Find the text of Study 6: Feeling Dismissed by the Church below. If you’d prefer to listen to the study, you can watch the video below — the content is the same. We hosted a Zoom meeting for discussion of this study the week we first posted it. If you have questions or would like to discuss this study, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message (anonymously, if you’d like) through the website here.
Read 1 Samuel 3:1-11 (NIV below).
1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.
Samuel, who was likely around 12 years old serving in the house of the Lord, hears a voice calling to him in the night that he assumes belongs to Eli. Eli – at first – dismisses this as meaningless. While Samuel doesn’t end up “hurt by the church” in this story, it’s certainly possible that could have happened if he had continued to hear God’s voice and had the leader in the house of the Lord dismiss it. That is an experience that could cause hurt today, too.
Think back to when you were 12 years old. What was your faith like then? If you heard God calling your name but you didn’t fully understand what was going on, who would you have sought out to help you understand? What do you think that person would have said or done?
As we are introduced to this story, we’re told that the word of the Lord was “rare” in those days (another possible translation of the word “rare” is “precious”) and that “there were not many visions.” The logical conclusion here seems to be that God wasn’t speaking, but this story itself is evidence that we should consider the possibility that people weren’t listening. After all, this is a story of God speaking that almost comes to an end with no one realizing God was speaking. If there were anywhere you would expect to hear the voice of God, would it not be in the house of God? And if there were anyone you would expect to be listening for the voice of God, would it not be the priest of God?
Is it important that we be “listening” for God’s callings today? How do we do that? How do we confirm that it was a calling from God?
Eli’s choice of words here – “Go back and lie down” – sounds harsh. And while the words are perhaps incidental to the nighttime situation and Samuel needing to go back to sleep, they still come off as very dismissive. Eli doesn’t believe Samuel heard anything; he offers no alternative possibilities. He says he didn’t call *so there’s nothing else to say. Eli has the same response the second time. *Samuel hears the call a third time and has the courage to go back again to the person who keeps telling him to “go back and lie down,” and Eli finally wises up and realizes what’s going on.
The stories may not all be as dramatic as this one, but people are still being called by God in the church today, and it happens to all kinds of people for all kinds of callings, not just preaching or being a pastor. It can even happen to people the church doesn’t expect – like a young 12-year-old Samuel. When it happens, with it comes the danger that leaders in the church will not recognize it – that they will say, in effect, “Go back and lie down,” and leave the called person hurt and alone.
Have you or anyone close to you ever had a “calling”? How did other people react to the callings when they were shared? Have you seen church members be dismissive of someone’s callings? Have you seen church members be supportive of someone’s callings?