Pioneer Min­istry to­day,

The Church of England - - FRONT PAGE - By Elaine Storkey

Paul Bernier writes: ‘In the New Tes­ta­ment Je­sus does not in­vite his fol­low­ers to a de­cent but pas­sive sec­u­lar life, but to a life of faith in ser­vice to the King­dom of God. The church and the world are the foci around which the streams of cre­ation, sin and grace swirl.’

This ap­po­site insight into the mean­ing of Chris­tian vo­ca­tion re­mains true what­ever state of cul­ture the church finds it­self in. The King­dom of God is not de­pen­dent on the moral con­di­tion of our so­ci­ety, nor its spir­i­tual aware­ness. It is here, in our midst in ev­ery age, ev­ery cul­ture, ev­ery po­lit­i­cal ethos. It chal­lenges cul­tural val­ues and con­fronts so­ci­ety’s be­lief sys­tems.

This King­dom is the con­text of our vo­ca­tion, for as Chris­tian be­liev­ers we are its cit­i­zens and its pub­lic ser­vants. Ev­ery­one who fol­lows Christ is called to full­time Chris­tian ser­vice in the King­dom of God.

Many of us, how­ever, lack the tools we need for ef­fec­tive ser­vice. Some of us may only be­come aware of this lack when we are faced with some­thing un­ex­pected, which takes us out of our com­fort zone, and stretches our un­der­stand­ing. Oth­ers of us rec­og­nize all the time that there are is­sues we do not fully grasp, and huge gaps in our Chris­tian dis­cern­ment. We are painfully aware that we don’t know what a Chris­tian per­spec­tive might be or what stand we should take on a whole range of sub­jects.

This be­comes sharply ev­i­dent in our dis­agree­ments. Chris­tians do not speak with one voice or think with one mind, even in ar­eas where time given to bi­b­li­cal re­flec­tion could draw us much closer.

How, for ex­am­ple, should we re­spond to is­sues of eco­nom­ics, cor­rupted lead­er­ship or med­i­cal ethics? And where do we get the equip­ment to en­gage fully in our Chris­tian vo­ca­tion? We need to work out what it means to live re­demp­tively in our fam­ily life, or in our financial trans­ac­tions. We need to know how to re­late spir­i­tu­ally to our ir­re­li­gious neigh­bours, or what ques­tions to ask a can­di­date for po­lit­i­cal of­fice.

The prob­lem is that we of­ten have to work all this out whilst we are study­ing in a sec­u­lar univer­sity, serv­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship in a job, or de­vel­op­ing skills in a pro­fes­sion. In any of th­ese ar­eas, the pow­er­ful myth of ‘neu­tral­ity’ has pen­e­trated the way things are seen. But work­ing out our re­sponses thought­fully, can show us that such ‘neu­tral­ity’ hides val­ues and as­sump­tions em­bed­ded in work or money or de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and our faith can bring us into con­flict with the ethos that sur­rounds our daily lives.

It can in­volve us in even hav­ing to un­learn the or­tho­dox­ies dom­i­nant in the think­ing un­der­gird­ing our pro­fes­sion. When we do care­ful study we can find that the dom­i­nant world­view of any cul­ture is of­ten at odds with the Chris­tian faith. Part of the prophetic task of the Church, and of Chris­tians, is to ad­dress this with the Gospel.

Many resources ex­ist that can help us in de­vel­op­ing tools for our Chris­tian cit­i­zen­ship. Over the last few years, cour­ses have pro­lif­er­ated, from ba­sic lay ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes, to spe­cial­ized in­sti­tutes that de­sign cur­ric­ula to help Chris­tian pro­fes­sion­als re­flect and re­think. The post­grad­u­ate ‘De­vel­op­ing a Chris­tian Mind’ course at Ox­ford Univer­sity of­fers those who have fin­ished un­der­grad­u­ate work the chance to step back and re­assess what they have learnt with Chris­tian insight.

Th­ese, along with dozens of vocational in­sti­tu­tions, train­ing cour­ses, re­treat cen­tres and youth work pro­grammes, are valu­able ini­tia­tives. Yet, com­pared with sec­u­lar train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, they are run of­ten on a shoe­string.

