LISTEN TO EP.78
Unlock the Road Map to Your Personal Calling
Did you know our calling usually isn’t revealed in a moment but unfolds over our lifetime? Brian Sanders, a social entrepreneur and the founder and former Executive Director of the Underground Network, explains what he calls ‘the six seasons of calling’ that provide structure for our development as we go through life. Defined as seasons of bonding, learning, serving, creating, giving, and leaving—whenever you find yourself in the sequence you will be encouraged to live mindfully, learn lessons from each, and discover what comes next. The good news is even if you don’t feel fully alive in your calling at this moment, you haven’t missed it! As you allow God to walk you through each season you will discover that you are capable of more than you ever imagined.
Welcome to the Influencers Podcast. We are here to see the influence of your life grow and develop to make your world a better world and the world that we live in. We’re talking about seasons today. Every life goes through seasons. Do you know the season of life that you are in? Do you know how to make the most of that season? How do you help the people around you in their seasons of life that they find themselves in today? We’re going to look with our wonderful guest, Brian Saunders, into the “Six Seasons of Calling”.
I’ve joined today as a co-host with the wonderful Mindy Wegner. She is a Communication, Leadership and Development Coach. Put her on your prayer list, please. She works as the Administrative Assistant to our Co-Founder Dave Donaldson, who is absent for some strange reason from the podcast. Mindy gets to work, right? She’s the glue that holds us together on this program and in this work. And we’re glad that you’re with us, Mindy. Thanks for joining us here on the podcast. Welcome, welcome, welcome.
Hey, Scott. It is great to be with you. And I don’t know. I think that thing at CityServe has a lot to do with herding cats, but it’s great.
We need some strong women to help us, and we’re glad you’re with us. Hey, we’re talking about the seasons of life. I don’t know. Mindy, have you thought about the season of life that you are in?
I have, I think it’s a thing where a lot of us get to a certain point in our life and we start thinking more about this and then Brian’s book comes along and he is talking about our calling and how maybe that changes or shapes through the years. And I love that. So the more I dug into this book, the more I felt like what he’s talking about: where I am at is that whole season of giving this at a certain age and a certain station in life and it just really resonated with me. So I’m so excited to talk to Brian and learn more about these. But Scott, I have one quick question for you, where do you feel like your season of life or where your calling sits? Does it change for you?
Not to be outdone by you. If you are going to be generous, I’m going to be generous as well. I have some creativity. I’m still trying to learn some things. So maybe I’m a cross breed. I don’t know. We’ll find out as we talk about the “Six Seasons of Calling” with Brian Saunders, who is really our wisdom giver today.
We’re glad you’re with us, Brian. He has started hundreds of missional enterprises in churches, nonprofits, businesses; he’s the Founder and Former Executive Director of the Underground Network, which is an international fellowship of micro churches. He has undergraduate degree in Communications, graduate degree in Religious Studies and another in Applied Theology. For 20 years, he’s lived an intentional life in an inner city with his wife, Monica and their six wonderful children. And Brian, we want to welcome you to the Influencers Podcast. Thank you so much for joining us.
What a treat thanks for inviting me.
What is Social Entrepreneurship?
A term that we read was Social Entrepreneur, and that’s an interesting title. And can you just tell us what that is?
Probably as with all titles it’s less amazing than it sounds. No, I suppose it’s just starting things that aren’t necessarily with a profit mode. There’s these emerging categories in our time of not “just for profit” and not “for profit”, or even for benefit companies, B Corps, so you have the notion that entrepreneurs aren’t just starting businesses for the sake of profit. So social entrepreneurship is just starting something with the intention of doing good in the world. So that could be planting a church. It could be starting a nonprofit; it could be starting a business that is intended to bring some sort of benefit or lift to the world around it. So that’s probably all it means.
So what’s the good that you are trying to bring through your life, the mission of your calling?
What are the “Six Seasons of Calling”?
