Vocation – Fredrick Buechner

Fredrick Buechner wrote the following about vocation…

IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do.
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

– Originally published in Wishful Thinking

From FredrickBuechner.com


“The way of the cross.” or “Why you shouldn’t run toward a firing squad.”

When we remember Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, it is tempting to get caught up in an over-exuberant faithfulness toward self-denial, embracing the Way of the Cross, that verges on a full-fledged Messiah Complex.

  • Yes, we are called to a life of self-denial. *
  • Yes, we are called to “take up your cross and follow me.” *
  • Yes, we are promised that we will only find life in our journey of releasing. *
    * Luke 9:23-24

And Yes, Jesus entered Jerusalem that final week and seemingly did everything he could to get himself crucified. He stirred up trouble with every group of religious leaders, and then refused to defend himself when given the opportunity. (Mark 11-15) It could be tempting to follow his example.

(Thanks to crosstippedchurches.blogspot.com)

Thanks to crosstippedchurches.blogspot.com


Remember that numerous times Jesus avoided conflict and trouble, slipping away from the crowd rather than letting them take him to martyrdom. At the wedding in Cana he initially declined to intervene (John 2). In Nazareth the crowd was inflamed and sought to throw him off a cliff, but he slipped away (Luke 4). His brothers invited him to join them in Jerusalem and he said no, and then went alone, secretly (John 7:10). He repeatedly tells people not to reveal who he is. He says this to the disciples (Matthew 17), those he heals (Mark 7), and even to the demons (Mark 1).

Jesus had likely visited Jerusalem numerous times and seen the terrible things taking place in the Temple but said nothing. He likely witnessed many forms of oppression and violence without intervening. This does not mean that he condoned these things, or that we should. It seems to suggest that he had a very clear sense of his own calling and purpose, and that he would not let anything derail that –

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4)

Jesus’ public ministry lasted for three years, and he was an adult leader in his community for 15 years prior to that. He had innumerable opportunities to embrace his destiny on the cross, and he let them pass by, because “his time had not come.” (John 7) When his time finally did come, he knew, and walked with faithfulness and hope, into Jerusalem and ultimately to Golgotha. But even then, this was an end he neither desired nor sought. He had no death wish, no need to be a martyr, no longing for the glory among humans or the honor from heaven that comes with laying down one’s life. Not until he recognized the time had come for God’s plan to unfold did he, willingly if regretfully, yield to those who sought to destroy the kingdom, “taking it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)

So, whatever else Holy Week means to you, don’t get confused into thinking that God wants you to martyr yourself for the cause. In the vast majority of cases you are far more likely to be of use and service to God’s kingdom by staying alive, by living humbly and quietly and graciously with a passion for justice and a love for all people that expresses the love and peace you have found in God.

Taking up your cross and following him is not about literally getting yourself killed, at least not for most of us. It is about the many little self-denials and rejections that we experience and embrace because Christ calls us to something that the world does not understand nor know that it needs.

Generational Giving

2164 logoRecently I attended a workshop at Communities Foundation of Texas hosting Sharna Goldseker from 21/64. The conversation was titled “Generations of Generosity: How Traditionalists, Boomers, GenXers and Millennials Give.”

IMG_4436The event revolved around a group process at our tables where we had a drawing of a person from one of the four generational groups –

  • Traditionalists born 1925-1945
  • Boomers born 1946-1964
  • Gen x born 1965-1980
  • Millennials born 1981-2000

These categories are based on the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss – Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069.

Our task in the group was to identify the formative generational life experiences (write those around the figure)  and the internal thoughts and attitudes and feelings that might result from these experiences. For instance, Traditionalists lived through the depression and rationing of WWII, so frugality is a common trait among them. Boomers came to adulthood during the civil rights era and Viet Nam conflict – they are often motivated by causes. Generation X saw Iran Contra, Church sex scandals so they tend to be cynical and distrusting of institutions. Generation Y / Millennials are the technology generation, have never known a time without computers and the internet, and were raised by boomers, so they are impatient, and want to be involved directly in decision making and impact.

These are broad brush categories and descriptions, but they hold true for a large portion of the population. When there is a seeming communication gap or disconnect, these may help offer some explanation. When an institution – Foundation, NonProfit, or Religious Organization – is wanting to connect with new generations of contributors, board members and engaged community partners, understanding the generational trait can provide needed insight.

If Millennials do not see how they can participate and can’t measure the impact, they will not participate, no matter how “wonderful the organization or cause.” Boomers are still motivated by cause – help them see how the organization connects to and furthers causes about which they care and with which they can engage. Gen X cohort tend to be cynical, presenting a “prove it to me” posture and attitude. Underneath and behind that wall is a deep desire to do good and make the world a better place. They were latchkey kids, so they are trained to figure things out and do things on their own, not waiting around for permission from authorities. This makes them great innovators and hard workers.

