a little r & r

The most exciting question I consistently have been asked while being interviewed by a Search Committee is this: How would you describe your CALL TO MINISTRY? I say, “the most exciting question” because I revel in revisiting my spiritual past in describing my call to ministry. I’ll spare you the details here, though I’m always open to sharing my story to anyone interested.

But I have always appreciated the consistent way Search Committees ask this question, using the word, “CALL” to ministry. The reason? Ever since I started doing interims in 2011 I’ve noticed most parishioners talk of “hiring our next minister,” with the emphasis on the word “HIRING.” I’ve even caught myself using the word “hired” instead of “called.”

Yet, fact is: I don’t recall God ever saying to me, “Rick, I want to ‘hire’ you to be one of my pastors.” In fact, when I think about my call—and I’d bet anything other pastors would share this perspective—the words “HIRE” or “HIRED” were never a part of the conversation.

And it isn’t that using the word “hired” is inapt. Pastors and churches sign contracts of employment, contained in “A Letter of Call” all the time. Arrangements in that letter are made for salary, housing, pension, and insurance coverage (the big four items in a compensation package), along with vacations, sick leave, & reimbursements. You get the picture.

Still, a word more suited for the marketplace, “hired,” dominates many church conversations about bringing a new pastor on board, while the word “calling” tends to get pushed back into a corner, fairly-well out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

Why is this?

My hunch is that it has to do with the overwhelming influence the marketplace has on all of us, including our spiritual vocabulary. Employers and employees don’t speak of job listings as “callings,” but “hirings.” I think most would say God has nothing to do with hiring and firing.

And this confusion in our language affects how we view our own lives. Imagine: if people were to ask us “Besides your family and friends, where do you find the greatest fulfillment in your life?” we’d probably list ourr favorite hobby or hobbies. These are sometimes referred to as our “avocations,” while speaking of our jobs as our “vocations.”

But in practice and in terms of the positive emotional investment these terms should be reversed. Our hearts are more invested in our hobbies, our REAL vocations and less so in our jobs (though not always) which are more like our avocations, on the sidelines of what we most truly invest the best of our hearts and minds.

Then one day I heard noted Methodist church consultant Kennon Callahan tell a clergy audience that if we wanted to know what most laypeople’s true calling is, ask them what they have the most fun doing. Callahan understood that the things we most love to do, give us real joy, are most likely aligned with our true vocation, which literally means our true “calling.”

He suggested that both clergy and laypeople have it “bass-ackwards;” that, indeed our true vocation isn’t our job, but more likely our hobby, and that our avocation isn’t our hobby, but our true divine calling.

Theologically Callahan was saying in so many words that God takes pleasure in what gives us pleasure and wants us to be happy and not miserable with what we do with our lives. He was saying that each of us has a ministry and are ministers, doing what we deeply love and gives us our deepest joy, whether we get paid for it or volunteer. Those who have been able to match their joy with their action are very possibly the most blessed people on earth!

Several times I’ve heard people say here at SCCC how many members volunteered at the church, often doing as many as two, three, even four jobs at once around the church. Then, of course, the pandemic hit and then the church’s former pastor Johnny Lewis left and everything suddenly stopped. People’s participation plummeted when the church could no longer do in-person worship, mission trips were cancelled, Sunday School went virtual, and fellowship/study groups could no longer meet. The church has never been quite the same since, like a lot of churches who suffered through the pandemic. A lot of people are counting on a new pastor to light a fire under the church again.

But how will we look at the new pastor: as someone “Called” by God and the church to be the next senior pastor or “Hired” by the church to lead the congregation?

And how will faithful members and friends of the congregation look at their participation after the new pastor is called to the church and installed? As persons called by God through the church to fulfill their “calling” or as mere “volunteers” filling various positions.
My hunch is the reason so many people volunteered to do so many jobs around the church is that they felt deeply that what they were doing was a calling, whether they recognized it as such or not! I believe people were willing to do multiple volunteer things around the church because they sensed those things they were doing were more than just jobs but real experiences of the Holy, of God calling upon them to help the church fulfill its kingdom potential.

They were, in the best sense of the term “ministers doing ministry” both in the church and beyond the church to fulfill the congregation’s mission on behalf of the kingdom and kindom of God.

Thing is: God keeps calling us through the church to do all kinds of ordinary things that have extraordinary impact on us and on others, including our families. God believes in us more than we believe in ourselves.

Maybe it’s time, even past-due time, everybody started believing in ourselves again and believing that God believes in us too. With very likely the worst of the pandemic behind us, it’s time to get off the bench and back in the game!

See you soon!