I’ve primarily been focusing on missional communities over the last few months, but I wanted to take a quick break and post on another topic.
Recently I’ve had a number of conversations with people who are interested in pursuing vocational ministry or who are in a season of transition. These conversations have given me the opportunity to reflect on discerning calling. As I’ve shepherded people through these conversations, there are three primary questions I’ve been helping them ask:
Who am I?
How you answer this question can give a great deal of clarity to the next steps a person should consider. This question has two answers – the first is your theological identity, and the second is practically how you are wired.
Theologically, by repentance and faith in Christ, you are forgiven, you are a new creation, an adopted son or daughter, you are fully righteous before God in Christ, and you are a citizen of heaven. Therefore your identity, worth, approval and righteousness do not depend on what you do, but what Christ has done on your behalf.
We therefore ought to approach seasons of transition with a great deal of freedom, trusting in God’s providence that the current circumstances are his ordained will for our good! It is always refreshing to speak with someone who has a firm grasp of their identity in Christ.
As a son or daughter of God, we also trust in the sufficiency of God’s word – if He has commanded it, we must obey. If He has forbidden it, we must not do it. If there is no explicit command, then we are given principles in God’s word to apply, the Holy Spirit, the community, and our own experiences and desires to work from, all the while recognizing God’s goodness to provide these things for us.
This leads us to answering the question in a second way. Practically speaking, in addition to the above, it is helpful to have a handle on your personal theological convictions, philosophical approaches to ministry, and practically the gifts and personality traits that make you unique.
I’m convinced that missional communities are an extremely effective way to make disciples in America. For one reason or another, God has given me a very analytical brain, and I love to create order out of seeming chaos. I also really enjoy developing and coaching people, and am very capable at leading large scale organizations. If I were in a season of transition, I would certainly take those things into consideration, and probably not pursue a vocation as a counselor. God just hasn’t made me that way.
What do I need?
The second question I’ve been challenging people with is “what do you need?” In assessing new opportunities, consider your own development. What experiences would help you to grow? Are there particular life circumstances that require special consideration? Are you in a healthy place spiritually, or are you struggling in your faith?
As you answer questions like those above, I think the fit a particular role or opportunity can come into focus. If you are early on in your ministry or professional life, you may not have a lot of understanding of who you are and how you’re gifted, so it’s good to engage in a place that allows you to explore that gifting.
if you are emerging from a particularly difficult season of ministry, perhaps being a point leader for a new ministry or a strategic change is not the best place, as it will demand extra amounts of time, emotional energy, and thought capital. Consider a place or an opportunity that will allow you some time to heal from past wounds and recover to an emotionally healthy place.
Also, I think it is incredibly important to answer this question regarding your financial health. If you’re deeply in debt (say from college loans), then it may be difficult to pursue a support-raised opportunity. Perhaps it is God’s providence to give you a season to establish financial health, and thereby allow you to pursue vocation ministry down the line. If you have a whole bunch of kids (like me!), then you need to consider if an opportunity can allow you to support your family.
Knowing what you need developmentally and financially are helpful questions to have answered as you consider opportunities in front of you.
What do I desire?
Having answered the first two questions, I think it’s also really important to consider the basic question “what do you want?” We often have a tendency in the Christian world to over-spiritualize our desires or to be needlessly afraid of them. I can guarantee that I have sinful motivations in my heart for just about everything I do, but there are also lots of desires that God has placed in me.
I want to provide for my family. It is a noble and godly desire, but it also can often be driven by my desire for control and comfort. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t seek to find a stable job that pays the bills and puts food on the table. There will always be mixed motives in anything!
In my experience, it’s helpful to identify my desires, search my own heart as to my intentions behind them, and invite my community to help me process through my desires in light of God’s word. I need people who will be honest with me, and I think you need people who will be honest with you about what they think about your desires. I’d strongly suggest you bring these kinds of things before people who will actually challenge you – don’t surround yourself with yes men!
Also, allow God’s providence to chasten your desires – if you want to preach to thousands, but God hasn’t given you an ability to preach to more than 5, then submit yourself to His providence that you may not get what you want!
I have always tended to the overly pragmatic, and am a fairly decisive person, so there may be plenty more that needs to be considered. That being said, whenever I speak with someone who is interested in pursuing ministry, the more clearly these kinds of questions are answered the more likely a person is to have clarity in decision making and joy in the process.
What else should I help people consider?
If you’d like some help in answering these questions, especially as it relates to ministry, I’d highly recommend you look into The Austin Stone Institute!