One of the challenges not discussed was how to engage one group without alienating others. Younger generations tend to be drawn toward more edgy marketing and story telling, and are often more progressive about social issues.While we should not prejudge how people will respond, we also may want to consider how traditionalists will respond to a marketing campaign designed to connect with Millennials. Will they be offended? Will they even understand it? “Communication is not what you say, but what people hear.”* So it is OUR RESPONSIBILITY to understand HOW people hear, if we want to engage them in the conversation.

One way to approach this is simply to ask, “When I say XYZ (give, donate, volunteer, etc) what do you hear? What runs through your mind? What are your questions? What is most important to you?”

NextGenDonors LogoGoldseker is the co-author of #NextGenDonors. I was very interested that there was no social media connection information provided until the end of the presentation. I was attempting to post to Twitter and Facebook, but could not easily identify the hashtags or handles to use. We finally did get #NextGenDonors on Facebook and Twitter, and I found @2164Buzz on Twitter. I’m squarely in Gen X (born 1970) and I use social media to share ideas with colleagues and engage the larger community in conversation about topics that I find important. Not being able to do this easily, and more specifically not being encouraged and enabled to do this, at a session about Next Gen Donors, was confusing to me. Perhaps CF Texas only uses twitter for specific campaigns like North Texas Giving Day. I wonder if my friends at SparkFarm have any thoughts about this?

What does your organization do to connect with each generation? Do you intentionally focus on only one or two demographic groups, or do you try to connect with all four? What resources do you find most helpful?

* Michael Moynahan SJ. “Incarnation.” Hearts on Fire. Michael Harter SJ. ed

Virtual Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday and Lent
the Spiritual Reset Button for your life.

reset-buttonSecular and religious people have many important things in common. One of those, that is being remembered and honored by Christians today, is the need to experience repentance and forgiveness. Who among us has not fallen short of the moral, ethical or relational standards we set for ourselves, to say nothing of the standards others try to set for us? When I fail to honor the sacredness of friendship and love. When I make a promise that I am unable to keep. When I speak words in anger or fear that assault and wound. When I neglect my duty to nurture and care. When I tear down rather than build up, degrade rather than construct, poison rather than nourish. When my silence supports systems of oppression, particularly when I then gain in the process.

When I do these things, what then? How can I move from this position to a status of restored relationship? What can I offer, what do I need to receive? Who can help?

In my own life, I have found the story of Jesus to be a compelling witness to my own brokenness and frailty and lack, because he shared in it, even to the point of death and fear of the same. For me the greatest pain in my own failures is not that I have committed them, but that I may be unable to experience restoration. What if things can’t be repaired (some can’t)? What if time runs out and I never get to say, “I’m sorry,” and hear, “You are forgiven”? What if… I live not in certainty, but in hope.

I hope that you know where to turn, to whom you can go, to find the help that you need when you face these issues in your own life. I also hope that you are able to extend compassion and mercy to others, not because they deserve it, but because you need it too.

Ride the monster down

In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here. This is given. It is not learned.

S.L.O.W. Being struck by wonder. Or not.

Mark Yaconelli is reminded by his son, and then reminds us, of the value of ssslllooowwwiiinnnggg dddooowwwnnn.
Are you ready for slow club?

  • What would you need to change in your life in order to actually slow down like this?
  • What would change on its own in your life when you did slow down?
  • What would you loose? What would you gain?

I remember being on a a spiritual retreat several years ago at the Malvern Retreat House west of Philadelphia. They have several Stations of the Cross trails through the woods around the edge of the property, and I was taking time to walk a trail in the morning, at noon and in the evening. In my third session I realized I was speedwalking. Speedwalking my prayer walk through the Stations. Really?!? #facepalm. In that moment I began a new discipline that I practice periodically. I walk as slow as I can without falling over or distracting myself by the sheer difficulty of it. Take. My. Time. Take. My. Time. Take. My Time.

I can pray while I do other things – can and do. But multitasking prayer is not a sufficient diet for the soul. Like the body, and our relationships, the soul needs our undivided attention regularly. Actually, all six facets of our self need to be attended regularly and consistently, each in their own and various ways. When I try to do too many things at once, I end up missing the essence of each experience, like speedwalking through the Stations of the Cross.

I think I’m going to join the Slow Club. How about you join me?

Where are all the Millenials?

Look around the sanctuary. What do you see? A few handfuls of children with their parents, a dozen youth and their sponsors, and scores of empty-nesters and retirees. Mostly gray, white or bald heads everywhere you turn.  Now of course there is nothing wrong with having lots of older folks in church. And depending on the community, this might be a sign of real vitality. Clearly, a church adjacent to several active senior living and retirement communities will want to have a vibrant ministry to these neighbors. Unfortunately, many congregations look this way even though they are surrounded by families with children and youth in the adjoining districts. What then?

