Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Fifth of Worms (Exiles 4)

Today's daily serving of wormage (chock full of natural flavour, taste, and eighteen hundred essential vitamins and nutrients in a savoury sauce) comes courtesy of chapter eight of Frost's sagacious tome, Exiles.

Chapter eight is entitled "Working for the Host Empire", and explores how missional Christians should view their workplace or career. While this isn't news to many of us, Frost does an excellent job of sorting through the old false dichotomy of the "sacred versus secular" dualistic, Plato-inspired worldview, particularly focusing on our conceptualization of our work.

As usual, Frost stimulated the grey matter between my ears (which on CSI sometimes looks a bit like worms -- coincidence?), and I wanted to add my two cents to a thought that Frost presents:
"We routinely refer to people 'receiving the call' to Christian service, whether to church leadership or the mission field... We can easily think of a friend enetering church-ordained ministry as following God, but rarely do we speak of a decision to become a computer programmer or a nurse or a filmmaker or an accountant as similarly following God's calling in our lives." (Exiles, page 185)
First, on a personal note, I felt a definite sense of "calling" when I was seventeen -- however vague and undefined at the time -- to make myself available to God for "whatever". Our church's pastor had given an invitation at the end of a sermon, and while I had no real concept of what exactly I would or could be doing, I felt a resonance within me (otherwise known as the prompting of the Spirit) to respond. It was not a dramatic moment, but significant nonetheless.

The second time I felt a "call", I was nineteen, and was feeling somewhat at a loss when I looked at the seemingly impossible task of impacting my many non-Christian friends for the sake of the Gospel. At that time, at a party of all places, I felt God speak (not audibly, but very profoundly) to my heart that I was in over my head, and needed more training. I quit the Radio, Television & Journalism school that I was enrolled in, worked to earn some coinage, and headed off to Providence College the next year.

My point in delving into ancient history is that my sense of "call" didn't start with a conceptualization of full-time, vocational ministry. It was simply a response to God to make myself available for His use, in whatever form that might take. The more specific "call" to Bible college and later being a pastor came later. The "call" to missions came later still; the fulfillment of that call even later. It was, as is usually true of those who follow the wind of the Spirit (John 3:8), a journey.

Frost makes some excellent points in chapter eight about how many churches have succumbed to a dualistic, sacred/secular divide, and that this has resulted in the average working Joe and Josephine feeling like there is no God-given "call" on their lives in the vocational sense.

I'd like to suggest another reason why many working people don't experience a sense of God's calling in their chosen profession:
Namely, it was their chosen profession. They didn't think to -- and nobody encouraged them to -- ask God for His input about their vocation.
I have friends who, back in the day, actually avoided praying about their career choice, out of a mis-placed fear that if they let God have His say, they'd end up doing something they absolutely hated in a location that gave them hives just thinking about.

If people start off with the expectation that everything they are and have is God's, then praying for His leading into their future would be a pretty normal thing. Or as my dear friend Nico-Dirk once remarked during our DTS: "What's all this talk about 'giving up' ourselves to God? If you're a Christian, God already owns your entire a**!"


  1. Great blogging. I like this Frost guy. Yes, I've noticed the same thing for the last couple of decades. How often we have affirmed the person (or ourselves) when we are assigned a ministry thing aka as a calling. But most people, the vast majority of human beings in every nation, live simple, quiet lives working and providing for their families. When have I ever heard a prophetic word along the lines of "God is calling you to be a plumber and love your family and be kind to your neighbors. The greatness of your life will be etched in obscurity as you live in peace and faith."? It very much sets up people to despise their own ordinariness when they are continually given a message that to truly be significant one must have a spiritual calling of some kind of ministry.

    Which is why I am now automatically suspect when I hear someone give a spectacular prophetic word that dazzles and wows. God does do the spectacular, of course, but more often, much more often, he assigns us to live out our faith as the ordinary schlumps that most of us are.

  2. please lose the photos of worms.

  3. (great thoughts, Pam).

    Boy, I'm going to have to get this book. I listened to some Frost podcasts via...uh...who was that again? Somebody pointed me to them...ANYways, it was just flat out good. Jesus-centered in a way I'd not heard "spoken" before, and hitting the core of my heart, putting words on all the fuzzy thoughts I'd been mulling (and messing with a few I'd not yet considered messing with yet), etc...

    The clergy-laity divide...I've read one author who blamed it all on Tertullian's influence in the 3rd/4th century, saying that he was really into the Roman world's order (and they certainly had a sharp divide between issues of family versus issues of the state)...

    I believe it was the book, "When Women Were Priests," and the funny thing was that the biggest thing I got out of it didn't have anything directly to do with women, but rather making me chew on our church structure concepts and authoritarian view of things (aka, clergy/laity divide, including the idea that the sacred is somewhere far removed from the secular)...


    Enough late night ramblings...
    Wormily Yours,

  4. Pam,

    Wouldn't you just love to hear somebody prophesy "The Lord is calling you to deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and focus on the widows, orphans, and the poor"?

    Hey, could you email me via the link on this site? I've got an idea that I want to run by you.


    Aw, but I was having such fun with the excessive wormage...


    Yeah, Frost's book is one of those rare ones that is encouraging and challenging all at the same time. Pretty cool when one like this comes along.

    I hadn't heard of the Tertullian angle before. Could you toss a few more morsels into the mix about it?

