Since the church was born, people of faith have expressed their unique roles in God’s kingdom using language that conveys being chosen, appointed, or called by God. Paul said that he “was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Tim. 1:11), and that he “had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised” (Gal. 2:7). But this preparation and equipping weren’t reserved for only clergy or apostles: “for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
Sometimes this language of God’s calling can be dangerous. We’re flawed, limited creatures who often err, so it’s wise to exercise caution when we speak about what God has called us to do. But even exercising caution and wisdom, some questions of calling are inescapable: What should I be doing with my time? What does God have in mind for my life? What are the good works that God has prepared for me to do?
There is no magic formula to discover our callings. Nor is there a 10-question quiz that will tell us whether or not we’re called to seminary or vocational ministry. Learning who to be, how to live, and how to best use our gifts to serve others are the works of a lifetime as we seek to walk with Jesus. But here are some thoughts from a few authors who have written on the subject. I hope these help you as you discern which path is right for your next stage of life!
David F. Ford is the Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. He has written and edited many books, including 1997’s The Shape of Living: Spiritual Directions for Everyday Life. In its second chapter, called “Vocations and Compulsions,” Ford explores the relationship that our desires have with the choices we make in life. After explaining that education and attention will allow us to carefully and wisely decide which desires we will allow to have power over us, Ford provides this broad definition of vocation: “the long-term shaping of our lives by desires that we own.” He then provides some helpful tips for this work of life-shaping, including the need for vocational companions (e.g. a “soul friend” or spiritual director).
- Which desires will you allow to have power in your life because they are from God?
- In what ways might these desires shape your life and vocation?
- Who will walk alongside you as you explore your vocational calling?
Mihee Kim-Kort is an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister with degrees in divinity and theology. She will be presenting at the February 2021 session of PTS’s Wise Women and Spirituality series. Her most recent book is Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith. One of its chapters, called “All Work is Play,” invites us to consider what it would mean to “queer” our concept of vocation. Here Kim-Kort offers this description of vocation: “a way to grasp how we occupy space in this world—to delve into the question of what kind of work will be an expression and extension of our deepest selves.” She goes on to note that these callings will reciprocate God’s own loving activity in the world.
- How will you occupy space in this world?
- What kinds of work will express and extend your deepest self?
- Which aspects of God’s loving activity will you reciprocate?
Parker J. Palmer is an author, educator, and activist. His work focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality, and social change. One of his short books—Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation—is required reading for PTS’s Spiritual Formation class, part of the sequence for the Master of Divinity degree program. (Palmer will also present at the Seminary’s 2021 Henderson Summer Leadership Conference May 24-25 addressing Religion and the Common Good.) The book’s thesis is simple but profound: our vocation does not come from an external voice demanding us to become something we’re not, but from an internal voice calling us to become who God created us to be. Once we have begun to discover our inner true self—often by sitting in silent reflection or searching our own past for clues—our vocation will be something we simply can’t not do.
- When have you tried to conform yourself or your life to a demanding external voice?
- What clues have you discovered about the true self God created you to be?
- When you’re in touch with your inner voice and true self, what is it you can’t not do?
Jon Mathieu is a master of divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a 2019-2020 Newbigin Fellow. While his background is in mathematics, he has been engaged in ministry in Pittsburgh for more than a decade. After years serving as a campus minister, ministry director, and writer in evangelical contexts, he is now following God into more expansive and inclusive visions for ministry. His writing appears at RELEVANT and Red Letter Christians.