The Question of Meaning and Christian Calling

By: Taylor Bell

This blog post is an introduction to Life is Calling Team, a Lilly Endowment funded project led by Samford’s Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) researching how churches can more deeply help people discern and embody their God-given callings. As one of 16 CCR partnering congregations, a BCOC Life is Calling Team has been working since January to discern, design, and eventually propose a congregational initiative on calling. Because of Lilly’s involvement, the CCR is providing up to $30,000 for each church’s proposed initiative. Essential (meaning required), for our proposal and receiving funds is the congregation’s participation in this research, primarily through (1) The Life is Calling Survey, and (2) The Birkman Assessment. The deadline to take both survey and the Birkman is Wednesday, Sept 4th. The BCOC Life is Calling Team is inviting each adult member of the congregation to take both the survey and assessment, as they will also be instrumental for guiding us in designing an initiative that is both resonate and meaningful for Covenant. Instruction are posted below. The blog post itself is largely an introduction to the Life is Calling’s theological, historical, and programmatic foundation that informs this work—both for the CCR and the BCOC Life is Calling Team. If you are uninterested by in the theological thought and context behind our work, then feel free to skip the blog and just take the survey and assessment. However, if you would like to know more about Life is Calling then I invite you to keep reading.

  • Life is Calling Survey: use the link provided. The survey takes 5-10 mins (I timed myself)
    1. https://samford.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bxW2jgBC4gNfDDv
  • Birkman Assessment: in an email to Josey Windham (jwindham@bcoc.net) to indicate your willingness to take the survey. Taylor will provide your email to The Center for Congregational Resources at Samford who will send you a link to take the assessment free of charge.

Okay, onto the actual blog post

The question “How do I live a meaningful and purposeful life?” is a universal and fundamental human question. We all ask it whether consciously or unconsciously. Meaning is the existential understanding that I matter, that my life is significant, that my life causes some amount of ripple in the vast ocean of the universe. Purpose is the opportunity or capability to embody and express one’s meaningfulness. It is knowing that my life’s actions matter because I matter. Meaning and purpose are existentially vital for they are at the root of our struggles for happiness, fulfillment, and hope. For without meaning and purpose happiness is empty, fulfillment is evasive, and hope is unsustainable because none of these realities hold any real meaning or purpose for our lives. Without meaning life has no significance, and without purpose life is empty.

Recognizing this, it is no surprise that throughout human history we have cultivated a myriad of ways to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Religion has been a central means, and we Christians epitomize this. We believe that meaning and purpose are not so much cultivated as received through faith. Faith as the faithful relationship between humanity and God. It is through this faithful relationship that we integrate the meaningfulness that we are each lovingly and intentionally created in God’s image, and therefore we are each called to live out the purpose of sharing this divine love with the world. Within Christian history, we have used various yet related vocabularies such as Christian discipleship, living a life of faith, following Jesus, responding to God’s will, and listening to God’s calling to define and live out this purposeful life. No matter the terminology it is all rooted in the existential need each of us was created for: to be meaningful and live purposefully.

Because meaning and purpose are so essential to living, there may be no greater task for the Christian church than helping people discern and embody their God-given meaning and purpose. Without these two existentialities the human psyche goes haywire. We become despairing and violent. When one does not know their own meaning and purpose life inherently lacks value and worth, and it becomes easier to destroy life—both others’ lives and one’s own life (this is also the case when one’s meaning and purpose is easily threatened, but this is a conversation for another time). In our contemporary society where the traditional vessels for instilling us with meaning and purpose are being uprooted, changed, and reformed—especially the Church—we Christians must critically inquire and discern anew how the Christian community can help people realize and live out meaningful and purposeful existence. Such a task means exploring again Christian history, tradition, theology, ethics, and ecclesiology. It means expanding our dialogue partners to learn from non-Christians. And it means faithfully trusting and listening to God, taking risks as we discern and embrace God’s calling us into the church’s future. To evade this task is to shirk the very reason for the Church’s existence: to be the community of God on earth; to be a community of deep and enduring meaning and purpose.

