Emerging Call

confusion

Above is a picture of me looking confused. Below is a reflection for my theological reflection and contextual education seminar on the subject of “Emerging Call.”

Since I began seminary work, I discovered less about the nature of my gifts and more about the how gifts relate to ministry. My undergraduate academic work and my subsequent time in graduate social work helped to illuminate the nature of my gifts. I am skilled in administrative tasks, analysis, theological reflection, considering metaphysical issues, public speaking, marketing, and organizational management. All of these gifts would be well-suited to a variety of ministry settings. However, seminary work has helped me to understand that gifts alone do not a ministry make. That is, I am continuing to realize that ministry requires a distinct call, and without the call, I may feel mostly equipped to do a ministry task or role, but will not feel entirely equipped or willing.

In addition, the nature of seminary coursework has revealed that ministry gifts are helpful, but they are not skills that can be honed in the exact same way that skills can be honed in secular work. For instance, public speaking skills form the foundation for a good liturgist and empathic listening skills and therapeutic training forms for the foundation for a good pastoral counselor. However, if a person does not feel connected to a community of faith (and their doctrine of ecclesias requires connecting to an ordaining or sending body) or a person does not feel that their life’s work entails the work of liturgy or pastoral counseling, this person should not enter into ministry in those capacities. This person may serve the functions of a liturgist or pastoral counselor every once in a while, or in a personal capacity, but it would be unwise to enter into a lifelong appointment as a pastor or pastoral caregiver.

Furthermore, I have discovered that the Church is a large body of faith with a wide spectrum of beliefs, and that it is upheld by ordinary people, with ordinary flaws, and ordinary types of brokenness, but who are made more capable for office because of their call. Worshipping and attending class with people from diverse faith backgrounds, learning Western church history, and attending Mass every other week have all shown me the diversity within the Church. Steady revelations regarding this diversity have given me different insights about the Church than has mere intellectual knowledge of diversity within the Church.

Hearing stories about diverse faith backgrounds and diverse faith journeys (including moves away from Wesleyan traditions, e.g. Nazarene and Methodist) have prompted me to reconsider why I identify as Wesleyan and Methodish (confused between Nazarene and Methodist). My answer currently is that I have grown up as a Nazarene, and have not felt hugely compelled to abandon my Wesleyan faith, although I have questioned my affiliation to the Nazarene church due to concerns about the Nazarene stance toward those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and my impressions regarding its colonial approach to evangelism (e.g. using a Jesus film to spread the gospel, not knowing enough pastors of color or women pastors who serve as senior pastors, even in California). Of course, this hereditary answer seems insufficient. However, as a child of immigrants who has one parent who identifies as Christian, without the American/Western connections and perspectives about American/Western denominations of Christianity, I feel adrift in my search for denominational identity. An easier solution might to abandon this search altogether, an approach favored by the millenials who identify as the “nones” who claim a faith identity without a Church or particular faith body, while retaining a spirituality with clear Christian leanings. These “nones” may attend a non-denominational church, which would seem to resolve the doctrinal issues and church stances with which I wrestle.

Nonetheless, although I do not yet feel a particular call to parish ministry, I am leaning toward ministry in the public sphere and in the field of social work. I also feel that I have a responsibility and desire to be a leader within the Church. Despite my denominational confusion and the current ambiguity of my call, I feel strongly that I am capable and willing to live into the challenges of my faith. Ultimately, I feel called to a life of social justice, reconciliation, restoration, healing, and addressing the deepest concerns that touch human souls. While social work helps to meet many needs that people have by providing people and communities with resources, social work does not have as much language or inclination toward reconciliation, restoration, healing, and addressing the deepest concerns that touch human souls. As a dual-degree student, I have seen ways in which pastoral care and ministry can supplement and inform social work. I have heard about how hospital chaplains have taken the time to be by the bedside of those who are dying, how military chaplains are taking on the arduous task of ministering to both the victims and accused of sexual assault within the ranks, and how faith organizations overwhelmingly represent micro-finance organizations and how faith organizations are uniquely concerned about the needs of local communities (in contrast to the tidal wave-like campaigns enacted with a heavy hand by national organizations).

I am often troubled by how difficult it is to feel “good enough” in seminary coursework and ministry, and how I have a hard time finding a denomination with which to cling. However, I think that at this point in my seminary studies, it is sufficient to work on the personal characteristics, knowledge, and skills that would make me a good social worker and minister within a certain context. I do not need to be a good fit for all contexts, and I do not need to prove myself to anyone—being more aware of my call will come with time, and it does not demonstrate anything more or less about my abilities to show love in this world. Furthermore, while it is true that denominational affiliation will provide me with a faith community that will hold me accountable and support me in my ministry, perfection cannot be the answer. There will be no denomination or faith community that will never fail or disappoint me; I just need to find the denomination with which I am willing to do the work of struggling—struggling to find truth, to find how best to love God and love others, and to become the people we were meant to be.

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2 comments
  1. You may be drawn to inclusive Interfaith Chaplaincy. I was, while in seminary, and spent 25 years doing that. It can be very freeing to be out among freethinkers. Or, choose to be an insider. All the best.

  2. Vocational ministry is challenging, and generally doesn’t pay enough to easily repay the debt it takes to gain entry. Even so, it can be very rewarding but it will have seasons of deep disappointments/discouragement. Without a real sense of God’s “call” it is very, very difficult to continue in pastoral ministry through many of these “down” seasons. This may be true in all areas of vocational ministry, but my experience is in pastoral ministry where I know it is true. I’ve experienced it and seen it create havoc in the lives of other pastors. The good news is: the rewards are worth it and the kinds of calls you read about in scripture are, indeed, real today. You can do a lot of ministry without a clear “call,” but I encourage you to put yourself in places conducive to God speaking directly into your life. Tim.

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