By: Judy Ferguson
As a Certified Christian Educator (CCE), I have had the privilege of walking alongside countless college students at Schreiner University these past nineteen years. These students are feeling a call to ministry but are not sure what that might look like in their future. My role as the Director of the Christian Vocations Internship Program (CVIP) is to counsel and provide opportunities for them to explore that sense of call in a ministry setting. Additionally, exposure to the wider church at events such as APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators) has often enlarged their worldview and helped to crystalize the next steps to be taken after graduation.
The word “vocation” can be problematic for many people, not just students. Some common misconceptions about vocation are:
- God’s call only refers to church professionals.
- There is only one call for each person.
- God calls other people, not me.
- Certain vocations are more pleasing to God than others.
- One’s relationship to God is a private matter, to be lived out at church, at home, but rarely at work.
A favorite definition of “vocation”, and one that resonates with many students, is one by Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Students who are passionate about helping others know that it brings them deep gladness, in some way, to contribute to the solutions of the many problems in the world.
In the course that we developed and teach called Leading Lives that Matter, the Rev. Gini Norris-Lane, our campus minister, and I strive to help students to discover what their call might be and how to plan for the future:
- By recognizing that, indeed, God does call us to play a role in God’s kingdom here on earth.
- By learning more about themselves, persons that God has created.
- By inviting God into the conversation and staying in conversation with God.
- By practicing the practices of faith.
- By being in relationship and community with friends, family, and mentors.
- By being open to new things, to new understandings about God and how God relates to us.
- By trying new things, be willing to risk, fail, and then try again.
Our course grew out the desire to expose more students across the spectrum of the university to the theological concept of “vocation.” Schreiner University has joined the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE), which is funded by the Lilly Foundation. Administrators, faculty, and staff have attended their workshops and presented at their events. A generous grant has allowed us to train campus leaders to engage “vocation” in the different disciplines. Our mission statement was updated not long ago to reflect this perspective: “Schreiner University offers a personalized, integrated education that prepares its students for meaningful work and purposeful lives in a changing global society.”
It has been exciting and rewarding to have spent the latter part of my days in ministry with college students. I am grateful to Schreiner University for providing the place for this special call and to APCE for the years of support for me and my students as we seek together to discern the future in God’s kingdom.
How would you answer questions about vocation that the young people in your ministry setting might ask you?
Judy Ferguson serves as the Director of the Christian Vocations Internship Program at Schreiner University, and is Moderator of the Endowment Ministry Team for APCE. Her article comes to us through the People Connections sub-committee of the Educator Certification Committee of the PCUSA.