Serving as a Christian |
How to discern your Christian vocation and fulfil your part in the purposes of God
[This is taken from the diocesan vocations’ day leaflet prepared by Canon Ann and her colleagues]
Whichever way your ‘vocation’ starts, it is important to pursue it, taking advantage of the training which is available to help its development. This leaflet outlines some of the ways in which you can respond to a sense of calling to a more specific ministry. The various callings are given alphabetically, to avoid any sense of seniority or importance.
The Ministry of all the Baptised
All Christians are equipped by God with the gifts they need for building each other up within Christ’s Church and for faithful service among the people around them.
For most, this simply means discovering and using their God-given gifts, as baptism is itself a commissioning for Christian service. But for others, it will involve receiving and responding to a call to a specific ministry recognised by the Church.
There should be no sense of hierarchy between these ministries, with some more important than others. Each Christian should discern God’s purpose for their life, and then follow their calling to the full.
Local Ministry Teams
The partnership between clergy and laity in the ministry and mission of the Church often means that much of what was formerly done by a parish priest acting alone is now done by a team of lay people supported by a priest who serves many parishes.
Each member of a Local Ministry Team has a particular gift and calling. They focus on what they can do and rely on others to do the things they cannot. However, the Team does not exercise all such ministry themselves, but takes a lead in co-ordinating similar acts of service in the congregation as a whole. They support and enable ministry and mission of every member of the Church
The calling of administration can be seen in passages such as Acts ch. 6 and Matthew ch. 25. Their role is that of organisation and clear direction, as well as helping things happen in an efficient, accurate and timely way. Good administration produces the necessary information at the right time, and in a form that makes sense to others.
Some Administrators, such as PCC Secretary, Treasurer and Electoral Role Officer have statutory duties. Others, such as a general parish administrator, work behind the scenes to ensure that the local church operates smoothly. Whatever the role, Administrators can energise and encourage a ministry team, minister or parish by helping them to hit targets, and by keeping track of priorities. Administrators can also act as a role model to colleagues, by being on top of their work and by keeping a healthy balance between the different parts of life.
Churchwardens are Bishop’s Officers, called to give account to him of the life and working of a parish. Their duties include the many logistical things that ensure the smooth running of a Church – including the oversight of finances, keeping appropriate records, and seeing that modern statutory demands are met. Their work of maintenance and care of the building and churchyard is a vital part of the mission and ministry of a parish.
They also have a duty of care for the parish priest and the ministry team. They will sometimes need to mediate in difficult times and be listening ears to those who have misgivings. They will be at the forefront of explaining parish policies to the wider community and they exercise a role of leadership within the PCC.
The word deacon means ‘servant’. A deacon’s calling is to remind the whole Church of something which is at the heart of all discipleship – the readiness to meet people at their point of need, as Christ so often did.
In the ancient world a deacon could also be a spokesperson, an envoy or a mediator whose role was to make connections and creating links. A deacon presents the Church to a needy world, and that needy world to the Church.
A deacon is called to represent the Church as it engages with wider society. As an ordained person a deacon also reflects that engagement in worship, with a distinctive role in leading the people’s response to the gift of faith.
The Church of England’s licensed evangelists are Church Army Officers. The Church Army brings the gospel to the disadvantaged, difficult housing estates, people in prison and other similar situations. Officers are employed full-time, in a variety of roles and some work in parishes..
But others, whilst not called to Church Army, are also called to be an evangelist. This is the gift of presenting the gospel in your own local context, in a way which speaks to people there and brings them to faith. Evangelists can be any personality type, not just enthusiastic extroverts. You need a concern for those who seem far from God, a desire to direct people to Jesus, and a gift for speaking warmly about him.
A priest is called to encourage their fellow Christians by Word and example to remain faithful to Christ and to live out the gospel in the world. They thereby enable the Church to be the Church, and to fulfil God’s mission. This involves preaching and teaching, leading people in worship (and in particular presiding at the Eucharist), and nurturing their life of discipleship. A priest is authorised to declare the forgiveness of sins and pronounce God’s blessing
Historically, a priest is also the leader of the local Christian community, (although the degree of leadership varies) and celebrates marriages, baptises, and ministers to the dying and bereaved. Priests can be self-supporting, or stipendiary but the nature of priesthood remains the same.
Readers are called to a ministry of the Word, preaching and teaching so as to inspire others to follow the way of Christ. They do this primarily in the context of worship, which they may also lead; and complement it with pastoral care for those in need.
Although the role of Reader finds its prime focus in worship, it does so from the lay perspective of those who come to worship rather than those who preside at the Eucharist. Unlike priests and deacons, Readers are never full-time or paid.
They retain substantial lay roles in the world, and so anchor the ministry of the Church in daily life and contribute distinctively to the fullness of the Church’s ministry. Readers who work in secular employment often bring a distinctive insight to preaching and teaching.
These are also known as spiritual companions, soul friends or prayer guides. They support Christians in developing their life of faith and prayer, helping them to recognise the work of God in their lives and discern where God is leading them. Despite the title, they don’t tell people what to do, but help them discover how God is directing them.
Spiritual directors can be male or female, ordained or lay. Although it has been more common in some Christian traditions than others, a similar role is valuable within any denomination or churchmanship. A Spiritual Director must have a mature faith and a good understanding of how God works in our human lives.
Teaching the Faith
Many ministries contribute to teaching the Christian faith in the local church. The role of a Teacher can sometimes be Sunday School teaching, others share the faith through courses like Alpha and Emmaus. Some have a special care for those who have recently come to faith or had their faith renewed, so that the essentials are clearly understood and experienced. Others still, help teach in Baptism or Confirmation preparation. They all focus on the Christian faith in daily life and society, so that faith is worked out in the whole of life.
Teachers of faith are called to model the Christian life, as well as give instruction. They inspire and support every church member to be radical and relevant in their Christian discipleship. They are the modern equivalent of the ‘catechists’ of the early church.
Passing on the Christian faith to the next generation is a task of the whole Church. Every young person should have the opportunity to see the Christian faith lived out before their eyes. The role of a Youth Worker is to ensure this occurs by supporting the local congregation’s ministry and mission to young people, and by themselves nurturing young people in their journey of faith.
Most Youth Workers work in a voluntary capacity, although some are employed. Their passion is to see young people take their place within the body of Christ’s Church, and so realise their full potential as people made in God’s image. Youth workers do not have to be young.