Res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties rely on gen­er­ous vol­un­teers to share com­mu­nity life and serve vis­i­tors at their cen­tres. Ded­i­cated teach­ers of­ten take pre­cious time out of their own pro­fes­sions to help other Chris­tians to grow. Hav­ing trav­elled to many key in­sti­tu­tions as a vis­it­ing lec­turer I see the time and com­mit­ment given to help Chris­tians to be more ef­fec­tive in their work and call­ing, and re­al­ize what an im­por­tant but un­der-used re­source they are. If the op­por­tu­ni­ties they of­fer for Chris­tian study were taken up by far more of us, it would in­crease their rev­enue and deepen the qual­ity of our own Chris­tian aware­ness.

And surely a greater un­der­stand­ing of the faith could give any one of us more con­fi­dence in ap­ply­ing our Gospel vi­sion to ev­ery­day life. Bet­ter train­ing would help us to be­come more use­ful as ser­vants in the King­dom of God.

Along­side th­ese lo­cal ini­tia­tives are in­sti­tu­tions that have long been ded­i­cated to train­ing for Chris­tian ser­vice. Well-equipped and mostly well-re­sourced, the­o­log­i­cal col­leges and cour­ses are de­signed for pre­par­ing peo­ple for fu­ture min­istry in the Church, whether that min­istry is in parishes, sec­tor chap­lain­cies, youth work or pi­o­neer­ing con­texts. Their work is mon­i­tored and reg­u­lated both by the ac­cred­it­ing in­sti­tu­tions and the Church of England.

Cur­ric­ula are reg­u­larly up­dated, univer­sity teach­ers sit on col­lege coun­cils and bish­ops’ in­spec­tors visit them reg­u­larly to see that they re­main fit for pur­pose. Hav­ing spent some years of my life liv­ing and work­ing in the­o­log­i­cal col­leges, I rec­og­nize the sig­nif­i­cance of what they of­fer, and the po­ten­tial they have for pro­duc­ing Chris­tian lead­ers.

A va­ri­ety of forms of train­ing is avail­able in th­ese col­leges and cour­ses, and spon­sor­ing dio­ce­ses or churches can ad­vise what fits the needs of in­di­vid­ual stu­dents. Some are best served by full-time res­i­den­tial train­ing, oth­ers take mixed mode op­tions and many train whilst con­tin­u­ing in their present ca­reer or work. Each train­ing path­way has its ad­van­tages. Peo­ple in part-time study of­ten feel they keep their feet ‘on the ground’ and are en­cour­aged, from the start, to bring their de­vel­op­ing the­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive into their ev­ery­day life of work and re­la­tion­ships. They can read­ily en­gage in ‘dou­ble lis­ten­ing’ – to the word of God and to the cul­tural con­text of their lives.

Peo­ple in full-time res­i­den­tial of­ten feel they learn more about them­selves, their psy­cho­log­i­cal and spir­i­tual needs and their re­la­tion­ships than they might ever have imag­ined. They also face the chal­lenges of liv­ing more ex­posed lives in a ‘to­tal in­sti­tu­tion’.

Which­ever route is taken, train­ing can also be a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence, as peo­ple who are com­pe­tent in a dozen well-proven ways, re­turn to be­ing stu­dents again, and ex­pe­ri­ence a level of de-skilling. It is not al­ways easy for a pro­fes­sional engi­neer or tax in­spec­tor to be­come a novice who has to learn a bi­b­li­cal lan­guage or church his­tory from scratch. Yet the process can be very im­por­tant spir­i­tu­ally.

Train­ing for Chris­tian vo­ca­tion ought to be com­mon­place amongst be­liev­ers. We are all called to Chris­tian ser­vice so that the Gospel can be heard in ev­ery area of our na­tion’s life, and peo­ple can re­spond to God.

To­day, when there are so many is­sues fac­ing the church and so­ci­ety, we need far more Chris­tians to ex­am­ine their vo­ca­tion. The ques­tion, ‘what is God call­ing me to do?’ is one we can all be ask­ing about the next step in our lives.

God speaks to us through our own cir­cum­stances, as well as through the pas­sions he has laid on our hearts and the chal­lenges that face our cul­ture. Tak­ing time out to do cour­ses, study­ing on­line, or go­ing to the­o­log­i­cal col­lege, can be part of the process of lis­ten­ing to God, as well as train­ing for a call­ing we are al­ready con­vinced about. One thing re­mains cer­tain in our un­cer­tain times. We need thought­ful, bib­li­cally lit­er­ate Chris­tians who are guided by the Holy Spirit, if we are go­ing to reach peo­ple’s hearts, and make any im­pact on the cul­ture and di­rec­tion of our age.

Let us thank God that there are resources avail­able, and use them.

We need thought­ful, bib­li­cally lit­er­ate Chris­tians who are guided by the Holy Spirit

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