This post is not about a dream as in “I have a dream …” or “last night I had the strangest dream”. Not some desire or bold vision. Just the mundane sort of thing that happens in sleep. I can barely remember it now, but I know I woke up mulling over such things as balancing vocation and a sense of call, with testing that and this apparent need to sell yourself.
“I feel called by God to do this, therefore you must give me the job” some how doesn’t cut it in interviews these days.
And nor should it!. As much as I would love it to be that simple I don’t think it should be. It has always been part of our Methodist understanding, and I would argue this is the best model across the Christian tradition, that an individual’s sense of call is tested. It starts with the informal chats with the close friend to see what they think and progresses up to the more formal testing by the Church, through applications, interviews etc (the exact way a call is tested depends on the call) but if someone is offering for ministry within the Church, be it lay or ordained, be it a short term thing (like me at the moment) or sense of life-long call it is right that the Church has a say. It is right that they are involved in testing that call.
This position comes not only from our understanding of calling and ministry but also from our understanding of “authority”. The Methodist Church is unusual in having four sources of authority during decision making. There are some that claim to have only one; “the word of God” (how accurate this claim is I shall leave up to you) or others whereby what I think God is saying to me is key. Our Anglican comrades have three (which leads to lots of analogies about stools) namely scripture, Tradition (the recieved teachings of the Church; not habit!!) and reason/logic. To this, Methodism adds personal experience. We then try to balance these together. The importance one person places on each, or how they hold them in tension will vary, but the point of this is that personal experience is a source of authority for me and my Methodisty types so on one hand “I feel called by God” is a very good starting point (in fact I would say if one doesn’t feel called by God in one form or another then we need to be asking questions of that) but at the same time we balance our personal experience, so it is just as important it is tested. In short, the Methodist understanding of authority means we should respond and test senses of call.
I knew all this when I woke up (I have a surprising amount of love for the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” – the geeky name given to the four sources of authority) and yet I still felt un-easy. I haven’t written my bit of the OPP application yet, that comes later on, but I know that I will have to “sell myself” close friends are applying for jobs they feel called to, and are having to “sell themselves” to the employer. I think I felt uneasy not because I cannot justify myself as a viable candidate, but because it somehow runs the risk of cheapening the process. Does me following what I believe to be God’s call rest on how well I can talk up my transferable skills? Other, bigger, questions also arise. What if this isn’t God’s call but I write such a good application I get it? Then what?
There is a little more that could be said, I know the answer to some of those questions, but they require a much more systemically structured blog post. One which no doubt will appear at some point. But I set to writing my dissertation this morning more with a sense of tension and lack of resolution, but a general feeling that it was OK, and so I shall leave my blog here, and hopefully it will convey some of that too.
Finally, I am actually quite excited that I have written an open-ended post. It was inevitable, but I can now add “written a post with more questions that answers” to my list of first-time experiences!