Charting Your Calling Journey with Tony Stoltzfus

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09/06/2023

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09/06/2023

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Charting Your Calling Journey with Tony Stoltzfus

Lately, I have been diving into the profound concept of calling as a journey. While this idea was not entirely new to me, my appreciation for it deepened after reading The Calling Journey by Tony Stoltzfus. Tony, a renowned leadership coach, has developed a powerful model based on biblical studies and extensive research. What makes this model truly applicable is its ability to resonate with leaders in diverse fields such as business, ministry, politics, and more. A central aspect of this model is the calling timeline, which illuminates the seasons of our lives and reveals how God shapes us through both favorable and challenging times. By understanding and reflecting on these stages within our own stories, we can gain invaluable insights into our own calling journey today.

In this blog post, I will provide a concise summary of the key aspects presented in Tony Stoltzfus’ book, careful not to reveal too much detail. Following that, I will share my personal thoughts and reflections on how this profound concept can be practically applied to our own journey of self-discovery.

What does The Calling Journey look like?

Think of the journey as traveling through a series of mountaintops and valleys. The calling journey timeline tracks the development of our lives broadly through 4 major ‘Mountaintops’ phases:

  1. Natural Promotion
  2. Preparation
  3. Releasing
  4. Fulfillment

These stages are each separated by 3 ‘Valley’ seasons that focus on inward transformation:

  1. the Valley of Dependence
  2. the Valley of Wholeness
  3. the Valley of Identity
Picture of The Calling Journey timeline
Picture of The Calling Journey timeline. Source: http://www.thecallingjourney.com/

The graphic above is a picture of how the individual phases and valleys fit together into a complete map of the journey: a Calling Timeline. This timeline gives us a big picture of what God is doing in our lives, and how each stage is a part of His perfect and good plan.

The map shows how we felt at the time about our progress toward our calling. Upward slopes are times when we felt we were moving toward our call, while downward slopes are when we felt we were moving away from it.

The Upward and Downward seasons of our Calling Journey. Source: Meta-formation.com.
The Upward and Downward seasons of our Calling Journey. Source: Meta-formation.com.

We start by climbing the mountain peaks of Natural Promotion, where God gives us a taste of our calling.

Our first descent leads us down into a difficult Valley of Dependence.

Our journey then leads into a season of Preparation (either Upward or Flat), down through a second Valley of Wholeness, before ascending the foothills of the Releasing stage.

After descending into a final valley season (Valley of Identity), we move up into the mountains again in the Fulfillment stage.

How long is each stage in the Calling Journey?

Tony Stoltzfus suggests the following typical length of each stage of our calling journey (Hint: it’s longer than you think!):

The Calling Journey Timeline, showing the typical lengths of the different stages.
Typical Stages in The Calling Timeline by Tony Stoltzfus. Source: TheCallingJourney.com

The table below shows the different stages of our calling journey and the typical length of each stage:

 StageTypical Lengths (yrs)Range
Natural Promotion stage83-13
Valley of Dependence3 
Preparation stage106-15
Valley of Wholeness1-3 
Releasing stage138-20
Valley of Identity4 
Fulfilment stageOpen-ended 

If we take the typical length of each stage into account, it takes more than 30 years before an average individual can reach the Fulfilment stage, which is the ‘sweet spot’ of one’s calling.

Wait… does it mean that everyone is supposed to fit into this timeline?

Now, you might be wondering if everyone is meant to follow this timeline precisely. The answer is: no!

Tony Stoltzfus emphasizes that although numerous leaders they interviewed exhibit a similar pattern in their journey, there are exceptions to consider.

It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone will have the opportunity to reach the culmination of their calling in the Fulfillment stage, especially if their life’s journey is cut short.

Furthermore, the order of the stages in the timeline can vary depending on when an individual makes the decision to surrender to the lordship of Christ.

What the Calling Journey Model can teach us

“All models are wrong, but some are more useful.”

E.P. Box

I found this quote in Tony’s book, which I thought was very apt. The Calling Journey timeline is a model, and like all models, it is not perfect. Since we are all unique, such a model cannot describe everyone’s reality perfectly.

However, despite the unique aspects of each individual’s journey, the model helps us to observe some common patterns:

  1. Initially, as we embark on our Christian journey, we tend to rely on our own spiritual gifts, natural abilities, or personality, rather than fully depending on God.
  2. God allows setbacks and challenges, represented by the valleys in our journey, to draw us away from self-reliance and deepen our dependence on Him.
  3. During these valleys and plateaus, when we may feel distant from the fulfillment of our calling, it is precisely in these seasons that God shapes our inner character and prepares us for a greater calling that lies ahead.
  4. It is important to note that reaching the full expression of our calling is a process that requires time. On average, it takes about 30 years from the moment we commit our lives to Christ, if we follow the typical duration of each stage.

