Vocation: An Easter Challenge for the Church

by Catrin Harland Davies.

It’s the beginning of the summer term. As a university chaplain, I can sense the rising stress levels, as students sit their final exams, and prepare for the rest of their lives. Some have their careers all planned out, but many – perhaps most – are still working it out. They may take time out, earn some cash, travel, or frantically apply for any graduate job they can find. They’re looking for some certainty, not about the next 40+ years, but about the immediate future and the next steps.

At this point in the lectionary cycle, we find the early church doing something similar. The disciples are asking themselves, “What next?” Should they return to their previous trades, wait for the next exciting adventure, or just lie low and keep out of trouble? Over the coming weeks, and following Pentecost, they gain understanding and confidence to step out in faith into the unknown.

Perhaps the church is once again – or always – at this stage? Perhaps, once again, we face questions about our vocation as a church, and our individual callings within that, which combine uncertainty with exciting possibilities for the future? I would like to suggest that we need to follow a similar process to the early disciples and almost every new graduate!

Firstly, we need to rediscover our fundamental vocation to be the laos or laity – the people of God. One of the immediate instincts of the disciples, post-resurrection, was to go back to what they knew: specifically, fishing.[1] They decided to get on with their lives, while they worked out what this new reality meant for them. Like them, we live out our faith within our day-to-day lives of work, school, university, local community. We need to ask anew how to be faithful and faith-filled in that setting.

Of course, this process of rediscovery itself is not new. It has been the task of every generation of Christians since the resurrection. Each new context raises new questions, needing new answers. Even within the New Testament, see the different issues encountered in late first century Asia Minor[2] or mid-first century Thessalonica or Corinth, or the diverse challenges facing the various church communities in Revelation 2-3.

The conversation needs to happen individually, locally and nationally. It needs to happen ecumenically, but alert to possibility of a distinctive Methodist vocation. How is God calling us to be godly? How are we to be Easter people in our bit of today’s world?

Secondly, we need to ask what kind of leadership today’s church needs. Maybe we still need presbyters, deacons, missioners, stewards, treasurers, chairs of district, chaplains, evangelists… But perhaps there are also new forms of leadership that we need to create (or recreate), as we have done with the pioneer pathway. Reimagining leadership is not the task of an appointed few – it is our shared responsibility. If I sense God calling my local church in a particular direction, what use is it if I sit in my pew, tutting to myself that those in leadership have not discerned it? We all see only in part – if we pool our insights, our collective vision grows.

Similarly, we all need to take responsibility for recognising the leadership potential in one another. When was the last time you asked someone if they have considered offering as a preacher, a steward, or an ordained minister? And when did you last suggest that a person’s gift for oil painting, poetry or break dancing might be a blessing for the church? Often, it takes someone else to identify gifts in us, or to give us the courage to hear God’s call.

Employers invest a lot of time and money in careers fairs and recruitment events – for young adults, considering how best to apply their education, or older applicants, considering a career change. Do we, as a church, ask our members how God is calling them to live out their Christian vocation right now? Do we invest time and energy – money, even – in helping everyone to use their gifts for God’s mission?

Thirdly, we need to remember always that it’s neither our church, nor our mission. They’re God’s. Our task is no more and no less than to be open to being drawn into God’s mission. That’s not a get-out from all the above, but it is to say that God is bigger than the church, and God may be doing a new thing. Like the companions on the way to Emmaus, our task is to ask what is going on, to listen to Christ, to make use of the means of grace, and to allow our eyes to be opened.

 

[1] John 21:3

[2] As seen, for example, in 1 Peter

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