Yeah. Interesting. According to my own taxonomy, I’ve just moved into to day five, I’m 49 now, so I’ve just moved into day five. And I would say that’s when you stop wanting to be the center of everything, the creator person, the CEO, the person driving the thing. And maybe you want to give some of that experience away and you start seeing yourself more as maybe a mentor.
And, yeah, I mean, that’s where I am too. I’ve moved away from the Director Role of the Organization. I started 15 years ago and I’m working with the National Christian Foundation in Collective Impact and creating alliances around key causes. I’m working with a for-benefit company called “COhatch”, which is expanding all over the United States to create kind of lifestyle, co-working spaces that serve the community, and create environments where people can flourish and thrive. And that also has kind of a Jesus component to it behind it. But it’s not a Christian company per se. So those are the two big pots I’m stirring right now. And, of course, I’m still involved in the church: planting, innovation, and micro church space as well. In fact, we have a conference coming up next weekend here in Florida for micro church. So I still am a little bit of a voice in that arena as well.
Maybe it’d be helpful for our friends listening if you’d walk us through the six stages, the six seasons of life’s calling so they can understand the terms we’re throwing out.
Well, I love the metaphor: the image of God creating the whole world, the universe in six days. And, I think of our own lives in those terms to think of whatever the duration of our life is. It’s been given to us and presumably to create something to become something in the world. And I just think that whatever we are, we are changing. We are being changed by our environment and by our experiences and by our trauma and by our struggles and by our discoveries and by what we learn and by God himself, there’s more than one change or transition in the course of our lives.
I’m making the argument that there are six. So just try to sort of imagine your life as a week, and thinking of those as 12 year segments essentially. So zero to 12 being day one, 12 to 24 is day 2, 24 to 36 day three, And on.
I sort of see these developmental patterns in each of those 12 year segments that kind of hold up in terms of the way people tend to develop both as disciples, but even just as people who are pursuing careers or whatever. My argument is day one is the call to be a child. Day two, 12 to 24, to be a student. Day three, to be a servant, a team member. Day four, to be a maker, a creator of something. Day five, to be a mentor. Day six, to be a mystic. And then, of course, day seven is eternity. It’s rest, it’s reward. It’s reigning with Christ Jesus and whatever it is to come. So that’s the taxonomy, essentially.
Can Our Callings Change with the Seasons?
It’s fascinating. Brian, I have two questions to piggyback on that. The first one is that, you say these days are more or less age brackets, and is it pretty consistent across the population with the age brackets? Because you made this reference, you said, “Well, I’m 49 now. And that moves me to day five”. Do you find that to be pretty consistent or the outliers, does that still work for them? They were late bloomers? They’re still in that “maker stage”, but they’re late in their year, how does that work? And then that second one is, bring us all back to this idea that what you’re saying says that “a calling is not static”. And I think we’ve thought this way for a really long time, “Oh, God called me to this”. And like what happened when this changes? Like how do you talk about it being dynamic? So talk to us more about those two things.
Well, look, the first two days are somewhat established. What would be called early childhood development, before puberty , zero to 12 ish. Of course, it’s not exact is it? But puberty’s a pretty big point in the life of a human person, you know? So as we all remember, or maybe we don’t remember. But in fact, I remember one of my kids, when they were 13, he was sort of artistic and he drew this picture of himself, like awkward with his pants, hanging out and pimples all over his face. And he said, “Darn you puberty”. That was caption underneath it. So it’s a rough, it’s a rough transition that is zero to 12; that’s already kind of an established thing.
Then interestingly enough, in terms of our neurological development, 24 is actually a really big turning point in the life of your brain. The prefrontal cortex is not really finished developing until about 24, 25 years old. So those things are kind of established. So we can look at at least day one and day two. And we do most of the work in terms of growth and development in early childhood and in adolescent development. But I would say there’s maybe a gap there in understanding adult development.
We see all these stages in the life and the change and the evolution and the development of a child, because you can see them being transformed before your eyes, you know? But what about adults? Do adults just sort of, once you turn 24, 25, that’s it, and you’re the same person until you die? Of course, that isn’t the case, but then where are those other markers?
