The idea of calling and pastoral ministry is challenging for me, because in many ways the term pastoral ministry is an amalgamation of many different roles. While there are many books on the nature of a pastoral call, and what the limits should be, I believe that we need to be careful not to be too limiting. Different communities have different needs, and there is also a variation within the exact call and gifts. I recognize that a calling to pastoral ministry is attempting to live out a personal calling while meeting the needs and expectations of the community.
As, I believe that there is both a variation of personal calling, and community needs, I’m afraid the best I can do is speak of my own understanding of calling, based on several years of wrestling with the idea.
My experience of calling within a community is one to invite others to explore their relationship with God more deeply, and to smooth barriers for others who are called. I feel a true sense of fulfillment when I see other people doing something that they feel passionate about. I love seeing things work out smoothly and recognize that often, people are inactive because it is too much trouble to start or maintain a mission.
While I enjoy preaching, and have a long standing calling to preach to diverse communities, my pastoral calling to a local community is more one of bridge building than of preaching. I want to connect the people in the community with opportunities for growth and service. I feel called to create space for obedience, and to integrate the smaller communities into a wider community.
As far as there is a difference, I prefer teaching to preaching. When I speak, something in me hopes that the hearers learn something. I hope that this something will be added to the hearer’s toolbox. I feel uncomfortable with trying to convince the people to take an action, out of faith that my understanding of God’s will is better than their own — in stead, I feel a calling to help equip people with the tools they need to make sense out of the competing voices, several of which appeal to the hearer’s Faith.
Perhaps the best way of putting this is that I am drawn to helping people mature. Much of my fear of pastoral ministry has been based on a model that expects the pastor to believe rightly for the congregation, to pray for them, and to tell them what this means. It is a model that transfers the struggle of growing into maturity upon a single person. My understanding of calling is to help the community to grow mature in their Faith. I do not hope to stand above the congregation, but instead to work to let the people grow as well as they can. I feel called not so much to lead, but to create peers.