May 2, 2016

Following an Alternate Script

            Where will the next generation of ministers come from?  I spend a great deal of time thinking about the future of the church, theological schools, and Christian identity.  This constellation is relationally thick, and vocation arises from the interplay.
            I believe God continues to call people to do God’s work in the world.  It is an expression of God’s love for us that we would be entrusted with the divine mission.  It is also how divine agency expresses itself—through collaborative persons who give themselves to redemptive pursuits.  Mending the world, tikkun olam in Hebrew, is a uniquely human challenge in God’s calculus.
            Part of the challenge in our time is that children and youth receive the same script for life as people without faith.  In short, it is as follows: make the best grades; get into the best schools; get the best job (which means the highest paying); and marry the best person (who will follow the same script).

            As I gathered with other leaders of theological schools over the weekend, we pondered whether a Christian community intentionally puts forward an alternate script.  It seems that the “American Dream”—surely tinged with race and class—trumps a coherent vision of what it might mean to follow Jesus.  I am concerned that we construct a new narrative of what human success actually looks like for people of faith.

            Vocation is a journey to authentic living.  Every capacity that we put in the service of God and others can be regarded as an expression of Christian vocation.  Vocation often arises out of our concern about a deep need in the world.  Many social entrepreneurs make tangible change in the prospects of the underserved the ultimate measure of success rather than the salary garnered.  Ministry can take many forms, and we are wise to enlarge our interpretive framework.
            What if the message in church and seminary was more about what the world most needs and how one’s gifts match up with that compelling situation?  Personal economic security would no longer be the summum bonum of life; rather, we could invite persons to offer the fullness of their precious lives to a mission larger than self-interest. This will require courage, but as Brené Brown says, “courage is contagious.” 

            The lectionary reading from Acts for the seventh Sunday of Easter tells of Paul and Silas being cast into jail in Philippi for challenging a local money-making scheme.  A young woman who “had a spirit of divination” (Acts 16:16) was conscripted as a fortune-teller by her owners, and she made them wealthy.  Paul exorcizes her through the name of Jesus, and her life changes radically.  Those who had profited from her malady are furious, and they retaliate by charging them with disturbing the peace.
            We hear no more of the slave-girl; however, we can imagine her liberation affects every dimension of her life, and she is free to follow an alternate script.  The repair of her life most likely becomes a source of inspiration and wider healing in her community, and she pursues a new vocation.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares leaders to craft the future with God.

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