By Dr. Nancy Going
Director of Research & Resource Development
In 2017, Vibrant Faith began working with 24 churches from seven different denominations to help them embed and explore the theological idea of CALLING in their church life and congregational culture. This work was funded through a grant by the Lilly Endowment, and we were privileged to be one of 13 Innovation Hubs whose mission was to explore how people in churches are “called to lives of meaning and purpose.”
This concept of “being called” is an essential teaching of the Christian faith—it means that, as believers, we’re called by God to give what only we can give. We have “things to do” that uniquely fit our “fearfully and wonderfully made” identity, because Jesus moves through “the Body” to care for a hurting and hungry world.
If you walk into a Barnes and Noble you’ll see a vast section called “Self Help”—many of the books you’ll find on those shelves promise to help you find your purpose in life. Our research confirms that American Christians tend to believe that they: 1) Have ONE calling in life, and they can easily miss it, 2) Whatever their calling is, its purpose is self-fulfillment, and 3) They don’t see ANY connection between their faith in Jesus and the work they do.
As our work with these churches comes to an end, I’ll be sharing what we’ve learned along the way in multiple posts to our Catalyst community. I want to begin by revealing the ways we talked and taught about Calling at the outset of our work together. What follows is the belief statement that our Vibrant Faith team and our six Calling Coaches created to re-focus these churches on this critical theme.
- We believe our callings in life are a dynamic response to who we are, how we live, and what we give our lives to. (Kathleen Cahalan, Calling All Years Good) Calling comes from God not from inside us.
- We believe every human being has a calling, whether or not they acknowledge it. God calls all people, not just people in churches, certainly not just pastors and ministry leaders.
- We believe God in Christ is calling us into relationship—a life of discipleship—and that our response to God’s calling is a life expressed through our life of faith. Listening for God’s calling is a part of what it means to be a disciple.
- We believe callings are discerned through relationships—God calls us through each other and our calling is for each other. We believe that the discernment of callings throughout life is a practice of the church. This is really counter-cultural isn’t it? We often think our PURPOSE in life is something we find on our own.
- We believe all callings are guided by love—loving God with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. There is often a struggle in calling between my sense of self and fulfillment and what it means to love the people God has given me to love.
- We believe callings are lifelong. They evolve over time. They are multiple and changing over a lifetime. They are dependent on the capacities of the body as we grow and age. It’s a false belief that our callings are only about our professional lives, and God doesn’t want our work in the world to last our whole lives.
- We believe that our response to callings throughout life is our participation in God’s activity in the world today, and that God sustains creation through the living out of our calling. How could this belief change the lives of the people in your church?
- We believe our callings are animated by the Spirit of Jesus active in our lives through a diversity of gifts—through what we love and are passionate about. We believe God creates, sanctifies, and revels in our differences and that our differences are assets. We can and need to celebrate the diversity of callings in our communities.
- We believe our callings are for all of life—family, church, community, world—not merely what we do in our work life. Ask any parent about this. This is the juggling act they are living daily. Can we help them see the juggle as the gift of their multiple callings for this season of life?
- We believe the call to church ministry is one type of calling, and that this calling is to nurture all callings and lead the community of disciples to live their vocations in the world. It’s the priesthood of all believers from the Reformation, finally made real!
- We believe people discover and experience their calling in diverse ways, based on their life situation and context. Factors such as poverty, violence, and discrimination have an impact. This is a hard reality in our broken world.
- We believe people experience times of struggle, darkness, and brokenness in living out their calling and being faithful to it. We believe God brings life out of struggle, darkness, and brokenness, and that the faith community has a special role to support and encourage people during these times. There is a difficulty and struggle to live out our calling(S). Sometimes that’s internal (shame) and sometimes that’s external (there’s no job for me).
- We believe living a calling is transformational for the person and for the world. Living into these beliefs for the last three years has changed us—both our Vibrant Faith team and the churches who have been our partners.
In the coming months I’ll share much more about the transformations we’ve seen in our partner churches—the profound impact that results when people in congregations begin to embrace the power of their calling.
Dr. Nancy Going serves as the Director of Research & Resource Development for Vibrant Faith. Nancy lives in Durham, North Carolina with her husband Art, an Anglican priest, and they have launched two new families from their children.
Speaking of calling, our Vibrant Faith coaches are excellent guides for better exploring and defining calling in this season of your life and/or ministry.
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