  5. Yeah, so I'm late to the game, but I'd like to add a few things if you don't mind.

    While I've been taught that everyone is "called" in one way or another, it has been heavily emphasized that full time ministry and 5-fold ministry is a higher calling, with "Pastor" being the highest call. This creates a superiority (or eek! a hierarchy) of callings. It has also stunted people who were gifted in specific areas to not pursue those areas due to the belief that God had called them to full time ministry. The idea that maybe God has another assignment for you that happens to include business, or arts, or sports, or (yuck) retail sales, is discouraged or 'put up' with instead of being embraced.

    Another aspect of "calling" that I've been taught regards God calling everyone to a "geographical assignment".
    Meaning that you can be called to do something but not be where you are supposed to be. This is true to a degree, but where I'm churching it usually means "you can't leave here until God tells us that you are supposed to be elsewhere".

    And then there's the timing aspect to calling... doing what you are called to do, where you are called to do it, and when you are called to do it.

    I wonder if people don't ask God about their assignment because they view God as a dictator instead of a father who only ever asks, can be said "no" too, and actually does offer options, not just "YOU! DO THIS...", but "son I'd like you to do this..." or "daughter, would you be willing to do this...".

    P.S. Sorry if my comments last week were crusty - sleep depravation does that to me.

  6. Okay, here's a few (long, sorry) quotes:

    From "When Women Were Priests," (by Torjesen) pg. 155, 156

    "Somewhere around the beginning of the third century a gradual process of transformation begain in the leadership and organizational models of the Christian churches. by the third century Christianity was attracting members of the municipal ruling elites, who were trained for public life and experienced in city politics. Many Christian communities welcomed these aristocratic members, and they moved quickly into leadership positions. These men were schooled in the institutions of public life; their notions of authority, order, organization, and leadership came from the political life of the city. They brought into the churches new leadership models, models that had proved effective for governing large and diverse communities.

    In the provinces of the Roman Empire, the clergy who collectively shared the tasks of leadership began to model themselves after city councils. As a consequence the concept of leadership began to shift subtly from ministry to governance. And important element of this transition was the growing divide between the clergy and the laity. The language in which this demarcation was cast achoed the division in city politics between the rulers and the subjects. In a liturgical prayer for the ordination of presbyters in the early third century, the presbyters were cast as rulers. "Look upon this your servant and impart the spirit of grace and counsel, that he may share in the presbyterate and govern your people with a pure heart..." As the concept of leadership shifted from ministry to governance, advocates of the newer concept of leadership appealed to the Old Testament, for the leaders of the nation of Israel were indeed rulers. And as the church understood itself to be Israel's successor, the leaeership patterns found in the Old Testament became useful..."

    ppg 157:
    "...From the third to the fourth century the office of bishop became increasingly monarchial. The biship's throne stood at the front and center of the worshipping community and was eventually placed on a raised dais. ...In this new understanding of church office, the bishop ruled the congregation in God's stead. He or she was "God's mouth" and the "mediator of the word"; one who held the power of life and death. "

    pg. 162: "Tertullians description of the Christian community dramatically marks the transition of the model of the church from the household/private-associations to the body politic. With him the church became a legal body (corpus or societas, the term the Romans used for the body politic) unified by a common law (lex fidei, "the law of faith") and a common discipline (disciplina, Christian morality). "

    ...Tertullian conceived the society of the church as analogous to Roman society, divided into distinct classes or ranks, which were distinguished from one another in terms of honor and authority. The clergy (ordo ecclesiasticus) formed a rank similar to the ordo senatorius (the ruling senatorial class); the laity formed the ordo plebuis (the subject plebian class)... "

    This is just a taste, and I do highly recommend the book (I bought it while studying women, but found it helpful in SO many ways, as evidenced above). All her sources are cited, etc, of course.

  7. Mmmm... worms....

    I once heard someone say that following God's will was less figuring out the specific steps, and more knowing that God desires you to be faithful and will be with you whever you go. NOt that he can't/doesn't call you to specific places at times, but it's good to know that whetever we do that is good, God will be there.

  8. i can't believe you left without saying goodbye!! you have 6 very sad people over here!

  9. KSG,

    You got me on that one -- I'd never heard the "geographical" one before. It's amazing sometimes what creative control freaks can come up with, n'est-ce pas?


    Wow, twice in one comment: like KSG, you've introduced me to some new lines of thinking. I'll have to research at bit more on Tertle-man and see what's what. Thanks!

    Grey Owl,

    Yeah, I would definitely agree. No matter where we are, who we're with, or what we're doing, we're "called" to do the whatever in the name of the Lord. I think if we're faithful in the small steps and little things, we may suddenly look around and find ourselves smack dab in the middle of our "calling"; and sometimes we get a more dramatic "calling" in the midst of that faithfulness. But either way, practicing the Presence of God is the main thing.

  10. Hannah,

    Okay, this is really, really, REALLY important:

    It's not "good-bye" -- we'll all see each other in Edmonton in a few weeks. Once we're completely done the God's Frozen Chosen Tour '07, then we'll have some serious goodbye's happening.

    Tell the whole crew that I love them, had a blast with everyone, and can't wait to join forces again in Edmonton. And as my mentor George used to always say, "Drive friendly!"

    See you in Edmonton!