Discernment

When someone comes to you wondering if they have a vocation how best can you help them to understand what it might mean for their life? The dictionary defines discern as: to separate, to sort out, and to sift through. It is a time when you allow yourselves to be open to God’s will.

When someone comes to you wondering if they have a vocation….

  1. Listen to the story – and help them listen to it. It may still be tentative, hesitant. For many this early sense of call is a niggle or itch – an idea from somewhere or someone that won’t go away. They may be very ambivalent. Receive it reverently. Listen to it carefully. Affirm their faithfulness in asking the question. They may need a lot of reassuring about God’s good purposes for them wherever this leads. Sometimes the idea may just need quietly holding while getting on with life. It will grow in its own time. But keep in touch with them.
  2. Where the call feels more definite and requires a response – It helps if there is one person who is committed to journeying with them, keeping in touch and meeting with them regularly. Part of the discernment at this point lies in knowing what aspects of faith and understanding need building up. Be alert that they may label the call in a particular way (to be a Reader, or to be ordained), when they are not aware of the nature of the great variety of ministries. Help them to explore and experience various possibilities and be aware yourself of all the options.
  3. Challenge, realism and honesty – Spell out the cost, demands and requirements of this path. Do not hide this. Jesus didn’t. Where it is clear that someone’s call is misguided or unrealistic there needs to be honesty. It is better to take the hard decisions early. It may be important to test your conviction with the discernment of others.
  4. Feeding the call – The intuition or hunch needs nourishment if it is to grow and reveal itself as something solid. Guided and relevant reading will be important. Some diocesan vocations departments organise reading groups. Places for shared learning and exploring work well for many and feel less dauntingly ‘academic’.
  5. Calling and the Church of England – Many come with a deep sense of call but have little actual knowledge of the particular historic expression of the Christian church they belong to and within which they may be ordained to serve. They have little or no awareness of wider church life and tradition beyond the one they belong to. Are there experienced lay and ordained people they could begin to explore this with?
  6. Practising the vocation – A vocation grows as it is practised and tested. If the candidate is not doing so already, are there areas of ministry they could gain experience in – preaching, leading home groups, taking a leadership role, evangelism etc.? Give them clear support and feedback as they reflect on their experiences.
  7. Spiritual development – Discernment is the journey of prayer and life in the Spirit. It is much more than listing gifts and experience. If the candidate does not already have a spiritual director this would be helpful. Some dioceses and resource agencies organise guided quiet days where people can learn to listen and pray about their calling. Helping the candidate to develop a disciplined pattern of prayer and bible reading is a priority.
  8. Practical issues – The call may throw up questions for quite practical reasons. A parent with young children or someone whose partner does not share their faith may well benefit from talking with others in ministry who understand their situation and can share how it might work for them.
  9. Interceding – It sounds obvious but do ensure there is somewhere the candidates are being prayed for regularly by name.
  10. Every calling is unique and unfolds in the imagination, mystery and will of God. This must be paramount however pressing the needs of church and whatever strategies for vocation and recruitment that guide the process.