Vocation Begins with Listening

It Begins with Listening

Everyday upon waking, we have three questions to respond to:

Who am I? What do I have to offer? And, who is my neighbor?

When these questions are asked by followers of Jesus Christ, the answers are transformative.

As each day opens up to unimagined diversions and distractions, a guiding intention for life must be in place.

Then the curves and detours are navigated, not with dread and fear of what lay behind the next corner.

Anxiety is reduced simply because we know what we are here for.  We have a purpose.

We have experienced times, though, in which the old approaches of the church fall woefully short of satisfying the apparent needs of the day.  Participation in church across the country continues to decline.

Financial support for congregations and denominational agencies is flagging.

The role of the church in society has changed.

Culture has become more complex and multifaceted.

Religious and spiritual concerns of people have become more individualized and pluralistic.

Facing the challenge of making the reign of God real among our neighbors and communities has become more complicated.

Sometimes we just try to work harder doing the same things we have done before. A definition of insanity… In these experiences, joy wanes, freshness is lacking, but transformation is waiting as we hear God again.

As our calling - as we have understood it - seems less effective, we may grope to "discover" our call, our vocation.

The discovery of a calling is not like constructing a building or crafting a work of art.

But more like a child find her way home by listening to her parent’s call, closing the distance the voice become clearer.

Discovering a call, it would make sense then, begins and ends with listening to a voice.

A call is not a committee’s work to forge and wordsmith, but a people’s work of listening.

Rather than crafting a vision and mission statement, we can actually listen and receive.  Listen to the voice that grants us our identity, and find out what that is calling us toward.

As we hear God calling us to engage in God’s mission, we find that we already have a mission statement.

It has come from God.

Jesus didn't speak in terms of vision and mission statements.  He granted us an identity, and he told us what to do with it:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (

Matthew 5:13-16


Jesus has granted us an identity and a purpose in life.

Growing out of our God-given identity, we come to understand who we are and what we are being called to do.

We take stock of our resources, and discover who our neighbors are.

Listening to God, to each other, and to our neighbors, we begin to hear outlines of God’s mission and our invitation to join.

Reflecting on these listening experiences transforms our understanding of our identity, our calling, and who is around us as neighbors and partners.

What IMD Can Help You Accomplish

Through a series of conversations with scripture, your congregation, and your community, we can help you begin to distill and refine what you are hearing.

We will help you listen to the word of God by dwelling in the Word.

Dwelling in the Word is a specific corporate spiritual practice of encountering scripture as a living voice speaking fresh insights to our present experiences.

We help you listen to one another in the context of listening to God’s.

This will lead to a greater sense of clarity about what God is speaking into being through the community of faith.

Then we guide you in listening to the wider community to understand the needs and hopes which surround us, but not only in order to do good things for others.

Rather, we listen to the wider community to hear what God is already engaged in beyond our activities.

And in the process, in unexpected places, we find partners in extending the grace of the kingdom of God.

As we listen, we begin to hear God’s calling for us.

Instead of ending with a written mission statement, you will continue with an awareness of the mission God is calling you toward.

As this awareness grows new forms of congregational life will be considered as God’s Spirit transforms individuals and the congregation’s structures and systems.

As you begin to live into your new identity and call, helpful resources, practices, and structures to move forward will be developed, such as:

  • Staff configurations.
  • Transforming conflicts to energize you to engage in God’s mission for your church.
  • Charting short and long range transition plans as you move from a “maintenance” form of church life to a “missional” form can be charted.
  • New ministry resourcing and fundraising

A new awareness of God’s missional calling for your congregation does not end with ideas and awareness, but lives on in new practices and structures.

And many of these behaviors and practices are going to be unique to each individual church and parish.  

You Won't be Able to Discern God's Actions...

...if you don't know what...

...God cares about.

This morning I was reading a wonderfully short blog by Scott McKnight, entitled "The OT's Most Important Command"* It got me thinking on a couple levels. 

Leaning on the work of Walter Brueggemann (and who wouldn't?), McKnight reveals a little know fact in the Hebrew language. There are no adverbs. Brueggemann explains, "I’ll give you a little Hebrew grammar.... Biblical Hebrew has no adverbs. The way it expresses the intensity of the verb, it repeats the verb. So if it says give and you want to say “really give” it says “give give” right in the sentence–”give give.”

