Calling

The significance of the pastoral vocation—and its failure—has already been noted already throughout this book, but vocation and calling will now be deepened and extended in light of John 21:4-19 and the restoring Jesus. First, I note the intersection with the wider supervision literature (including coaching supervision and mentoring), particularly in the concepts of personal and professional development (lifelong learning). Second, I explore the Christo-logical focus of calling (and convictions) in McClendon who framed ‘ethics for a career’ by the searching question ‘what risky practices are worth my time and energy?’10 Third, I suggest how pastoral supervision engages in contending that is Christological restoration and renewal, not mere ethical action.

The influence and impact of the clinical tradition on professional supervision’s understanding of the supervisee’s calling is evident. Common themes include recognition, agency, and subjectivity. Jane Todd’s exploration of professional and personal development (accidently?) invokes the Scriptural phrase ‘through the glass darkly’ (1 Cor. 13:12), concluding the‘key themes ofmutual recognition and self-agency within the intra-subjectivity of the group emphasise the respect for self and the other’ are vitally important. Todd highlights ‘mutual recognition as a way of being more balanced within ourselves alongside a consideration of self with other’.11 The lens of personal and professional development is now ubiquitous across multiple modalities. Turner and Palmer point to ‘a body of evidence that shows resourcing ourselves is crucial for us to do our best work, and support others, whether as coaches, mentors, leaders or supervisors’.12 The happy convergence of several disciplines is unsurprising to professional supervisors who have long held that supervision occupies an important role in lifelong learning and development.13 Carroll cites Kierkegaard’s famous phrase approvingly, who ‘once said, “You live life forwards, you understand it backwards”. He could, of course, have been talking about supervision’.14 For Carroll, supervision is the right context for these conversations because ‘it meditates on the past in the present to prepare the future’.15

McClendon’s lens of convictions deepens and extends the future-orientated learning and development, often centred around values and identity, for pastoral supervision. Executive coach trainer David Ross notes, ‘we each develop habitual Ways of Being, behavioural systems that create a way of thinking, feeling and acting that seem normal and real. Some of these serve us: others do not. By identifying and changing these, we can powerfully redefine ourselves’.16 Haddock-Millar and Tom, studying the science of vocation, suggest the most critical redefinitions are the ‘seven . . . essential components in a variety of studies over the last 70 years on what makes people happy and satisfied at the end of their life’. The seven traits include having good health (physical, emotional, and mental); having security (home, food, and education); achieving things (feeling competent and feeling satisfied with those achievements); having moments of happiness, joy, and pleasure; feeling connected with others; having autonomy and freedom; and living a life based on one’s values, faith, and principles.17 Drawing on the research of Maslow and many others, there is something alluring and attractive about this list of seven traits of the flourishing life. Pastoral

The restoring Jesus: theology and practice 117 supervisors will be drawn to the seventh as the most important: living a life based on one’s values, faith, and principles; while theological critics might challenge the prevailing sense of entitlement and acquisitiveness of this list.18 But mostly, the seven appear like common sense: who wouldn’t want these things? The older and wiser wisdom traditions, dating back to the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, reveals the shallowness of science and common sense, however, judging both ‘a vanity and a chasing after wind’ (Eccl. 1:14; 1:17; 2:11,17, and 26; 4:4,6, and 16; and 6:9). Following the wisdom of Qohelet, McClendon prefers to locate these in human stories rather than hubris or pseudo-science:

Biography is of course one form of story distinguished by being always a human story, and always (in intention) a true story. It is a form of story well suited to Christian faith. In favor of this conclusion is the recurrence of the form (or its predecessors) in earliest Christianity: the Confessions of Augustine, the Acts of the martyrs (and of the Apostles), and, even more central than these, various Gospels of Jesus Christ each tell a human story.19

The Christian idea of a calling is living a promise-shaped life. Sometimes those promises are formal—such as the vows of ordination—but more commonly the promises are informal pledges to a certain shape and quality of life. Some promises are the commitment to fulfil actions, functions, and roles. For those involved in Christian ministry, these often involve leading worship, pastoral care, gospel proclamation, and actions of mercy and justice. Pastoral supervisors, focussed on practice, will be attentive to these and more. A deeper expression of calling (or vocation) in the Christian heritage, beginning in the stories and biographies in Scripture, highlights that a commitment to God is a promise to becoming a certain kind of person. As spiritual directors and mentors highlight, an individual’s humanity is influenced and shaped by this quality of our lives. These convictions—the very essence of faith—is a calling.

Pastoral supervisors remember, naturally, that these two are distinct but inseparable. Christian theology, rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ, insists that actions arise from and reflect a certain way of being. Conversely, the supervisee’s being is disciplined and extended by the practice of certain disciplines and functions. Pastoral supervisors attend to the constant danger of these being torn apart: where soul and role are no longer integrated.20 Pastoral supervision can offer supervisees a reality check against the phantasies that the calling of a promised-shaped life can generate. For those supervisees who have made formal vows, the pathologies of a vow-shaped life—particularly for the newly ordained—are captured by the potent warning of philosopher Paul Ricoeur: there is ‘the secret break at the very heart of commitment’.21 Bishop Stephen Pickard, bringing together

Hannah Arendt and Ricoeur, finds the deepest implications for the promises of a calling: human flourishing and the transformation of human life:

Arendt’s ‘darkness of the heart’ has, in Ricoeur’s analysis, become ‘the secret break at the heart of commitment’. The true life of promise by which we are sustained as selves in relation to others remains forever under threat of dissolution. Yet to relinquish the promissory character of personal identity is to risk loss of personhood itself: to live in and through our promises belongs to the narrative of our lives.22

How does pastoral supervision call supervisees to ‘live in and through their promises’ when their narratives are harmed by, sometimes even held hostage to, these secret breaks. The apostle Peter, on the boat after his secret break—his failed promise to follow Jesus to death—chose to abandon his calling and return to his former life. The contours of radical failure— personal distress and disintegration, public disappointment and disgrace, the risk to integrity and identity—are familiar ones in the brave space of pastoral supervision. Back on the beach, the apostle Peter encounters the risen Christ—McClendon’s restoring Jesus—in whom ‘there was now a new world to experience, a new life together’:

the apostolic generation discovered the new in Christ when they found their own lives transformed. Where Jesus was known to be alive from the dead, everything was changed . . . there was now a new world to experience, a new life together. This newness in the risen Christ Jesus and its availability to all people everywhere was the content of the apostolic message.. . . Sixteenth-century Lutherans signalled their rediscovery of this transformation with the brave new phrase ‘justification by grace through faith alone’.23

Nurturing, sustaining, and renewing call is central to pastoral supervision. Vocation, as it pertains to the supervision of ministry workers, is one of the explicit themes of the final chapter. The nexus between calling and convictions was noted previously, and it’s the unusual concept of convicting that is now explained and explored.

 
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