Dr. W. Mart Thompson in his seminar “You Are a Royal Priesthood—God calls and equips Christians to serve one another,” talked about the role of vocation in our lives.
Vocation is a calling from God to serve him and others. In a Christian context there are three realms or estates of our vocation. They are: home, congregation, and society.
As part the seminar, each participant shared their vocation using these parameters. Here’s mine as an example.
A family vocation: brother, son
A congregational calling: Bible study leader
An occupational vocation: writer at Creative Communications
A community calling: member of a Tuesday night bike-riding club
It was an interesting exercise because it helped me to see where God has placed me to serve and how I might be more intentional in revealing my relationship with Christ to others and being more Christ-like in my words and deeds.
It was also interesting to listen to the vocation lists of all those in attendance and hear how God is working in so many and various ways in the lives of his people. The ways in which people volunteer and give of their time and unique skills was truly inspiring.
Consider doing this vocation exercise this week for yourself and think about how God has placed you in a certain time and place and position for a reason. Take time to ponder what those reasons are, pray about them and then act upon them as the Holy Spirit directs you.
When Pastor Elijah Mwitanti was between pastoral calls, he took a job as an Uber driver for 18 months and quickly realized he had a new mobile congregation.
“Trying to satisfy the ‘friendly atmosphere’ aspect of the [Uber] contract brought the pastor in me out into the open” Mwitanti realized. God had put him in that car and at that time “to be a connection between people and God” (Living Lutheran, April 2018, 40).
Here are the lessons he learned through the experience:
- People were willing to engage in meaningful and uplifting conversations when approached in a nonjudgmental way.
- People were more responsive to small talk than he expected.
- People had an interest in knowing about him.
- People were receptive to his comments about his faith.
- People were civil and respectful.
Mwitanti returned to the pulpit with a greater sense of appreciating the need to connect with people on a personal level, not being afraid to initiate conversations with whoever entered through his church door.
Mwitanti’s experience makes me realize that I am often reticent to approach people in church to start conversations. But that may just be what God is calling me to do at that time and that place. People are more open and welcoming than we may think, and there is so much we can learn from each other about our faith lives and about what our Savior has done and is doing.
It often takes just one simple conversation starter to get the ball rolling. See what you can do to be a God connector with someone you don’t know at church.
In an interview in the March 2018 Christianity Today, author and pastor Dominique Dubois Gilliard says, “It’s crucial to find the heartbeat of your church. Your church might have a heart for education. Or caring for children orphaned by the incarceration of a mother or father“ (p. 67).
I have seen this play out in the churches in which I have been a member. One program that may work in one parish will not work in another precisely because that is not where the heartbeat of that church lies.
I know churches in my community who minister to the deaf and have a sign language interpreter in worship. Another church has a minister for families with children with special needs, and makes activities available that cater to those families. International students meet for a Bible study at another church in the area.
Each of these is an example of how a church found their heartbeat and did something to keep that beat going.
So much in the church is about “the things we have always done.” But it is important to always take a step back and think about “the things we should be doing.” It is never too late to start a new program to tap into an energy and excitement among your people for a certain ministry.
In the self-help industry these days, there is a push for people to “find their passion.” The same can be said for our churches. Finding your passion as a congregation is important because focusing on that passion can build community and grow faith. People who are passionate about something get to work and are happy to be there. Isn’t that the type of people we want within our parishes?
Think about opportunities within your parish that you are sensing that people have heart and a passion for. Then keep that heartbeat going by offering more opportunities to serve in that area. The heart of God will be revealed in the process.
Renowned theologian Eugene Peterson reminds us in his book, The Contemplative Pastor, that what a church needs most is a pastor immersed both in God’s life and our own lives. For Peterson, the question on a pastor’s mind should be: “Who are these particular people and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?”
A daunting and humbling question, to be sure. But it got me to thinking about the massive role we have come to expect from our pastors. We want them to be active yet reserved, a visionary but realistic, an authority and yet a friend.
Pastors are human, too, and, therefore, cannot be all things to all people.
So it takes us back to Peterson’s question. Finding a good match between a people and the unique person that a certain pastor is is key.
Each pastor has a different style and approach that may work in some churches, but not in others. So it is about both a church and a potential pastor being honest about strengths and weaknesses and what is a good fit and what is not.
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Have you ever heard of “Dunbar’s Number”? Discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is the human norm that the number of genuinely personal relationships a person can actively maintain is 150, give or take. Dunbar and his colleagues note that “150 people is both the approximate size of a typical small-scale human village and about the number of people who can live or work together without needing power structures to enforce cooperation. The group is small enough that social pressures can keep people in line” (“Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?” Christianity Today, October 2017, p. 62).
I find this interesting because at a recent conference I attended, the keynote speaker said that currently a majority of congregations in America have an average weekly attendance of guess what? 150 members.
It occurs to me that this is not simply a coincidence. 150 appears to be the sweet spot for most churches for the very reasons that research for Dumbar’s Number indicates:
It keeps the group manageable. People do not become just a number. People know them by name. Functions can happen without an overflow of people and not in an oversize room.
It keeps the group personal. Everybody knows each other and can keep relationships functioning. People care about one another because they know them well and see them often.
It keeps the group accountable. People notice when others are missing and can follow up with them. People can see when fellow members are straying and can bring them back into the fold. There is a sense that people are expected to be present at certain times and be there for one another in times of need.
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Ideologies of the world often clash with the theology of Christianity, and the ideology of consumerism is one of them.
Consumerism says, “I will pick and choose what I want.” In the mentality of consumerism, which is one of the most pervasive approaches in our society today, life is all about making choices. We choose what to buy, where to shop, where to live, what career to follow, what job to take, etc.
The problem comes when that approach leaks into spiritual life and the same principle is applied to what people believe and where they go to church. In this model, “the church becomes just another retail outlet, faith just another commodity. People change congregations and preachers and even denominations as readily and they change banks and grocery stores” (Colson, Chuck, The Body).
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And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. —Acts 2:42-47
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This is how many people “go to church.”
One of the largest challenges facing church today is how to approach the whole concept of what is becoming known in the industry as cyberministy, reaching out to parishioners through websites, blogs, social media outlets, Twitter and the like. It is an area that has at first been met with resistance among church leaders, but the fact of the matter is that most people in this technological age receive information mostly through cyberspace. The days of paper church newsletters are going the way of the do-do, unfortunately, and whether we like it or not, something has to be established within churches to reach out to members electronically.
This can take many forms, of course. Most churches today have at the very least a website people can access to obtain information about worship times and event schedules and to find the contact information of staff members and church workers. This sort of setup is mainly used to serve the needs to already active members and is in some ways simply replacing the hard copy church newsletter.
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