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Exploring Your Calling . . . via the Scientific Method #explo11

Today is the Day of Prayer and Blogging for the upcoming UMC Exploration event (www.explorecalling.org), and in its honor I wrote the following post:

 

I had never heard of philosopher & author Robert Pirsig before I Googled the quote “hindsight is 20/20,” but as soon as I did up his name popped.  Pirsig apparently once said, “Traditional scientific method has always been at the very best, 20 - 20 hindsight.  It's good for seeing where you've been.  It's good for testing the truth of what you think you know, but it can't tell you where you ought to go.”  I’m not sure if Pirsig was the first to construct the concept of 20/20 hindsight, but his above quote certainly makes the point beautifully.  Sometimes the best way to test what is true is by looking backward to see where you’ve been, evaluating how that worked out, and then taking a best guess forward from there.  Reading this quote it struck me that this is the same dance someone does when clarifying a call to ordained ministry. 

 

I’d wager anything I own (except my cat) that most folks who are ordained ministers now didn’t grow up thinking they would be ordained ministers.  I make this bet with years of anecdotal evidence in-hand.  In my role as Director of Admissions of a seminary I’ve met with hundreds of prospective students.  Even as they actively plan to enter theological education, I come across very few whose calling is crystal clear.  Instead, most come to seminary with a desire to serve God, a deep love of people and community, and/or a sense that they want to work to make the world a better place.  From where I sit, that tends to be what a “developing” call from God feels like.  The rapturous call stories of biblical prophets are far less frequent than the stories of mission trips surprisingly enjoyed and unintentional worship leadership.  Sometimes a campus minister’s words of encouragement are what stick and begin to stir up questions about calling.  When a call begins it often does so quietly and without much clarity.  The miracle of call is that with this vague beginning somehow the still, small voice of God is heard, and it matures into a clarity that can’t be denied. 

 

My own calling started in high school when I noticed that I really enjoyed talking people through their problems.  As a Psychology undergrad, I figured I would eventually start a private practice and charge by the hour for my listening ear.  But I couldn’t shake the idea that I wanted to talk about religion with my clients, and that was frowned upon in my Psychology classes.  “If you want to talk theology, go be a pastor, not a psychologist,” one professor told me.  And so I took his advice and went to seminary to figure out what being a pastor meant.  This step was my “experimentation:” trying to determine the validity of my calling not through beakers or Bunsen burners but through seminary study.  Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I’m able to see how all those steps led me to a future in ordained ministry that I could have never imagined when I graduated high school with only a love of talking to people. 

 

One of my friends was planning to be a vet.  She especially appreciated the tender moments spent consoling a family after their beloved pet was put to sleep.  After identifying that love of pastoral care, she tested the validity of her call by doing work with families in need at her church.  She is ordained today because she experimented with her ministry to determine the truth of her calling and found that she was, in fact, called to be ordained. 

 

Another friend loved computers.  Growing up in the early days of the Internet, he was online before any of us were, touting the benefits of being able to connect with a variety of people from afar.  He studied the use of social media in college, and was the person who told me about Facebook way back in 2004.  He now runs a successful online ministry to youth and young adults even as he completes his ordination requirements.  He found a way, through experimentation, to clarify his love of social networks into a calling to ordained ministry.   

 

My point is this:  if you are asking yourself the question, “am I called to ordained ministry,” you might want to take a scientific approach.  Experiment with ministries, theological study, readings, or conversations with those you trust.  Experiment by pushing your own boundaries toward the unknown.  Do so with the excitement of a scientist who might discover some new truth, because you might very well discover the truth of your own calling into ordained ministry.  And if you do these things, you may find yourself looking back one day, as I do now, with 20/20 hindsight illuminating the traces of your calling to ordained ministry through the meanderings of your past. 

 

(PS – One great place to “experiment” with your calling is at the United Methodist Church’s upcoming Exploration 2011 event.  At Exploration 18-26 year olds are invited to explore their calling to ordained ministry in community.  Exploration is fun – engaging worship, conversational small groups, and people from all around the country add up to a genuine good time for those who attend.  The chance to take God’s call seriously with others who are doing the same makes Exploration more than just fun – it can also be meaningful and important.  So that’s why, when Exploration happens again on November 11th – 13th in St. Louis, MO, I will be there.)