The Ecology of Calling

Below is a reflection from John Good about what this thing called “calling” is all about and how he has been getting on with it lately.
Didn’t someone say that we want our buildings to do two things for us? We want them to shelter us, and we want them to speak to us. Well we live in a house in which half the boxes remain unpacked because we are yet to move. I’m reminded when I look into the mirror which isn’t yet on a wall or search for a pair of swimming trunks which are still packed away that our life and calling is like that. 
Hamworthy is beginning to ask us who we are and what we are doing here. Every day I, like you, experience conversations, questions, nudges, news and emotions and my sense of calling interacts with them where they land. I can go searching for words that work within a church context but they haven’t yet been unpacked ready for a different job. I find myself in a conversation with a parent at the school gate about what I do and I realise I know more about what I used to do, but things are changing. I am moving house literally and also in terms of how I see my own calling as a person, parent and pastor. 
Steve Moody from Stopsley Baptist Church where I used to be the associate pastor wrote a brilliant blog about calling and I wanted to revisit it. He talks about the word calling as a Christian minister and how God calls to us at different levels. To help me think, here is a couple of sentences about each depth of calling and a couple of notes about what it means for us here.
At the very deepest level, we as people of faith experience a call to live as children of God. Or as Paul puts it “in Christ” rather than “in Adam”. First and foremost, what we are being called to is relationship with our father and to the grace of being loved and loving. Take this one away and all other more surface layers lie precariously on top of a sink hole desperate to be filled.

  • I have experienced deep moments of gratitude recently in Hamworthy. Coffee with friends, a moment in the park or on the beach, some time with my children. 
  • It’s easy to dismiss activity at this level in pursuit of “real work”.
  • I have the gift of time at the moment to concentrate on being with God but can be impatient to move onto doing.

One level up from this is a deep sense of who we were made to be and  the unique combinations of passion and gifting that stir us most profoundly. Why have I ended up here in Poole?  Last August when I was interviewed, I might have answered that I am seeking new understandings of how we relate as the body of Christ, that I am passionate about helping people live their whole lives for God in the nooks and crannies of society. I might also have mentioned I love my family, I love surfing, I love ideas and I love people!

  • I am still driven by ideas and concepts but have been struck by how much this part of me resides in my head when ideas used be worked out with different groups of people in the context of church leadership.
  • On the other hand, pioneering allows the freedom of structure for these deep desires and questions to become powerful motivators to connect with different types of people and projects. I am beginning to talk more with people about how to help people genuinely grow in faith through the outdoors.

Closer to the surface still, these passions and energies look to find functional expression in an occupation or task. For the last ten years these have been as a Christian Youth worker and then as a pastor in a church. There I was drawn into all kinds of work. Administration, vision casting, strategy setting, training leaders, networking. As a pioneer the skills involved in the function of work are needing to bend and flex. 

  • Some of this function has continued. I have taken on the responsibility for chairing our local churches together group called “love Hamworthy” and am vice chair of Churches together in Poole.
  • We recently became members and mission partners at Parkstone Baptist. They were good enough to be for us a family which was cheering us on and praying for our work in Hamworthy. We also have asked to be accountable to a charity called Poole Missional communities. I figure the dual citizenship is Biblical!
  • I realise that the opportunity here is to be led far more by the Spirit already at work in other people than my ideas or strategy.
  • Exploring the ABCD theory to community development has begun to help me begin to tie together a theology of the Spirit with a approach to life in the community.

Then breaking ground, this call and response finds a specific context in which the function of Pastor has operated. It is now not Stopsley Baptist Church. It does not yet have a name. It has not yet been birthed. This place is windy, loud and troublesome at times. 

  •  I oscillate between feeling like we need to prove ourselves as faith leaders in the community and the call to join the existing ministries which surround us by “taking on the very nature of a servant”.

Much of my wrestling with the move here and with what that word calling actually means is because my thinking has operated mainly on this final surface level. Once the surface has been breached we all find movement, wind and flux in the context around us. We constantly look to our jobs, churches, friends and hobbies to speak to us about who we are. We decorate our houses to be reminded of the narratives we buy into about what our lives mean. The ground shifts and it’s easy for me to believe that this is the place where I draw my identity. Here the surface is more open to the elements. What we stand on in this final layer can feel fragile and precarious but I have been taking heart when I remember what lies beneath. The deeper we are able to go, the less there is movement and unease. There is less to prove and more strength to draw from. The deeper we go, the more solid the rock becomes. 
To operate with peace and joy, I want to start my days not on the surface where my ego, emotions and context are loud but by climbing slowly from the deep place of calm and steadfastness through layers of passion and experience through to the function I will need to perform today. I want to splutter a yes in the shower to my place as a child, a nodding yes as I eat my eggs and step into my passions, a yes as I put on the clothes that give expression to my function and keep practising that yes till I can shout it in all the places where the wind blows and the sand moves the most.