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.  

Care & Feeding of Spiritual Leaders, Part 2

Need for Spiritual Practices

Authors Willimon and Hauerwas wrote:

"pastoral ministry is too adventuresome and demanding to be sustained by trivial, psychological self-improvement advice. What pastors, as well as the laity they serve, need is a theological rationale for ministry which is so cosmic, so eschatological and therefore counter cultural, that they are enabled to keep at Christian ministry in a world determined to live as if God were dead. Anything less misreads both the scandal of the gospel and the corruption of our culture, (pg 144)."

Immersion in a counter-cultural narrative requests from us a determination to live into another story.

The basic practices of lectio divina, contemplation, and varieties of prayer are affirmations of another narrative taking root. At times feeling synthetic and forced, these practices in time emerge as lively and dynamic. This loss of this basic reality of Christian spiritual practice can be seen in the rejection that some church-leavers express. Alan Jameison identifies frustrated leaders creating frustrated followers. Jameison notes that those who leave church at a high percentage are frequently its lay leaders. These leaders have experienced poor pastoral ministry, limiting administration, or unaddressed conflict. At the heart of their search, however, is spiritual vitality. As these leaders leave church, intending to never go back, they often create fellowships of spiritual and relationtional integrity. It was not church these people were rejecting; it was the spiritually dislocatedness of the churches they had known from which they were separating themselves. Spiritual leaders need spiritual practices in their own lives, but also, these practices are necessary for the sake of the leaders and congregational participants in the process of being mentored and formed.

One of the pressing needs for spiritual leaders is the opportunity to carefully view issues relating to boundaries. Each of us has internal pressures seeking relief from a variety of pressures. Some are basic, others more complex. Many boundaries can become confused. Desires for rest, intimacy, challenge, and prosperity can become skewed, resulting in a variety of disasters. Spiritual leaders falling victim to various sins may be falling victim to natural hopes and desires unidentified and unattended; or, falling victim to misplaced desires while seeking to console one pain through the expense of another aspect of their own identity. For instance, unethical sexual relationships for spiritual leaders frequently occur as the result of misplaced desires for a new identity, or a desire to be admired, a need for friendship, etc. Being unaware of the broken and wounded areas of our own lives makes us easy prey for these destructive tendencies. At this level, spiritual practices are vital not only for spiritual leadership, but being a spiritual human person. Spiritual practices lived by leaders in the congregation remain vital for the health of the congregation. The griefs, loss, anguish, and confusion in congregations arising from the ethical violations of their pastors, ministers, and spiritual leaders is extensive and long-lasting. Spiritual practices become a vital piece in helping spiritual leaders from engaging in sexual violations, abuse of laity, financial scandals, substance abuse, workaholic lifestyle, and many others.

Protecting Boundaries While Crossing Borders

The issues relating to broken boundaries have been discussed widely and at length in many church systems, denominations and fellowships. Yet a few crucial aspects may be missing from these conversations. First, we are in a missional era for the church. The missional era requires new skills, new narratives, and new practices from spiritual leaders. Many of the practices and attitudes of Christendom will not add the vitality needed to pursue the vocation God is granting. Second, this new world of missional leadership is filled with opportunities for rabbit trails, side-paths, and unfamiliar mazes.

As missional spiritual leaders we need narratives that make sense of our dissonance with much of contemporary culture, but keep us in relationship with it. While in fear, we may be defensive about the protection of certain boundaries, we need also to cross over some defensive walls that get in the way of a missional life-style.

In more than one of my pastorates, I was expected to help retain the separation of the faith and the social and cultural reality of the neighborhood and larger community. This was done in small and simple ways. For the most part my job description was to care for and serve the congregation. Any reach beyond that would face scrutiny. For the attempts to reach out in relationship to the wider community, when that is not valued in practice by a local congregation, requires a variety of leadership skills. But it also requires more foundationally, spiritual discernment and practices which clarify and strengthen missional identity. For instance, a bishop I know explained that he was trying to insert into his portfolio of expected tasks a mission way of life. Realizing that all of his time was spend caring for the congregations of his synod, he had no time to engage his neighbors or his local community. Furthermore, it could be the case that he didn't even have a local community because the expansive territory he had to cover, geographically. After prayer and conversation, he was able to develop a percentage of his ministry time to engaging in his local community in a missional way. But that development took time.

As pastors move from Christendom/maintenance churches toward missional churches keeping personal boundaries will be all the more crucial. As the role-defined boundaries give way from a maintenance mode to a missional one, the temporary loss of a proscribed identity can be disturbing for some. To understand a God-given self-definition in the midst of this change is vital. To know who we are in God's eyes as we serve and relate in a new "parish" (i.e. our expanded awareness of our wider communities to which we have been called to serve) is the only way in which we can serve to demonstrate the reality of the kingdom of redemption, healing, and hope that we are proclaiming.

While there are boundaries to protect, there are borders to cross over. Knowing the difference between the two also calls forth the need for other types of fellowship, accountability, and prayer.

How have you experienced the balance between protecting boundaries and crossing borders?