What We’re Learning: How Calling Is Lived-Out

By Dr. Nancy Going
Director of Research & Resource Development

Seven of our Vibrant Faith coaches are in the process of closing our three years of work with the 24 “Calling Congregations” that have been part of our Lilly Foundation-sponsored Creating a Culture of Calling research project. The coaches are finishing with focus groups, discovering stories of emerging new understandings of calling. We’ll be processing that feedback over the summer and fall and getting ready to tell those stories in a variety of ways. But today I want to share what these churches actually DID differently through their engagement in this project. First, here’s how we staged and facilitated the three-year process… 

1. The churches were assigned a coach from at the start of the project. Churches and coaches were carefully matched by ministry experiences and congregational culture. The coaches worked with the churches over the three years to engage the places where they might be stuck or run into roadblocks. AND they helped them create and execute plans to make the theological theme of calling central to their congregational life.  

2. Vibrant Faith set the stage for this collaborative work. We invited the churches to gather twice at the outset, just a few months apart, for in-depth teaching about calling, opportunities to learn from one another, and planning time with their teams and coaches. From the start we laid out the focus of an evolving three year process. From the beginning, the Vibrant Faith leadership offered theological insights about calling (I wrote about those previously on Catalyst, here), but emphasized that the individual churches had freedom to make all the decisions about how they would explain, integrate, and USE this theological theme in their congregation.  

3. In Year One, we asked our 24 churches to use calling as a primary theme in their work together as a church. We encouraged them NOT to start “new programming” or new calling initiatives, but rather to talk about and learn about calling in their typical life together. Our churches did that in a wide variety of ways: 

  • They created sermon series, built small group curricula, and led conversations around calling among the leaders of the churches.
  • They created intergenerational events, built calling retreats, developed VBS themes, and made calling a focus of children and youth ministry teaching. 
  • They began regularly telling the stories of GOD sightings in newsletters and in churches. You can find examples of programming ideas for people of all ages here. 

4. In Year Two, the coaches began to work with the churches to use calling as a catalyst to begin or surface a ministry approach that was new for them. Here we saw churches create new vocational groups and hold up and celebrate specific vocations in church, inviting the whole community of nurses or teachers to join in, for example. One church began a podcast that allowed them to share people’s calling stories or new callings. Another began dinner groups so that people could tell stories of unexpected experiences of God’s grace. Still another church developed a “Welcome to Our Church” series using peoples’ calling stories. Some churches chose an aspect of calling to highlight, such as “God’s Plan, Your Story,” as an annual teaching and ministry theme. Vibrant Faith also developed materials for the churches to spotlight “Calling In Life Transitions”using Spiritual Practices to help congregants discern callings. You can find those resources here and here.

5. Finally, in Year Three, we encountered unexpected difficulties because of the global pandemic. While we continued to support and equip congregations to nurture calling and vocation within their diverse populations  (those actively engaged in their faith, those who are spiritual but not religious, and those who are unaffiliated religiously) we paused so our coaches could help these churches pivot to face a new set of challenges. We had already realized, however, that many of our churches did not have time to develop programming or new initiatives on their own, even before the crisis set in. Vibrant Faith gathered a team and created the “Instruments of Calling” training for them to help their people learn to listen for calling stories among their unchurched and de-churched family and friends. You can check out these ideas here.

Next up in this journey, we’ll begin telling some of the wonderful stories of the fruit we see borne out in these 24 churches…  Stay tuned!

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. 

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