Your vocational journey as clergy begins in baptism and ends with the burial office. It encompasses your entire journey with Christ in this life. Your first major milestone on that journey is the beginning of the ordination process. From that point on you will blend spiritual, educational, and vocational experiences as you grow in ministry in the church. A typical vocational journey includes three years of seminary, and a series of parish ministries of increasing length and responsibility. Each new call is but a step in your vocational journey. Focusing on the whole vocational journey can help you plan for the steps ahead and can help you cope with the individual high and low points along the way.
The Episcopal church understands clergy’s vocational journeys through two theological models: the call model and the discernment model. The call model assumes that the institutional church has primary responsibility for your vocational journey. The discernment model assumes that you need to take the primary role in shaping your own vocational journey. Some view these models as mutually exclusive and favor one or the other. I tend to view them as complimentary and recommend that you draw from the best of both models.
The call theology is based on biblical stories like the anointing of David, or the call of many prophets, or Jesus’ call of his disciples. Common features of these call stories are:
1. The recipients of the call are diligently working away at their current jobs and not seeking a new position. David is a contented shepherd until Samuel arrives. God spoke to Jeremiah when he was merely a child. Simon, Andrew, James and John were busy fishing when Jesus called them to a new line of work.
2. The call is issued by God or Jesus, implying tremendous certainty and power.
3. Those receiving the call are relatively passive. Jeremiah protests the call very briefly. Most obey God’s call without hesitation.
A call model based on these biblical stories assumes that you should be
diligently working in their current positions and shouldn’t aggressively seek a new position. God’s call, mediated by bishops, transition ministry officers, and the Office of Transition Ministry (OTM), will find you at the appropriate time and call you to the right new position. You should never be too career conscious, but rely on the church to take care of your vocational journey.
The part of the OTM Portfolio system that matches clergy’s “Primary Gifts and Skills” with Community Ministry Portfolio “gifts and skills” assumes this call model of theology. The computer will call you to apply to a given vacancy without you taking any action beyond filling out your clergy portfolio. The call model is also in action where search committees or diocese discourage you from directly applying to an open position. The underlying assumption is that your direct application indicates a self-assertiveness inconsistent with being called. Outside persons or systems should recommend you for openings.
At its best, the call model encourages you to focus on your current job and discourages you from concentrating from climbing the career ladder. The call model encourages you to be open to new possibilities that may, like many biblical calls, come out of the blue. The call model encourages bishops and deployment officers to oversee the development of their clergy and to help advance clergy whom meet or exceed their expectations. At its worst, the call model can encourage a passive reliance on the church for job security and ask more from the church than the institution can deliver. Clergy often criticize the call model when they perceive the matchmaker/overseer role as a roadblock to career advancement.
Next up: Discernment Theology