Home » Equipping » A new thing, part II

A new thing, part II

The new most important word in my equipping vocabulary:


Are you thinking, “yeah, yeah, yeah…heard that before?” Well, bear with me, OK? (If you are just tuning in, you may want to read my last post.

Wikipedia defines vocation as “a term for an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which he or she is suited, trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.” Since the early 1900’s, it has evolved to also mean “the notion of using our talents and capabilities to good-effect in choosing and enjoying a career.”

Wikipedia defines avocation as “an activity that one engages in as a hobby outside one’s main occupation.” It goes on to talk about people whose professions are the means by which they make their living, but whose true passions lie in the activities outside their workplace.

If you are a pastor, you are most likely going to associate to vocation with your “call” to ordained ministry. If you are a layperson, you probably think of vocation as your 8-5 job, or the means by which you earn a living. What’s more, laypeople tend to treat their ministry as an avocation.Why? Because church leaders often do.

We (church leaders) approach equipping as a program. We encourage gifts discovery as the means by which we help people connect to ministry. But it’s task-based…a serving opportunity, we call it. As I said in my last post, it may be a more thoughtful approach, but it’s still slot-filling.

I think it’s time for a paradigm change. I think it’s time we stop thinking of the church functionally and think ontologically. In a recent blog post, W. David Phillips writes,

Ontology has to do with being. An ontological understanding of church has to do with what it is, not what it does. And what it is is far wider, deeper, higher than anything it does, or anything we can take charge of or manipulate.

In their book The Equipping Pastor R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins point out that, “in Pauline thought, Christ does not use his body to get his work done on earth, as attractive as this idea might be.” They clarify that the body does serve God in the world, but emphasize that “God is as concerned about being as God is with doing.”1

Parker J. Palmer says, “Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”2

This speaks again to the ontological rather than functional nature of the church. God’s covenant with us is a covenant of being, not primarily a contract for doing. God invites us first and foremost to be his people, and then to share in his project on earth.

I’m not done yet…there’s more, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you if my musings thus far have stirred up anything within you!


1R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins, The Equipping Pastor (Betheesda, MD: The Alban Institute, 1993), 105.

2Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, (San Franciso, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 10.

7 thoughts on “A new thing, part II

  1. Love the idea that the calling comes from within! God calls us first to BE his and then to share the good news through whatever gifts and abilities he’s given us….

    • Exactly! And how much difference would it make for the kingdom if we intentionally live that out wherever we are and whatever we are doing? Thanks so much for posting, Lori!

  2. Programs offered by the Center for Courage & Renewal (the organization Parker Palmer founded), create safe spaces for people to ask the big questions of “who am I?” and “whose am I?” As clarity comes to these questions, it changes how one shows up in the world. The idea of action from a place of deep being changes so much. The churches I find most alive are those helping members ask these questions in the context of their faith. Thank you for your blog and questions!

    John Fenner
    Director of Clergy and Congregational Leader Programs
    Center for Courage & Renewal

    • Thanks very much, John, for sharing this information. I stumbled upon Parker Palmer’s books a few years ago and have found them to be extremely insightful, particularly as I work with people going through self-discovery as it relates to their faith and ministry.

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