In early May the Vibrant Faith team held a final meeting with representatives from the 24 churches who were a part of our Creating a Culture of Calling Grant. We’ve been working together since the Spring of 2017 working to build church vitality and unity through the culture of calling.
We wanted one final “listening session” with them—a check-in to learn how the power of “Calling” has changed their congregational culture. When we invited them into the grant process, we asked them to spend three years exploring “God Callings” as a central theme in their congregational life; to consider calling as a cultural lens, not a new program. We challenged them to listen, to pay attention to the callings percolating among their people, and then integrate those learnings into what they were already doing.
Here’s a sampler of important takeaways shared by these C3 ministry leaders—vital truths that have helped fuel a culture of calling in their churches…
1. The Importance of Vocabulary for Church Vitality
A common insight among these leaders was the power and importance of vocabulary, and how real change is catalyzed in people as the language of calling becomes more and more embedded in your community. Because they infused their culture with a new emphasis on calling, their people adopted a new vocabulary—asking questions like, “Am I being called to a new thing?” As a result, they found an anchoring peace as they focused their lives around their primary callings.
2. New Spiritual Development contributed to Church Vitality
Our Calling Initiative generated spiritual development in these churches—the more central it was to the staff and leadership of the church, the more it oozed through the whole church.
Our churches reported that the consequences of helping people talk about their own callings, and the process of hearing the stories of the callings of others, was a powerful multiplying experience. Not only did their people report a new understanding of their own lives through the lens of calling, but they began seeing and hearing “calling” EVERYWHERE. And (this is huge) our churches reported this essential aspect of the Christian faith moved their church away from programmatic language and toward God-inspired language and activity.
One of our leaders said: “Your calling is about your heart. It releases you to go after the work.” That certainly changes everything about how and why people are motivated to make life-changing choices, serve, and live out their life with God.
3. The Power of Story
Our C3 churches reported again and again on the powerful ways they discovered their people’s stories—often for the first time. This new spiritual habit created a lasting change in how they form and sustain deeper community, because they’d created space in their life together to listen to one another’s stories. One church created a podcast as a way to highlight the deeper back-stories of church members who have experienced calling in their lives, and how these callings are lived out and change over time. It’s a powerful way to bind their community together.
4. The Power of A Communal Calling
When a culture of calling begins to take hold in a church, it’s not long before people who have been awakened to their own callings begin to consider broader questions: “What is our calling as a church?” and “What is God calling us to as a community?” We discovered that a church’s movement toward communal calling is a critical step in strategic planning. Calling creates a different kind of visioning: “How are our surrounding communities primary in God’s calling to us as a community of faith? How do we make sure our planning process is Spirit-dependent and calling-conscious? One leader shared: “We now expect our people to share their callings with the wider community.”
These churches told us that they weathered the challenges of the pandemic by following new callings, and they have a new sense of church vitality as they face the challenges in front of them now. Wow.
Of course, these churches faced many challenges as they embraced a culture of calling. Their people continued to see clergy as the only people who are called and not themselves, not their own lives or stories. They also got stuck on the mistaken notion that we have only ONE calling in life, that it’s about work rather than the rest of life, and that you can “miss” it. They know that they need to continue to help their people notice, embrace, and live out their callings.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Our very own Jedi-Master coach, Vibrant Faith Director of Coaching Services Jim LaDoux, generated questions that are helping our C3 leaders to continue living out what they’ve learned in the last three years. Use these questions to help reflect on positive changes in the life of your church culture.
- Make a list—how can you hold on to what you are learning?
- What is your process for re-visiting the theology of calling?
- How can you continue to go deeper?
- What do you talk about?
- What do you measure?
- What do we want to make sure we don’t lose?
- How do we remember calling as an intentional focus and continue to use the language of calling?
In a recent conversation with our C3 friend and mentor, Dr. Kathleen Cahalan from the Collegeville Institute, Vibrant Faith Executive Director Rick Lawrence and I were reminded that “callings, and the response to them, is the only act of discipleship evident in the New Testament.” We encourage you to help your people step into a life of following Jesus as we you pay attention to how and where God is calling NOW.
Dr. Nancy Going serves as the Director of Research & Resource Development for Vibrant Faith. Nancy lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Art, an Anglican priest, and they have launched two new families from their children.