Sustaining Our Vocational Calling

W.4.0404 h.—Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

One of the most inviting and empowering tenets of our tradition is the understanding that we are each—all of us—called to ministry. In responding to the call to ordained leadership, ruling elders and deacons have already done some important discernment. But the art of vocational discernment doesn’t end with ordination. This is just the beginning!

Theologian Frederick Buechner describes our vocation in this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[1] The question of how we will meet the world’s hunger and the needs of our people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love is a way of asking, “what is our deep gladness?” What sustains us? What brings us joy in this good and hard work?

Questions of energy, intelligence, imagination, love, and even gladness are counterintuitive to many of us. Many leaders work and live in spaces that don’t leave a great deal of room for this type of reflection and discernment. These kinds of questions emphasize health, sustainability, curiosity, and joy rather than productivity, efficiency, and certainty. Most of us need practice asking and answering such questions.

The PC(USA) Book of Order reminds us, “As there were in Old Testament times elders for the government of the people, so the New Testament church provided persons with particular gifts to share in discernment of God’s Spirit and governance of God’s people” (BOO, G-2.0301). Discerning the Spirit of God and leading God’s people accordingly requires energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. However, when faced with the everyday challenges of keeping an organization alive and well ...

  • our energy can be easily depleted when there are more tasks to do than hours with which to complete them;
  • we can begin to question our intelligence when our areas of expertise may not prepare us for leading an organization made up of diverse and, at times, competing needs;
  • our imaginations can be dampened by the realities of diminishing resources, human and financial;
  • and our love can be tested when our lives together are marked by anxiety and fear of an unknown future.

Photo of a silhouette of people prayingWill you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” Without intentional engagement and facilitation, this particular question can feel unattainable and unrealistic. But the truth is, if our work is to be faithful and if we are to follow what Jesus describes as the greatest commandment—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37)—our work will not be sustainable unless we commit to practices that replenish our energy, expand our intelligence (understanding), evoke our imagination, and deepen our love for one another. These practices might include forms of prayer, spiritual disciplines, communal discernment, storytelling, and leadership development.

In order to promote the practice of a more sustainable sense of vocation, let’s consider what we really mean when we say “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.”

[1] Buechner, Frederick. Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.1993 by HarperOne, 119.