This little lesson in grammar is not without a point. So if one wants to find a high priority command, look for lots of verbs repeated. With this in mind, Brueggemann says the most stressed command in the Old Testament is not what people might think.

How about,

  1. "Love the LORD your God..."? Nope
  2. "You shall have no other God's before me"? Nu-uh.
  3. "You shall work on six days, and the seventh is a sabbath to the LORD"? No.
  4. "Beat your swords into plowshares"? Not that either.

So before I reveal what McKnight wrote from Brueggeman, let me ask if we really know God well enough to share God's priorities? As a missional conviction, we need to be in mission where God has initiated mission. We look in our neighborhoods, along our sidewalks, where we work and where our kids go to school. We hope to see God active in our worshiping communities and active outside them as well. But we can be blind to what God is doing because we are seeking the actions of God in the wrong places.

If we know God's priorities, might we discern God in action in those places where God's priorities are made manifest?

Missional discernment needs people who know God. Prayerful, reflective, spiritual people who seek the heart of God in a living, personal relationship.

But missional discernment also needs to know about God. To have learned about, acted upon, engaged in the biblical narrative revealing God in action, let's us know this God we are seeking to know deeply.

Often I have thought we need to "know God" more than "knowing about God". But I'm rethinking that. Without knowing about God, we might be chasing a relationship with a god of our own creation. We need both knowing, and knowing about.

So, according to Brueggemann, what is the Old Testament's most important command?


Deuteronomy 15

, you get a law about seven years. It’s called the 

Year of Release

. It says that at the end of seven years, if a poor person owes you money, cancel the debt." As Brueggemann explains, "[The law] says to not be hard-hearted (or tight fisted) about granting poor people space to live their lives, because you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord God brought you out into the good place." Scott McKnight adds, "So grammatically, the Old Testament scripture with the 

most emphasis

 as in “you must must must must 


 do this” is a passage about forgiving debts."

God cares about releasing debts. This is big. Very big. And it let's us know where God's heart is. 





God in a Gorilla Suit

"One more thing"

There's an experience I often have when I preach. As soon as I get done, I often think of other things I should have said.  There have been times I have felt compelled to walk back up to the pulpit and say, "oh yeah, one more thing." But I haven't. Yet.

From this past Sunday, Advent 3A, the gospel lesson...

Matthew 11:2-3:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

I was impressed by the reality that humanity missed figuring out who God's messiah was the first time, reminding me of the question as to whether or not we'll figure him out at the second coming.

In psychology, there is a condition called inattentional blindness. We tend to be blind to things we don't have a category for in our experience. We can be blind to the degree we are in denial about what we don't wish to see. But most interesting, is the blindness to things we don't know we should be looking for.

The popularized version of this condition has circulated on the Internet. Daniel Simons from  the University of Illinois developed the test. His explanation of it can be found at the


. There a number of videos there to become familiar with the concept.

Theological Discernment

But in terms of theological discernment, how do we attend to God's presence? Do we see, or do we merely look at what is taking place around us? Daniel Simons mentions that those who claimed not to see the gorilla in the experiment, actually had their eye on the gorilla for up to second, but claimed not to see it. We can


at something, but if we don't


it, then is was never there. Looking at and seeing are not the same.

How can we discern our lives and culture so as to answer John's question from prison: is Jesus the one, or shall we expect someone else? If John has trouble seeing God's messiah in his own community, would there be potential difficulty for us to do any better than John? How is God showing up, in unseen ways, in our communities now?

Even if God were in a gorilla suit, we still might not see.

Youth Baseball

I've always known, deep down that baseball is one of the most divinely inspired team sports. The poetic rhythms of the game:
  • the emphasis on the presence of the Trinity
  • the reality that the best in the game strike-out most of the time
  • the desire to get home, either by transcendence (out of the park), or by immanence (around the bases)
  • and many more....
I may have the opportunity to become a part of the board of directors for our town's youth baseball league. It would be a great opportunity to help the game and our kids. That is easy for me to see as a missional endeavor. However, if I'm mediocre at the job, it would be an embarrassment to the church.

The patron saint of non-ball player baseball administrators, Bart Gaimatti, needs to inspire me. He got Pete rose out of baseball, on agreeable terms, he rekindled the passion for the poetry of the game, honored it's traditions, and cared about the fans. But on the downside, he died in office of heart failure, one week before his one-year anniversary as the commissioner. Sacrifice bunt?

Missional baseball leadership? Hmmm.