Understanding these patterns can provide us with valuable insights into the calling journey God has designed for each of us.

Alright, let’s start with the Journey!

The journey typically starts with a Lordship Decision. This is the one-time commitment to put Jesus in charge of all your decisions and your future.

Stage 1: Natural Promotion (Upward)

Natural Promotion is the initial timeline stage where God’s grace flows through your natural abilities to give you a taste of your call.

man in red shirt standing on rocky cliff, ascending to a mountaintop. This depicts the Natural Promotion Stage of our Calling Journey.
Photo by j.mt_photography on Pexels.com

The Mountaintop of Natural Promotion holds a significant place in your Calling Journey as a Christian. It all begins when you experience that life-changing moment of salvation, where you invite Jesus into your life to forgive your sins and take the lead. This pivotal event sets the groundwork for your calling to unfold. Now, the duration of this mountaintop phase can vary, typically spanning from 1 to 5 years. However, if you surrendered your life to Jesus during your early childhood, it could extend up to 17 years.

During this phase, you’ll sense a remarkable feeling of empowerment. It’s as if everything you touch has a touch of magic. God actively works in your journey, refining your abilities and granting you diverse experiences. He blesses your efforts and empowers you to succeed by utilizing the natural talents and gifts He has bestowed upon you.

It’s worth noting that for those who had a challenging start in their relationship with God or came from less-than-ideal family situations, there might be a unique Valley known as the “Descent before Lordship.” This aspect isn’t depicted in Stoltzfus’ diagram but was mentioned in the book. Those who go through this particular valley bypass the Valley of Dependence and proceed directly to the Mountaintop of Natural Promotion. From there, they continue their ascent to the Mountaintop of Preparation, where their spiritual growth and readiness for the journey ahead continue to unfold.

You can read about my Mountaintop of Natural Promotion experience here.

Stage 2: Valley of Dependence (Downward)

The Valley of Dependence is the first major season of adversity God uses to shape your Life Messages (calling) and build reliance on him.

Descending the first Valley of Dependence.
Photo by Brian de Karma on Pexels.com

The Valley of Dependence is a season of adversity intentionally orchestrated by God to shape your Life Messages (calling) and foster a deeper reliance on Him. On average, this valley lasts around 2.5 years. It begins when the success and prosperity you experienced during the Mountaintop of Natural Promotion suddenly come to a halt, often due to the presence of pride.

Stepping into this valley can be quite unsettling. You’re caught off guard, shaken by the unexpected turn of events. You may even be overwhelmed with a mix of emotions like fear, doubt, resentment, and anger. It’s during this time that the harsh realities of failure and unfulfilled expectations become all too real.

However, amidst the challenges, God is at work to deepen your dependence on Him. Often, He addresses a negative event or a flaw in your character, such as arrogance or self-sufficiency, that leads you into this valley. Initially, you might resist entering this season and grappling with the discomfort it stirs within you.

Yet, it is through this journey of dependence that you begin to experience a whole new level of reliance on God. Your life is no longer centered around your own strength and abilities, but rather, you learn to place your trust in His guidance and provision.

This valley becomes a transformative period where false beliefs about God are confronted and replaced with a deeper understanding of His sovereignty and unwavering faithfulness.

Stage 3: Mountaintop of Preparation (Upward or Flat)

The Preparation Stage is the season after the Valley of Dependence focused on acquiring skills and experiences that prepare you for your call.

storm clouds above a plateau. This depicts the Mountaintop (or Plateau) of Preparation, a longer season of our calling journey in which God equips us with the essential skills and experiences to prepare us for our calling.
Photo by Joshua David on Pexels.com

The Mountaintop of Preparation is a pivotal stage that follows the Valley of Dependence. This season typically lasts anywhere from 5 to 15 years. It begins when God assigns you a specific role that serves as a catalyst for developing the essential skills and acquiring the experiences that will shape your future calling.

Throughout the Preparation Stage, God is actively at work, honing and refining the skills necessary for your upcoming calling. He equips you with a diverse array of abilities, even though you may not immediately grasp their intended purpose. It’s through this process of skill development that God intricately prepares you for the unique path He has designed for your life. The full extent and application of these skills may only become clear much later in your journey as you continue to grow and embrace the calling that awaits you.

