Part Two - Summoned and Equipped by God: Chapter 4 - Calling in a Post-vocational Age
Chapter 4 is pivotal in how Stevens unfolds the idea of ministry later in the book. The focus of this chapter is calling in a post-vocational age. Vocation simply means “to be called.” And to be called means that someone is doing the calling. Stevens emphasizes that we are “…called to Someone before we are called to do something." Stevens wants us not to confuse occupation with vocation. Our occupation may be a specific outworking of our vocation but it is not our vocation.
Stevens spends considerable time at the start of this chapter discussing what he calls “personal vocation.” He gives his three layer wedding cake analogy on page 73. The bottom and broadest layer is “human vocation,” which is includes things like the call to “keeping the earth.” The second layer is “Christian vocation.” This involves those works we are called to do in continuing Christ’s work in the world. The top and narrowest tier is “personal vocation.” This call deals with the call that God has for each of us individuals.
In the centuries leading up to the Reformation, a bifurcation emerged in the church with regard to the people of God. Monastic living was equated with answering a "call of God" as opposed to “remaining in the world.” The Reformers, like Luther and Calvin, revolted against this thinking. However, they were also in tension with the Anabaptists who were tending to form what the Reformers perceived as a new kind of monasticism, secluding themselves from the rest of society. Consequently, they championed the idea that each person could and should stay within their station in life and serve God from that position.
Regrettably, their teaching, morphed in later generations into a justification for enforcing class status and human hierarchies. What began in the Reformation as an attempt to set the people free for ministry ended up as a straight-jacket. (It is well evidenced today in the strong instance on carefully defined hierarchies and roles within conservative Christianity on issues like women in ministry.)
Stevens believes there is a personal call for everyone in at least four different ways.
- The effectual call of Christ to become a disciple.
- The providential call.
- The charismatic call.
- The heart call.
God calls us into discipleship (effectual). God actively participates in the events that shape who we are and what we encounter (providential). God gives us gifts that we are to exercise for the common good (charismatic). It is in his discussion of the charismatic gifts that Stevens writes this powerful observation:
The Father gives us the cultural mandate to subdue the earth. The Son calls us to discipleship and summons us with the Great Commission. The Spirit equips us for a task: ‘Now to each on the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good’ (1 Cor. 12:7). (81)
Finally, Stevens writes that there is the heart call. Quoting Greg Ogden, Stevens writes that there are three dimensions to how we experience individual calling:
- We experience an inner oughtness.
- It is bigger than ourselves.
- It brings great satisfaction and joy. (82)
Stevens laments that “guidance-mania” that pervades too much of evangelical Christianity and I concur.
There is no need to be ‘called’ through an existential compelling experience to an occupation in society. God gives motivation and gifts. God guides. Work, family, civil vocation and neighboring are encompassed in our total response to God’s saving transforming call in Jesus. (82)
Stevens articulation of three types of vocation and the Trinitarian nature of community and ministry are two of the most helpful things I gleaned from this book. It also strikes me that recovering a clear sense of what vocation is, is core to the question about how to function as the church. Without adequate appreciation for what disciples are called to do we end up building institutions and structures that distract us from ministry, not equip us for ministry.
The next section will reflect on Christian vocation.