Thursday, February 09, 2023

the role of people and communities on the call to ministry

There is an excellent article on how social influences shape the call to ministry by Erin Johnston and David Eagle in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

“Expanding the Horizontal Call: A Typology of Social Influences on the Call to Ministry,” Erin Johnston and David Eagle, (2023), Expanding the Horizontal Call: A Typology of Social Influence on the Call to Ministry. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. DOI 10.1111/jssr.12816

While call has historically been seen as an interaction between God and the person called, their research demonstrates how call is socially structured. Theologically, call is thus understood as an embodied experience, shaped by relationships and the ways churches are socially structured, particularly in gender, ethnicity and participation.

Johnston and Eagle interviewed 36 first-year seminary students training for ministry. In the stories of call, six typical social others who play a formative role in the call to ministry were identified. These social others act as instigators, exemplars, interpreters, affirmers, challengers and co-discerners. Without social interactions, “a call can not emerge or be meaningfully enacted” (2). The research also examined differences in the social shaping of call by gender. Men are more likely to describe experiences of affirmers and exemplars, while women are more likely to have challengers and interpreters.

As I read it, I spotted four implications for churches interested in developing leaders:

  1. Clergy are the most commonly cited source of influence, mentioned by 58% of participants. They play significant roles as affirmers, co-discerners and examplars. Practically, helping clergy understand what good practice in these different social interactions look like would be beneficial.
  2. Gender of clergy. The research showed that gender-matched exemplars are particularly influential – seeing a woman in a position of religious leader can evoke and solidify a personal call. “Given that the number of women in congregational ministry remains relatively low and barriers to ordination and leadership remain high, women are less likely to interact with gender-matched exemplars and as a result, may be less likely to consider ministry as a potential vocational path.” (10) Practically, ongoing commitments to removing barriers for women and enhancing the visibility of women in leadership in religious communities is needed.
  3. Participation. Most of the participants were called “during a period of deepening involvement in a community of faith” (15). Practically, providing ways for people to participate and get involved are essential.
  4. Ethnicity. The data was from the US and in that context, more social influences were reported by Black respondents than White respondents. This requires further reflection. The article suggested this might be related to the denominations from which participants came. However, it might also be related to how different cultures nurture identity and develop leadership across generations.

A great piece of research, that has theological and ministry implications.

Posted by steve at 12:16 PM

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