I’m making an argument, it’s a theory, I suppose. Read it, see what you think, and see how it fits for you. Some of what I’m arguing is that not just that our calling is dynamic, but that God is sort of walking with us through the changes of our lives. And then as we hit these major turning points or major changes in our lives, He’s right there, both creating unrest, the feeling of like this isn’t right, like “Who I have been in this last season, this last 10 years” or something like that, that it “feels like something else is coming and I’m supposed to become something else”. And that identity crisis actually creates something for me that’s very sacred and actually quite beautiful and important. And it’s not just for 20 year olds to feel that sense of “Who am I?”, and, “What’s next for me”, and, “Who am I supposed to be now that the kids have left a house?”, or “Now that I’ve lost this job”, or “Now that my spouse has died or divorced”, – these incredible tectonic shifts that happen in the course of our life say kind of like whatever God spoke to you when you were 25, “That’s it”, even through all of those incredibly massive shifts are changed in our lives; that that just can’t be right. I think God is right there with us walking through those transitions. And really ultimately, we are becoming something more than we were early on. So we’re capable of more. And I also see them as somewhat sequential that they build on each other. The lessons we learn in each of these days of our lives are lessons we need for the next one.
I’m just not sure Mindy, if you can rush it, so I would say like day 3, 24 to 36, is about learning how to serve, learning how to be to be a follower, learning how to be a good follower before you’re a leader, learning what your skills are, what you are good at, what you’re bad at – trying lots of things. Now that doesn’t mean you don’t lead during that time, but maybe you’re not the primary driving leader of something.
And that if that’s about character acquisition, then can you really rush that? I mean can you do that in two years? Can you do an intensive truncated version of character development pro? Probably not. So I think some of us are so ambitious or achievement oriented. We might imagine that, “Well, I could do day three in five years, or something”, but I don’t know. I would argue, “No, you can’t”. These are just seasons. Like we say, in seasons, we don’t have control over the seasons, they they’re come and where they’re coming and then they’re going to end when they end.
The title of your book is “Six Seasons of Calling”; what is the definitive language you would use to define what a “calling” is, how would you put words to that?
What is a “Calling”?
Well, it’s interesting, Scott. “Calling” has become a very secular word. It’s become something that is ubiquitous to everybody. I can have a calling to be a teacher or a nurse or something like that, and it can have nothing to do with that. I think maybe the more mystical sense of it, the original idea of hearing a voice, say something to you.
My pushback to my friends, who maybe don’t have a faith position and who would use the word “calling”, I say, “Who are you hearing? “Who’s doing the calling?” So it implies that there’s a Person and think of how breathtaking that is: to believe that there is Someone Who knows you by name and Who has called you first to Himself. That core desire that all human beings have for intimacy.
He’s called you to Himself and has something for you to do – some unique assignment that only you can do in the world. And that second connotation has to do with probably the second greatest desire that we have as a human being, which is for purpose, for a sense of significance that our lives aren’t meaningless.That the we aren’t futile, in terms of what we do with our lives. To me, that calling is hearing the voice of God, a personal God, who knows you by name, call you first to Himself, and to deliver that deepest possible sense of intimacy – with Him. And then to have something specific for you to do in the world, some assignment for you, presumably within His mission to, to make the world, to conform the world into the image of His Son, to prepare the world really for His Son, to bear witness to the Kingdom, which is to come. So to me, those are the two connotations when I use the word, “calling”. That’s what I mean.
Missing a Season
And, if someone is listening and they, they say, when I blew my twenties, my thirties were a mess. I’m now in my forties or my fifties, can they receive a calling in this season, if the last season they wish they could forget?
Well’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? If we strain the metaphor here in creation, the writer of Genesis gives us this this beautiful poetic language of how it was morning. “It was evening the first day”, you know? And you have this gap between evening and morning of the next day, and that’s dark and unknowing and uncertainty and confusion and a void, a nothingness, but then it begins again. So even if we blew our twenties or blew our thirties, the point is, a 48 year old, a 60 year old, can wake up to the morning at their end, to the morning of their calling.
