediately struck me. I realized the restlessness I was experiencing was really rooted in the success I was having. I was really asking, “Isn’t there something more of significance for the rest of my life?” I devoured the book. Bob’s entrepreneurial journey sparked an entrepreneurial journey in me. I decided to start a company, and abruptly God showed me that wasn’t the plan. My pastor, Brett Andrews, had been telling me, “You’re supposed to be in ministry.” He kept saying to me, “Imagine if you said, ‘I’m going to seek first the Kingdom and put all of my experience and ability to work to advance the Kingdom.’”
Ultimately, at the end of a two-year wrestling match with God, I got clarity that God was saying, “Just trust me. Go into ministry.” As soon as I went into ministry, the entrepreneurial switch flipped on, and I was able to be a part of starting a number of ministries: Exponential, Passion for Planting, Church Marketing Solutions and others.
In More, you talk about the “sweet spot” of our calling and how you became a student of the sweet spot. How do we know when we’re in our sweet spot?
Every sweet spot in nature has three common elements: design, purpose and position. The very questions we’re wrestling with in life are those elements:
- Who am I created to BE? (design)
- What am I created to DO? (purpose)
- Where am I created to GO? (position)
When we’re in our sweet spot, all three of these elements align. We are who we were uniquely created to be doing what we were uniquely created to do in the context of where we are uniquely created to go. When the answers to all three of these questions are what you’re currently experiencing in your life, you know you’re in your sweet spot.
What areas do church leaders often miss that lead to misalignment and ultimately discontent?
Most church leaders have a strong sense of the “do” part of their calling. They tend to see their calling through the lens of “do” and “go.” They’ve been trained for ministry (the “do”) in a church (the “go”), but because they don’t understand their unique identity (the “be”) or have confused it with one of the other two, the “who God has created them to be” doesn’t line up with the “what they’re doing” and the context they’re doing it in. Part of why we wrestle with these “Is this what I’m going to do with the rest of my life?” questions is because we’re not functioning in our sweet spot. Our “be, do and go” are misaligned. When that happens, the result is restless discontent.
So church leaders have to ask themselves: Am I doing something that’s allowing my unique identity to show itself? When the answer is “no,” it’s time to reassess.
Talk about the connection between functioning in our sweet spot and Jesus’ words in John 10:10: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (KJV).
The difference between having life and having an abundant life is fullness. It’s the difference between living in your sweet spot and not living in your sweet spot.
When we’re not in our sweet spot—when our “be, do and go” aren’t aligned—we’re not having life to the full.
In your research, you discovered that church historians identify two parts to calling: primary and secondary calling.
Right. We all share the same primary calling. We don’t have to discover it. We are to be disciples of Jesus with His fullness in us who carry that fullness to others in making disciples wherever we go (the “be, do and go”). Our secondary calling is rooted in Ephesians 2:10:
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
God gives each of us a unique calling so that we can play our unique role in carrying Jesus into every corner of society. Calling is fundamentally about having the fullness of Jesus in us (primary) and pouring out His fullness (secondary).
And these primary and secondary callings must work together for us to take hold of abundant life.
In the 1600s, Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister, talked about this. He used a boat with two oars as an illustration. One oar is primary calling; the other is secondary calling. To move the boat in a specific direction, you need both oars in the water working together. If no oars are in the water, you’ll just drift. Mather highlights the consequences of only putting one oar in the water. We’ll spin in circles, never accomplishing the mission we were made for—which leads to frustration, lack of joy and discontent. God uses discontent to compel us to put both oars in the water.
Bob Buford highlights this with two questions he says we’ll have to face someday before Jesus:
- What did you do with who Jesus said He was? Did you respond and surrender to His Lordship? (the fullness of Jesus in us—our primary calling)
- What did you do with what Jesus uniquely gave you to work with? How did you respond to the unique abilities and design He gave you and the good works He called you to do? (pouring out the fullness of Jesus to other people—our secondary calling)
The answer to Bob’s second question only finds true meaning and significance when it grows out of our answer to the first question. If we want to move from “having life” to “having abundant life,” our primary and secondary callings must work together. Think about a pitcher overflowing with water. You can only pour out what’s inside of it (primary calling), and you have to pour out all of the water to be filled again (secondary calling: “be, do and go”). It’s a beautiful picture of how the two work together.
Todd, what barriers do we have to confront to find our unique calling and live in our sweet spot?
Background noise. For two years, my wife and I tried to hear the voice of God when I was wrestling with the idea of going into ministry. But there was so much background noise we couldn’t tune it out. I was reading in Job 33 where God essentially tells Job, “If you’ll just be quiet, I have something to say to you.” So I went on a three-day prayer fast to the town I grew up in and said, “God, you’re going to have to speak to me.” He didn’t answer one question I had that day, but He did give me a sense of peace of, “Just trust Me.” That couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gotten myself into a position where I could block out the background noise and just listen.
The scorecard. We had to put to death the scorecard we had been living with and embrace an eternal scorecard that didn’t make much sense to us. The only time I know of when Jesus talks about accumulation is when He basically says in Matthew 6, “Store up for yourself treasure in heaven by deploying what you have here on earth.” We had to trade the scorecard of accumulation here for a new, eternally focused scorecard.
Talent burying. In the Parable of the Talents, the master goes away and leaves his talents to three stewards. The third servant buries his talent in fear of losing it. He doesn’t know what to do with it, so he just does nothing. Too many times, we bury our talents because we don’t know what to do with them and we’re afraid of losing what we have or letting it go because we’re not really sure God will give us more.
Identifying these barriers and others that are keeping us from the abundant life Jesus said He came to give really gets back to our primary calling. Are you truly being a disciple? Calling is found in the work of God in you. Pursuing your primary calling requires doing the work to overcome what we have to in order to listen, respond and surrender to His call on our lives to be and make disciples who pour out His fullness into every nook and cranny of our world.
Todd Wilson is founder and director of Exponential and author/co-author of several Exponential eBooks, including Becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church, Spark: Igniting a Culture of Multiplication and others. A serial entrepreneur certified in several personal discovery tools, including life planning and coaching, Todd is passionate about equipping the Church to discover and release the latent capacity of their unique personal calling. To learn more about calling, go to personalcalling.org.