There are two possibilities in this stage of your journey: staying in the same field of your life calling or transitioning to a new one. In the former, you’ll experience contentment and productivity, utilizing your skills in alignment with your calling. This allows you to make an impact and feel fulfillment. In the latter, you may be on a plateau, longing for a better alignment with your true self. This indicates a greater purpose waiting to be revealed. Both paths prepare you for fulfilling your long-term calling.

Stage 4: Valley of Wholeness (Downward)

The Valley of Wholeness is a second season of adversity at the end of Preparation that God uses to shape your character.

The Valley of Wholeness is a second season of adversity in your calling journey that God uses to shape your character.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Valley of Wholeness represents the second season of adversity that follows the Preparation Stage. Its purpose is to shape and refine your character in alignment with your calling, ensuring that you are whole and ready for what lies ahead.

The Valley of Wholeness typically lasts 1 to 3 years. It starts with God urging you to confront and address hindrances to your calling. This includes achieving life balance, managing finances, honing your gifts, and addressing persistent sinful patterns.

Stepping into this valley, you may find yourself grappling with a sense of frustration. You may feel that you should be further along in your calling than your current circumstances suggest. Confusion, doubt, or even moments of anger toward God may arise during this period. However, it’s crucial to understand that God allows you to traverse this valley for a purpose. He wants you to address and work through the areas of personal wholeness that are essential for your overall well-being and for the fulfillment of your future calling. Additionally, He uses this season to deepen your relationship with Him, fostering a greater sense of reliance and trust in His guidance.

Stage 5: Mountaintop of Releasing (Upward)

The Releasing Stage is an apprenticeship to your call after the Valley of Wholeness that focuses on building Specific Skills for your calling role.

person in beige top on mountain cliff. This depicts the Mountaintop of Releasing.
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

The Mountaintop of Releasing is like an apprenticeship that comes after the Valley of Wholeness. It’s a phase focused on building specific skills and gaining experiences that perfectly align with your calling.

On average, the Mountaintop of Releasing lasts for around 10 years. It begins with a significant and sudden moment, which Tony calls the “Day of Release.” It’s that moment when you step into a role that feels like a perfect fit for your calling.

During this exciting phase, you’ll feel a deep sense of joy and fulfillment in who you are and what you do. God continues to develop your skills and presents you with incredible opportunities for success. But here’s something to keep in mind: there’s a risk of getting so absorbed in your work or role that it becomes your sole identity. It’s important to maintain a balance in managing your time and priorities.

Now, as you transition from the Valley of Wholeness to the Mountaintop of Releasing, you’ll likely have to take some significant risks. These risks can be financial, relational, emotional, physical, or even spiritual. Sometimes, it means leaving behind previous roles or ventures and embracing something entirely new that aligns perfectly with your calling.

It’s worth noting that for most people, their calling involves different aspects during each mountaintop phase. So, during the Mountaintop of Releasing, it may feel more like a plateau rather than a dramatic peak. The ultimate fulfillment of your calling awaits you in the next phase, the Fulfillment Mountaintop.

Stage 6: Valley of Identity (Downward)

The Valley of Identity is a late-life transition where leaders take on the full mantle of their calling identity, move from doing to being and develop a healthy detachment from their call.

photo of man sitting on a cave
Photo by M Venter on Pexels.com

The Valley of Identity is a transition that leaders often go through later in life. It’s a time when you fully embrace your calling identity, shifting your focus from constant doing to simply being. This valley brings about a healthy detachment from your call and a deeper understanding of your true self.

On average, the Valley of Identity lasts around 4 years. It typically begins 15 to 30 years after your salvation. However, if you accepted Jesus at a young age, it might start even up to 50 years later. This valley is often triggered by a significant event that disrupts your long-term calling role. It could be a health crisis, job loss, shifting priorities, retirement, or taking on full-time caregiving responsibilities.

Entering the Valley of Identity can be quite a challenge. Suddenly, the calling role that has defined you for so long is no longer present. It can leave you disoriented and uncertain about your true identity without that role. You might even question if your best years of fulfilling your calling are behind you.

However, amidst the uncertainty, God works in remarkable ways. In this valley, you begin to discover that God takes great delight in you simply because of who you are, not just because of what you do. It’s a beautiful paradox where you gain a deeper understanding of your true self while also finding clarity on the specific actions that align with your calling. Although the journey through this valley may come with challenges and uncertainties, it ultimately leads to a profound sense of fulfillment and contentment.