I’ve seen the same excitement and the same sense of wonder and renewal and renaissance in a 60 year old person, as I do in a 24 year old person, when they sort of come back to God and say, “Who am I now”? And “What do you have for me”? And to get that fresh sense, that newness of the morning, that fresh sense of like, “Wow, there’s something specific God wants me to do in this next phase of my life, this next season of my life”, it rejuvenates you, even if the last one was garbage. The newness of the morning, it sort of washes that away. Doesn’t it?
Yeah. Great hope in that.
Yeah. That’s a beautiful, that’s a beautiful way to look at it. Sorry, Scott, you got a thought.
No, go ahead, Mindy.
I love that idea. Just how the whole day, the circle of it, and between the evening and the morning it’s dark and things happen there – maybe growth, awareness, maybe not. Not to get too caught in the weeds on this, so you’re 60 – to Scott’s question. You say, “Oh my gosh, there’s actually a purpose here for me”. And what you see then that it is also sequential that even at that age bracket, maybe it’s that calling that season of leaving, or maybe it’s serving, do they, sometimes just mix up?
I think you never lose the lesson of the previous day. So I’m saying, what we’re meant to learn as children is to be children, to be nothing other than a child. And to realize that that is foundational to who we’re meant to be as people – to always be a child. This is how you enter the Kingdom. This is how you understand Jesus. This is how I understand where the Kingdom. So you never really lose that. We’re always children of God. We’re not adults of God. We’re always meant to be children of God. That is what we are. But then you learn to be a student and a learner and you don’t stop being a child. And you don’t stop being a student. When you become going to day three, you keep being a learner your whole life.
The Extraordinary Result of “Day 6”
When you’re 60, you’re still a learner and you’re still a child. , you’re still a, a son or a daughter of God. And then you become, a servant and you never still out being a servant. So, a seven year old is still a servant still knows how to be that, but they build on that. You see what I mean? So you understand yourself as a child of God, you understand yourself as a lifelong learner, you understand yourself as a servant, you understand yourself as a maker, as someone who can create something in the world, and you keep doing all of those things, and you understand yourself as a mentor. And in that sixth day, this, my argument, is in that sixth day, when you become this sort of mystical person with one foot in this world, and one foot in the next, thinking about eternity in a different way, narrowing your focus to both mystery and love, which is the obsession of a mature day six person.
Of course, you’re still a child and still a servant and still a learner and still a creator and still a mentor to people. You’re all of those things. And, if ‘m right, you can sort of see how somebody who’s in their, seventies, sixties, seventies, is just a treasure to the world actually. And what a mistake we make when we alienate or isolate the people in our lives that are that in that age bracket. How much poorer we are now? Of course not everyone’s mature. Not everyone’s chasing Jesus the full course of their life, but people that are and have run that race, man, they’re, they’re special.
I think that it’s one of the reasons why the Scriptures say like a real revival or knowledge of God turns the hearts of the fathers towards the children and the hearts of the children towards the fathers, that the generations come together.
Raising Children with Seasons in Mind
You have a young generation, you’ve got six kids, which may show your fascination with the number six. How old are your kids?
Well, they’re all adults now, except for one, we just have the 13 year old left; the last one hanging on, strangling. So they’re yeah, 13 to 28, 27 something. I have two grandkids. Now, two grandsons, little guys.
Did, did you have this theory in your own mind as they were growing up and how did you use it to kind of prepare them for their journey into life?
Yeah, I probably started developing this about seven years ago, so they wouldn’t have, well, I’m sure some of what I know about adolescence I’ve learned from watching them drag me through adolescence. But even that idea of an adolescence is primarily called to learn and how we learn is by testing, by experimentation, by pushing the boundaries of things. So a lot of what gets classified in our hearts as parents, as “rebellion”, maybe actually isn’t really rebellion; they’re just being who they’re supposed to be. They’re figuring out the world by saying, is that right? Is that true? Is that really how it works? And even in my own experience kind of like, I probably was alert to that at some level. And trying to let my kids test the world, including me, including our belief about God or Jesus or faith or church or whatever, and to let them ask their questions, and to let them have their doubts and to let them come to their own conclusions, I’d say that’s actually been important for my kids to actually be people of faith, to come to those conclusions on their own, because they were allowed to test them, test the assumptions.
