I have been thinking a lot about call lately.
As in, you know, being “Called” to ministry.
For most pastors, deacons and bishops, the sense of call to ministry isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. It isn’t like turning on a light switch, but more a constant state of wrestling and wondering. Asking oneself “Am I still called to do this?” is always part of the gig.
In recent years more than ever, I have watched clergy do a lot of wondering. From friends and colleagues, to clergy bloggers and writers… a lot of us are wondering if our sense of calling is sustainable through all the challenges facing the church. A lot of people are deciding it isn’t, and they are leaving ordained ministry for other work.
Certainly, in the past number of years I have had my own moments of wondering how my calling to serve continues to fit in with where the church is at.
That being said, I might be one of the worst examples of Pastors to talk to about wrestling with being called. I used to joke in seminary that I was born into the “Norwegian Lutheran Pastors Breeding Program.”
My grandfather was a pastor. So was his brother. And his brother-in-law. His closest friends were also pastors. Growing up, “church” was something that my immediate and extended family was always involved in. And wherever we traveled there were usually some church or pastor or church folks that we knew.
For me, going to seminary and becoming a pastor was a possibility that was known from an early age. From when I played pastor dressup as a two -year-old, to career shadowing my pastor in grade 9, to serving on council when I was 18, to working at camp throughout my university years, and to attending campus ministry, I always knew that being a pastor was an option and one that I wanted to pursue.
But my story is uncommon. Lots of those called to ministry take very different routes. Some need the right encouragement at the right time, or need to get connected and involved in a church community at the right moment to be opened up to the idea of ordained ministry. Some go to seminary just to learn more and end up pursuing ordination. Some only experience that call later in life after establishing a first career or other vocation.
This week, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew from their fishing boats, and they immediately drop their nets and follow. If only it were so simple.
Though we tend to talk about calling as it relates to pastors, we are NOT the only ones called by God to serve. The call to follow, the call to minister is a calling given to all the baptized. We are ALL called to follow Jesus into the service of the Kingdom of God. We are ALL called to do our part in making sure the Gospel is preached to the world around us.
In many ways it is this sense of call that I wrestle with the most. Are there enough of us who feel this baptismal call to be church together? Do churches today have enough motivation to pursue this ministry of the Kingdom of God?
“Being Church” is harder than it has been in a long time. For a while now, we have been finding ways to keep doing what we have been doing with fewer resources, smaller budgets and fewer people. But we are getting to the point where that is almost too exhausting to continue. The time has come for us now to be creative in finding new ways to organize ourselves. We need to be willing to change and adapt, to work with others around us in ways we didn’t have to consider before. The alternative is that keeping on as we are or trying to bring back what we used to be will overwhelm our diminishing resources. The models of church that we are used to – a church on every street corner doing all the same things that the church on the next street corner is doing – don’t serve us well anymore.
Do we hear God’s call to adapt and change to the new thing? Or are we more committed to holding on to what we once had? The answers to these questions are complicated.
What does it mean for us to be called these days? And what does “following” look like? I have been circling around these questions since I was two years old… and my sense of the answers are as unclear to me as ever.
And yet in the strangest way, I think I might be as intrigued and excited to explore their answers as I have ever been. In all my time wrestling with being called and what it means to be called, the potential of what the future could be is as great as ever. People and congregations are open to new things in ways that felt unimaginable just a few years ago. God is calling us and we are being invited to explore what that means for us and how we might follow, even as where we are going and how we will get there is still being revealed to us.