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What We’re Learning: Surfacing God-Given Purpose In Others

By Dr. Nancy Going
Director of Research & Resource Development

Kathleen Cahalan (professor at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN) has a unique calling.  She studies calling and vocation. She’s worked to re-articulate the theology of calling for today’s world, but also studies how and where the Christian theological theme of calling  is expressed in the lives of Christians and Christian churches. She has written two wonderful books on calling—Calling All Years Good and The Stories We Live (both from Eerdmans).

In her research, she also discovered that many Christians have basically LOST calling as a facet of what it means to be followers of Jesus. Yes, Kathleen did interviews with many people in Christian congregations—so many could not find any connection between what they do day-to-day and their Christian faith.  

Her study participants said things like: 

“I’m not sure that I’ve ever been given a calling.”  

“This is the first time my pastor ever asked me about what I do.”

“I thought only pastors and church leaders are the people God calls.”

One church shared that a life-long, faithful leader in their community reported that he never thought of his work as having anything to do with his faith. 

The Search for Meaning and Purpose

Let’s think about the consequences of this kind of separation between faith and life.    

  • The job(s) I’m doing has little to do with my relationship with God.
  • My activity at church has little to do with my daily life.
  • My faith community doesn’t know my life’s story or the impact I make on the world.
  • Church leaders are often interested in my gifts/calling just to “fill slots” in its menu of ministries, rather than help people engage more deeply in their relationship with a God who wants all of us, not our compartments. 
  • God doesn’t really need me to carry out God’s work in the world—that’s the “job” of other people.    

As we embarked on our journey to come alongside 24 churches, equipping them to make calling a central facet of their life together, Kathleen offered an astonishing observation… Calling has been almost absent from the conversations we have in church, and as a subject of “Christian Living” books, but the interest in our life’s “meaning and purpose” has skyrocketed. Go to any bookstore and you’ll discover the largest section is reserved for self-help, self-actualization, and self-discovery. Most of it, of course, disconnected from the One who gives us meaning and purpose—the Caller.  

That’s ironic, because people all around us are looking for meaning and purpose, and there’s only one well of “living water” where we can find that.   

The Power of Calling

Here’s what Vibrant Faith has discovered about the importance of a life and a church community infused by calling spirituality, through our Creating a Culture of Calling grant (a partnership with the Lilly Endowment). When people embrace calling as an everyday, every-compartment reality in their life, they:  

1. Come to see God as ACTIVELY engaged in their life story.  People come to see the deeper significance of their lives as they observe God calling them throughout their lifetime.  

2. Will experience a God who is present in every aspect of their life, and wants to walk with them through difficult life transitions. They begin to very naturally look for new callings through times of change.  

3. See calling as a simple act of tending to “the people entrusted to your care.” This means our response to calling is to take “our next faithful step” (thank you Scott Cormode of Fuller Seminary for this helpful definition.)

4. Will develop a strong sense of purpose and meaning. As they see themselves living out God’s various callings in their lives, they become missional people.   

5. Involve themselves in church communities that are much more connected to the needs of the world. They experience an ever-changing communal calling. 

6. See their church community as a source of discernment for calling. That new expectation in their connection to the church transforms the way they see their relationships.   

7. See others’ stories (as described  in Denise Utter’s wonderful post on Monday) as central to their life together as a church. They experience new levels of rich community life and commitment to one another.  

8. Practice “passing on their faith to the next generation” not by filling them with information about Jesus, but by helping them explore and live out their gifts. They’re determined to help others hear God’s callings on their lives.  

Our Christian lives are no less than a partnership with a God who is always calling. When calling is a central theme of our lives together, it changes everything about our lives together.   

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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