How can you encourage someone to explore their vocation? We can all benefit from the support of others, and when exploring vocation someone to walk alongside, and learn from can make all the difference to the journey.
Most Christian ministers are where they are today because someone walked with them as they explored their calling. If you are a church leader, (whether clergy, a lay leader, reader, youth worker, chaplain, etc.), how can you encourage someone exploring vocation? Where do you start? Here are some points to consider for a first meeting. Whilst a first meeting cannot cover all these things, it should identify an appropriate next step.
- Listen. What does this person think God is saying? How? Along with a sense of calling, a person may have unanswered questions, fears and doubts: am I good enough? Is it just me? What would this mean for me and/or my family?
- Affirm. The sense of call may be tentative and vague. Alternatively, some people may have a very specific idea (rightly or wrongly) of their calling. Encourage people to explore widely, prayerfully, with an open mind and obedient heart. God is certainly calling every believer to serve him in some way.
- People may have concerns which, to them, are insurmountable barriers, to do with their faith, family, work, finance, ethnicity, marital status, sexuality, gender, age, experience or something else. Be factual in representing the official position of the national church in these matters, and if you’re not sure, consult your diocesan vocations team.
- Are there any vocations groups run locally in the deanery or diocese? If you have more than one enquirer, could you start one? Look out for details of local or national vocations events or conferences.
- Encourage people to share their thoughts with one or two close and trusted Christian friends and ask them for honest feedback. Can you, or someone else, offer to meet with them regularly to be a ‘critical friend’ on their vocational journey? Fix a date for a next meeting.
- Help people to be informed about the ministries for which they may be exploring. Point them to a reading list of suggested books on calling, ministry and priesthood. Perhaps have one or two current books on your shelves to lend to people who are exploring. In a subsequent meeting, discuss what they’ve read.
- Be positive but honest about your own experience of ministry including the rewards and challenges.
- Find out how the vocations discernment process works in your diocese. Give enquirers clear and up to date information. When and to whom should you refer enquirers? What will happen to them when you do? How long is the discernment process likely to take? Your Vocations Adviser, Director of Ministry or Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) will be able to answer questions and give you advice. There will usually be a team of people who meet regularly with enquirers over time to help them explore their vocation using the Church’s selection criteria as a framework.
- The best way for a person to discover their gifts and passions is by getting involved in practical ministry. This is essential for discerning whether a call is realistic. Where can you provide opportunities for someone to gain experience in leading worship, facilitating learning, pastoral ministry, leadership and outreach as appropriate? Sometimes this involves taking risks, but with proper oversight, advice and support it can be beneficial to the individual and the church. Use future meetings to reflect on your observations and their experiences.
- Direct people to those in relevant ministries who would be willing to let someone shadow them. Your diocesan vocations team may be able to put you in touch with people.
- Look out for other opportunities for service that you could suggest e.g. summer camps, charitable projects, gap year opportunities, overseas projects, prison or hospital ministry, etc.
- Suggest ways in which someone can stretch their mind through studying theology or leadership with others, e.g. discipleship courses, Bishop’s Certificate or other diocesan lay development courses, church leadership courses, etc.