The Lilly Endowment, a philanthropic foundation that provides millions of dollars for theological education annually, has embraced this task to such an extent that they have dedicated over $10 million into an initiative termed “Called to Lives of Meaning and Purpose.” For Lilly, living a life of meaning and purpose is defined as living out God’s calling for one’s life. Lilly’s convictions for this project are twofold: that when we embody our calling (1) life is deepened and enriched, and (2) the church’s vitality is strengthened. For Lilly, calling is not just an individual concern. There is a communal dynamic as well. A faithful belief that God weaves together individual callings to strengthen and revitalize the fabric of community. Thus, it is not just the individual that is at stake in explorations of calling. The community is at stake as well. The church needs people to live out their callings if it is to survive and thrive.

Samford’s Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) was selected by Lilly as one of the 13 sites. The CCR shares in Lilly’s twofold conviction, and have anchored their research in the question: “What would our churches look like if everyone was living out their God-given calling?” To explore and respond to this question, the CCR has selectively partnered with 16 Alabama churches for 4 years, inviting them to discern, design, and implement a congregational initiative that will help the church members and the congregation discern and live out their God-given callings. To help make these initiatives a reality, CCR is providing up to $30,000 for each church. These creative, contextualized, and well-funded initiatives will provide the CCR with the essential information to answer their anchoring question and providing the Lilly Endowment with potentially groundbreaking research.

BCOC was selected by the CCR as one of the 16 partnering churches, and our BCOC Life is Calling Team is made up by Caroline Jansen, Ann Carol Mann, Mike Martin, Drexel Rayford, and myself (Taylor). We are incredibly excited to be partnering with the CCR and their research.  Both because this research is important for the North American Church and this project provides us with a unique and exciting opportunity. We have the opportunity to design an initiative on discerning calling that BCOC can carry with it into the future. We are eager because this initiative, while it may be helpful for us in this season of transition, it is intended to be impactful beyond just this season. The team is currently unsure what the proposed initiative will be. But we do know that whatever it is needs to be something that BCOC and its members can return to again and again. The question “How do I live a meaningful and purposeful life?” is a question asked anew as we enter new stages of life. With each next stage, we need space and resources, a supporting community, and faith in God to discern this question anew each time.

Since January 2019 the BCOC Life is Calling Team has been deliberately researching and learning about Christian calling. We have engaged research, learned from Fisher Humphreys on Baptist history, and held three focus groups with BCOC members. All of these efforts to help us discern and propose an initiative that is significantly resonate, meaningful, and impactful for Covenant. In other words, it would be a travesty and waste of time to propose a $30,000 initiative for our church only to have designed something disconnected and insignificant. And because of this intent and concern, we need (and it’s required for our participation) the whole congregations’ help (yes that includes you!). We are now expanding our research from small groups to the entire congregation. The CCR has provided us two opportunities to engage all of BCOC, which I previewed at the top of this post. (1) is the Life is Calling Survey, which takes 5-10 mins and will provide data on how BCOC widely understands Christian calling. (2) is the Birkman Assessment. A widely used “behavioral and occupational assessment” that helps spur reflection on the connection between gifts and areas of service. Furthermore, on Wednesdays Sept 11th, 18th, and 25th we will be using the Birkman Assessment to facilitate reflection and dialogue on Covenant’s gifts and connecting them to both the church and wider community. You’ll need to take the Birkman to get the most out of these evenings! Instructions for taking both of these are below. The deadline for both the survey and assessment are Wednesday, Sept 4th. Your responses to these resources will be integral to shaping the BCOC Life is Calling Team’s discernment and work. We invite you to take them and invite other members to do the same.

  • Life is Calling Survey: use the link provided. The survey takes 5-10 mins (I timed myself)
    1. https://samford.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bxW2jgBC4gNfDDv
  • Birkman Assessment: in an email to Josey Windham (jwindham@bcoc.net) to indicate your willingness to take the survey. Taylor will provide your email to The Center for Congregational Resources at Samford who will send you a link to take the assessment free of charge.

Email Taylor Bell (tbell@bcoc.net) for any questions regarding Life is Calling and BCOC’s involvement in the program.

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