I've been blessed to be a part of the Virginia Council of Churches Young Clergy Task Force in the last year. Recently, we convened a group of fifty clergy under the age of forty to discuss what ministry is like in our present day. Our catchy title, "Ministry in an Age of Apathy," brought lots of discussion itself on whether this was indeed an age of apathy, and if so, whether that apathy was a condition or a symptom of something deeper. This all inspired numerous valuable conversations about the future of the church, not just for clergy, but for all Christians.
One of these that interested me most was an extended conversation on the nature of vocation. We talked about the common teachings on vocation from a Christian perspective, namely that our vocation lies where our passions and gifts meet with the needs of the world. We talked about the joy of that, but also the struggle to discern that at various points, especially when we carry various vocations at the same time. At the same time, someone may be a pastor, a mother, a sister, a wife, and who knows what else? In the increasing possibility of bivocational pastors, this person may also be a counselor, a professor, a web developer, or a business owner. This is exciting and exhausting and complex and life giving, all at once.
This helped me realize something. As I learned about vocation growing up, something was omitted from the syllabus. Where my passions or gifts and the world's needs meet sounds like a neat place to do ministry, but no one told me how desperately difficult it can be to exercise your vocation. Just like going to the gym or learning to play an instrument, vocations require significant time and energy of us. We must practice our vocations, hone our vocations, sharpen our vocations, prune our vocations. To be who we're called to be, we must explore the dynamics of who we are and develop ourselves in the trajectory of our vocations.
So, if you haven't heard this before, let me say it clearly. Your vocations require something of you, something difficult and painful. But just as regular exercise produces a healthier body, and just as regular practice produces more excellent music, so too honing your vocation will help to grow your identity toward those areas that God is calling you to use your passions and gifts to meet the needs of the world.
You need to know that following your vocation doesn't mean finding the path of least resistance. It may be deeply difficult. It likely will challenge you personally, and perhaps it should. The beauty of God's call on our lives is that it is decided not only internally within ourselves, but externally as well. We're called into vocations by a voice outside of us that sees a potential in us that needs nurtured and worked, needs pulled and stretched, in order to come fully alive. This doesn't mean vocation requires us to run headfirst into concrete walls, but it may mean that we need to develop the tools necessary to overcome the obstacles, whether a ladder to climb over or a different path to go around, to fully discover and live out the vocations we're called to live.
So, yes, you're called to live life where your deepest passions and giftings meet the needs of the world. Just remember that, to live that life well, you must give the effort, the practice, and the drive to make that vocation come alive for you and for the world.
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Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.