Following Your Call: Building on Buechner

Two weeks ago Tiny Church held a leadership retreat for our elders, deacons and transformation team (which is fond of calling itself the transformers... more than meets the eye!). It was a fruitful day. We've got a number of exciting things on the horizon, including our 100th anniversary celebration in 2014 and a potential building renovation. Jessica Tate, the director of NEXT Church, led us in a morning of teaching and reflection on the current state of the mainline church and some of the cultural shifts we're all weathering. At the end of the morning she set us up for an afternoon of nuts and bolts discussions by helping us answer a fundamental question: What is our particular call in this place and time? 

I've written before about my ambivalence with traditional understandings of vocation, what Frederick Buechner defines as the intersection between the world's deep need and a person's deep gladness. What Jessica offered was much more comprehensive because it offered three different areas of focus, each as indispensable as the other:

1. What are the needs of our community?

2. What gifts and resources do we offer to help address these needs?

3. What kinds of ministries energize us as a community?

These three questions come from the book and website Church Unique by Will Mancini and are illustrated in this diagram:

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.16.18 AM

What a revelation! It makes Buechner's rickety two-legged stool much more sturdy and stable.

I've heard for years at Tiny Church, "Let's bring back the Harvest Dinners!" This beloved tradition and ministry to the community pre-dates me, yet they're remembered by enough people that I feel like if they could be resumed, they would be by now. I suspect that the harvest dinners meet criteria #3 (excitement) but not #2 (gifts and resources), and perhaps not #1 (needs of the community).

And there are plenty of examples in our churches of ministries that combine #1 (need) and #2 (resources) but are completely devoid of #3 (excitement). These are the programs that we keep doing forever and ever, world without end, despite their sucking our will to live.

Our Sunday School ministry was a bit like that until we decided to move to the Upper Room model. Or maybe you read about The Well at Burke Presbyterian Church.

These three questions would also work on a personal level. My kids are years away from college, but I hope that when the time comes for them to choose a major, that they consider all three of these questions. I know parents who steer their kids toward business or technical field because (they feel) it satisfies #1... but it may not satisfy 2 or 3.

On the other side, I'm bracing myself for the day when Caroline announces she wants to major in musical theatre.