The Power of Understanding Seasons
We as influencers, we want to be influential in our workplace, in our coffee, up in our community. How does this way of looking at life and other human beings help us to help them?
Well, all taxonomies are imperfect, aren’t they? I mean, they’re just an attempt to kind of make sense of the chaos of what life can feel like sometimes. But it can be really helpful to have shared language about something like change or transitions in our lives. So I I’d say when we come face to face with one of our friends or someone we’re leading, that’s going, “I just feel like I’m outta place”, or “I feel like something’s wrong in my life”, or, “I feel like just my life isn’t working”, “I don’t know why it just doesn’t seem right”, that we don’t panic; that maybe we even take note of their age or ask people how old they are, so when they start telling me something like that, I say, “How old are you”, and, “Oh, okay, it’s perfectly normal.”
And that can be very comforting for someone to say, “There’s nothing wrong with you”.
Actually that restlessness, that crisis of identity is meant to happen several times in our lives. And I argue that crisis of identity is meant to draw and drive us back into the place of prayer, to seek God again, to seek the face of God again, as we did when we were beginning our careers. Because He’s the only one that can define who you are. So that circle of crisis and identity is like, “Who am I? Now, Lord only You can answer that”. And then for Him is saying, “This is who you are”. And then to refresh that sense of mission. So go and do this new thing. And, often, that struggling that dark night of the soul, that that period of confusion feels like something’s wrong and actually nothing is wrong.
So I’d say as leaders, when we walk other people through their transitions and we see them going through these kind of transitions in our lives to say, “This is not only normal and perfectly fine, it’s actually a Holy thing and love it, embrace it, press into it, go for it.” And, “When I’ve gone through it, this is how I do it”, or whatever, “How I’ve experienced that”. I think it just can, it can lift a huge weight. And then, of course, to experience the dawn, the new dawn that can come after that and to walk with people through that can be amazing. And even helping them creatively, imagining what could be next for them. I’d say that’s a lot of what we do as leaders is to help people dream and imagine who they can be or who they’re meant to be at, not just this phase of life, but in the future ones as well.
That’s excellent. I love all of it. And I just think the “Six Seasons of Calling” and the way you lay this out speaks to everyone. And I love that. Particularly those of us in a faith perspective, with a God perspective, Jesus perspective, but I love how you recognize it integrates children and really all of us. I just think it works.
Connecting with Brian
The book is called “The 6 Seasons of Calling”. And we’d love people to be able to read, discover a little bit more, especially this idea that they haven’t missed their calling if they are later on in life. And even if they’re beginning their journey, how can people connect with you, connect with your thoughts, your taxonomy and just get ahold of the book?
Well, getting ahold of me is not as easy as it once was, but the book is available, I suppose, anywhere that books are sold, Amazon and so on. So please, yeah, please help yourself check it out. I think there’s actually an audio book version meant to be out very soon here. I have loads of my friends who are like, “Bro, I’m not going to read it, but when the audio book comes out, let me know.” So that’s happening, but it would be a treated delight if this is a gift to the people, as they read it.
Again, the name of the book is “The 6 Seasons of Calling”. Brian, I loved when you said you never lose the lessons of the previous day, that God will use everything from our past, the good, the bad, the ugly to pull us forward to the person he wants us to be. And thank you so much for sharing with us for thinking deeply and sharing broadly this message, just to think about other humans and see God has a hand in their life and he is calling. And we just want people to hear what he’s saying to them. So thank you so much for spending time with us. Of course, Mindy, a great joy to be with you on the Influencers Podcast. And everyone that’s listening, keep listening. We want to see your life grow, develop and become the person God’s calling you to be. And God is calling today. I hope you’re listening.