Where are all the young adults, single or married with children? Who is reaching them, and how? What are these congregations doing (or what are they not doing) that is making a connection. One church consultant has been known to ask congregations, “Are your grandchildren in church?” and when the answer comes back a strong and pain-filled, “No.” He follows by asking, “What would you be willing to do to provide a place for them, where they wanted to be?” “Anything!”

Institute for Vital Ministry exists to connect congregations and leaders facing such challenges with those who are also on the journey, and are having success. We will help you know where to turn, and even facilitate the learning process for you through conferences, on-sites and immersion trips. Practitioners who work with us are excited to share what they know, recognizing that there is always more to learn, and that we are better together.

The ministry you have to offer is inside you. You may just need some help drawing it out and believing that it is worth offering.

I want my life back

He sat in his car, which was parked in front of his office. The voice mail he just received reminded him of the program at his daughter’s elementary school that day, and his son’s basketball game that evening. His day was meetings from 9am till 9pm, with quick breaks for lunch and dinner. Again, he found himself choosing between his commitments to his work, which he recognized as important and valuable, and his family, which he valued beyond measure. “After all,” he thought, “I’m doing all of this for them, aren’t I?”

True, we all have choices to make, and often are faced with far more opportunities than we can possibly entertain. Yet this fellow has built a professional life that he feels is robbing him of time with his wife and children – time he can’t get back. He does not want to continue this way, but also does not know what to change, or how. All he knows is this, “I want my life back.”

Where can you turn when faced with this dilemma? Who has been there before, and can walk with you toward the life you desire, the life you dream of? Contact iVM and let us connect you with someone who can help.

I can’t hear my call

The pastor has celebrated fifteen years of ordained ministry, having served in three congregations, including a student internship during graduate school. Coming out of seminary she was filled with passion and vision for ministry and a love for congregation and community. That was then.

Now, after nearly two decades, she’s not sure where to turn. Somewhere along the way her sense of vocation started to fade away. The things she loved no longer bring her joy. The relationship interactions, sadly, leave her empty and deflated. She desperately wants to love these people and this place, but she’s forgotten how.

Interestingly enough, many of the folks in the congregation seem to feel the same way, not just about the pastor, but about each others. The congregation has a general sense of surface affection that masks a deeper anxiety. They are warm and welcoming to newcomers, but have little energy or inclination for going deeper in relationship or providing lasting hospitality.

Over time, both the pastor and the congregation have lost a sense of hearing God’s voice calling and leading. They want to hear. They remember what it was like to hear. They even remember what they heard. But now, it seems that God has fallen silent. Their theology tells them otherwise; it says that God is now and will continue to speak, to call, to redeem and lead.

So the question comes: How do I/we learn to hear again?


The Institute for Vital Ministry exists to partner with this pastor AND the participants of this congregation – those who are asking these questions, but don’t know where to turn, and may even be afraid of the answers they might find.

We bring together agencies, institutes, organizations and practitioners to form collaborative partnerships that facilitate contextual learning in a trusted community of companion travelers on the journey of discovery and transformation.

iVM will help you engage, equip, and extend your ever deepening faith out into the community and world around you. Get in touch and let’s learn together.

Who is my neighbor?

A congregation of generous, warm, and loving folks sits in a neighborhood that has changed around it. In decades past many of the congregation’s active participants lived within walking distance, but over time the community transitioned, and now most of the folks in the pews come in from other parts of town. The congregation is also aging, and the members and staff are trying to figure out how to connect with their new neighbors. They say to themselves:

“We don’t know where we fit in the world anymore.”

(To tell the truth, many also don’t make meaningful faith connections with the people in the communities where they now live either. Is that the same problem, or a different but related one?)This congregation has read books and some of the folks have even attended conferences and workshops. They hear lots of great ideas, and get inspired to do amazing things for God. But somehow, when they get back home, they struggle to connect the ideas with where and how they really live. And all that energy and enthusiasm they felt with the hundreds of others who gathered for training – somehow they can’t manage to keep up that level of passion. They feel that they are letting down each other, their neighbors, and God.  The questions come:

  • How do we connect with our community?
  • How do we get to know them?
  • Who do they need us to be here?
  • What is God calling us to do here?
  • What should we do next?

The Institute for Vital Ministry exists to partner with the staff AND participants of this congregation – those who are asking these questions, but don’t know where to turn, and may even be afraid of the answers they might find.

We bring together agencies, institutes, organizations and practitioners to form collaborative partnerships that facilitate contextual learning in a trusted community of companion travelers on the journey of discovery and transformation.

iVM will help you engage, equip, and extend your ever deepening faith out into the community and world around you. Get in touch and let’s learn together.