Stage 7: Mountaintop of Fulfillment (Upward)

The Fulfillment Stage is the culmination of the journey, where the leader’s being and doing calls function together for maximum impact.

person standing on hand rails with arms wide open facing the mountains and clouds
Photo by Nina Uhlikova on Pexels.com

These stages of growth and development culminate in the Mountaintop of Fulfillment, which represents the culmination of your journey. It’s the stage where your being and doing calls harmoniously work together for maximum impact.

The Fulfillment Stage doesn’t have a set length; it’s open-ended. On average, it begins at least 20 years after your salvation. However, if you came to faith as a child, it may start even 50 or more years later. During this stage, you live authentically as who you truly are, fully embracing your calling. God pours out His favor upon you and opens doors that perfectly align with your unique gifts, talents, personality, and passions. This is all for the advancement of His Kingdom.

In the Fulfillment Stage, you’ll experience the sweet spot of your relationship with God and a profound sense of fruitfulness in fulfilling His purposes. Joy, peace, and newfound confidence become your companions. Your influence, especially if you hold a leadership role, reaches greater heights than ever before. However, there’s a shift in how your influence manifests. Instead of directly impacting a large number of individuals, your influence multiplies as you invest significantly in the lives of other builders of God’s Kingdom.

As you approach the Fulfillment Stage, you may sense a profound feeling of preparation, as if your entire life has been leading up to this very moment. You’ll recognize the perfect alignment between your personal journey, the skills you have developed, and the remarkable opportunities that arise.

Calling as a Life Message

Personally, I had many light bulb moments as I reflect on the map of my own calling journey. One of Tony’s key insights is that our calling is not a job or even a career, but a Life Message:

“Calling is a Message, not an accomplishment… your call is to embody a unique facet of Christ’s character through the channel of your role or task.”

– Tony Stoltzfus

This can be seen in the example of Joseph. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph went through a deep valley of dependence. He went from a boastful dreamer in his youth to a faithful steward of Potiphar’s household, before being betrayed a second time. During this season, God transformed his heart into one that relied on Him alone.

After some years of preparation in prison, Joseph went up the mountaintop of releasing after he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. He became the prime minister of Egypt, but that was not his ultimate calling. It was in his Fulfillment stage, when Joseph reconciled with his brothers and brought the family of Jacob into safety in the land of Egypt, that Joseph’s calling was fulfilled.

In short, Joseph’s calling was to embody the Life Message of Genesis 50:20 –

20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Genesis 50:20

Through his journey, Joseph came to know a God who redeems everything, a good and sovereign God who takes the worst life throws at him and turns it into good. By internalizing that identity and living it out with his family, it became his Life Message. The outward role of ‘ruler’ was not Joseph’s call so much as it was the channel through which his calling Message was expressed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Tony Stoltzfus has shown us how embarking on the journey of discovering and fulfilling our personal calling is an incredible adventure that encompasses various stages and valleys.

I strongly recommend that you read his book for yourself. There are many other examples of calling journey stories, from Biblical characters to historical Christians to modern-day believers. Tony also provides a much more in-depth and comprehensive guide to charting your own calling journey timeline in the book.

The Calling Journey: Mapping the Stages of a Leader’s Life Call. By Tony Stoltzfus.

If you wish to try your hand at mapping your own calling journey, use the free online Timeline Builder created by the author.

Now, I invite you to join me on a personal exploration of my calling journey. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my own personal calling journey.

NEW: Join me for Season 1 of my Calling Journey as I explore my early years in the mountaintop of natural promotion!

I hope that, through my experiences, struggles, and moments of revelation, you will gain insights into your own unique path.

Look out for this space to read my personal calling journey, or subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss it. Let us embark on this transformative adventure together!


Related Resources

We hope you have found this content helpful! This article is part of a series of foundational posts about calling. Do check out the other posts on calling:

  1. “I have a calling” – What Does it Mean? This was my first foundational post written in Dec 2020, but I updated it after gaining some new insights into the concept of vocation.
  2. Is ‘calling’ the same as ‘passion’? Calling is bigger than passion, although we can start with what we are passionate about.
  3. How to Find Your Calling This is my all-time favorite post in this category! My own framework of how to find one’s calling.
  4. Diving Deeper into Calling: the Psychology of Vocation Curious about how the concept of vocation came about, and what are the main ways to think about calling? Check out this article!

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