Divine Calling as Motivation to Study

by Glenda Hepplewhite
29th April 2021

Have you ever wondered what motivates people to study? Universities, policy makers and educators regard this as an important question. The answer helps drives policy and shapes the regulation that governs one of Australia’s biggest sectors – Higher Education.

I recently completed my PhD thesis focusing on this very question - why students choose to attend Bible College? Furthermore, why they study theological courses and more specifically why they choose Alphacrucis College.

According to our website, Alphacrucis College (AC) theology and ministry degrees are designed to prepare graduates for “ministry and leadership within church and community settings.” The importance of Graduate preparation is a consideration for selection, according to the sector. But there may be a deeper spiritual significance about selection – ‘Divine calling.’ For many Pentecostals divine vocational ‘calling’ is regarded as a personal encounter with God, empowering people for Christian service.[1]

However, little research has been done on Divine calling as a motivating factor for students choosing a particular institution or course. In discussion with students, analysis of the Student Experience Survey (SES) and Graduate Outcome Survey (GOS) demonstrates students at AC are motivated to fulfil their ministry calling through: divine choice; vocational opportunity; and egalitarian affirmation.

Through my research, I noted three aspects to understanding call as a motivation:

1.       Divine Choice as Evidence of Relationship

2.       Calling as Revelation of God’s Direction

3.       Cultural Affinity: The Importance of Mission and Vision

These are explained below:

1.       Divine Choice as Evidence of Relationship

So, how do we understand ministry calling and its impact on choice of study? Theologian H. Richard Neibuhr describes the call into ministry as a “secret” or “that inner persuasion or experience whereby a person feels himself [sic] directly summoned or invited by God to take up the work of the ministry.”[2] Divine calling symbolises a dynamic relationship between God and an individual. Calling requires the support of community. It denotes that the direction of the believer’s private life and vocation are fundamentally entwined within a community which recognises the gifts and call to service in a concrete way. The Pentecostal worldview anticipates and expects God to act in personal and supernatural ways providing the believer remains in close relationship with the Holy Spirit.[3]

One student describes it as “doing what God asks you to do. A form of service to people and to God. Doing whatever God directs you to do, a heart for service.” It is the outworking of one’s faith. Serving others is part of God’s plan for His community.

2.       Calling as Revelation of God’s Direction

For many students, a call from God to enter ministry is a compelling enough motivation to study theological education. One student says it like this, I very clearly heard God say go to bible college … having that direction from God kept me focussed.

3.       Cultural Affinity: The Importance of Mission and Vision

In addition to a divine and distinct call into ministry, students are also motivated to choose a particular college owing to a sense of cultural affinity with a particular institution. There is often a sense of God’s ‘leading’ and direction in this part of the decision process. This is also extended to a successful relationship between the church and the college.

Research finds that vision and mission statements of a Christian educational institution can be an inspirational and aspirational message, as well as an invitation to potential applicants to participate. As Abelman and Dalessandro state:

[T]he mission statements reflect the realities of their institutions’ environments, whereas vision statements drive these realities … Institutional vision defines the kinds of human beings the academic establishment is attempting to cultivate and recognizes the skills, sensibilities, values, attitudes, and understandings students should be acquiring during their education.[4]

The aspirational outcome of the strategic mission statement is the intrinsic development of the student. The mission statement of AC is “equipping Christian leaders to change the world.”[5] The vision is to become a “global Christian university, transforming neighbourhoods and nations.”[6]

In summary, Divine calling is an invitation from God to participate. The students who chose God’s direction believe they are assured of a good outcome although admit it is often not the way they imagined or desired. They believe they have something more to learn both personally and spiritually on this stage of the journey. The sense of God’s leading and direction provides them with the courage to continue. Divine calling frames the aspirations, motivations, and educational choices of many students, a hand in glove fit with AC.

[1] Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity, 196.

[2] H. Richard Neibuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1956), 64.

[3] Martin Medhurst, “Filled with the Spirit: Rhetorical Intervention and the Pentecostal Tradition,” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 7, no. 4 (Winter 2004): 565.

[4] Robert Abelman and Amy Dalessandro, “Institutional Vision in Christian Higher Education: A Comparison of ACCU, ELCA and CCCU Institutions,” Journal of Research on Christian Education 18 (2009): 85.

[5] “Our Mission, Vision and Values,” Alphacrucis College, accessed June 14, 2020, https://www.ac.edu.au/about/vision-mission-values/.

[6] Ibid.