Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2006

Living Out Our Callings in the Community

by Sheri Booms Holm, director of publications

Participants in Diane Kaufmann's workshop discussed in small groups what they do in their communities as "the hands and feet of Christ."

Community Callings: What Does That Mean?

At the 2006 Mid-Winter Convocation, "Living Out Our Callings in the Community," Jan. 4-6, participants examined what call really means in  correlation with one's community. This is the third in the  "Living Out Our Callings" series.

Plenary speakers Ray Bakke, Diane Kaufmann  and Gary Simpson informed and challenged participants. Workshops gave attendees concrete examples of that being called to community could mean.

  • You are active in church and serve on numerous committees.

  • You give to the local food shelf every major holiday; you buy school supplies for the yearly drive and donate to United Way and Toys for Tots.

  • As a parent, you're involved in more community activities than you really want to be in right now, thank you very much: carpooling kids to weekly sport practices, helping out with scouting programs, going to PTA meetings and volunteering for school events ...Sigh.

Are any of these living out one's calling in the community (and can one be called to shuttling the neighbors' kids around town)?

Well, maybe.

There are people (perhaps you) who feel called to help run a food shelf, head the congregation's stewardship program or provide opportunities for children to participate in wholesome activities--even if it means a lot of drive time. In every case, there's a specific need, and a person with the skills and passion to meet it.

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet," wrote author and ordained minister Frederick Buechner.

Can One Person Make a Difference?

Plenary speaker Diane Kaufmann knows this intersection of gladness and hunger. She is an associate in ministry and companion synod coordinator to Brazil and Malawi for the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin. But before her transition to this career, she was a sustainable agriculture farmer, raising chickens and goats the "old/new" way of grass grazing on a small farm by Chippewa Falls, Wis.

Her raised hand to join a local committee on sustainable farming turned into a calling to teach others, not just in her immediate community, but throughout the United States and around the world. It grew to include helping others find ways to support themselves through their gifts. On a trip to Africa to help the Munhuwepeyi Women's Group of Murewa, Zimbabwe, market poultry feed, she recognized that the beautiful handiwork they crocheted throughout their meetings together would have a market in the United States. She suggested she sell the items for the women, and indeed, raised several thousand dollars for them. At her last visit with them the thankful women told her how the money had changed their lives and sang a song about her. Despite these accolades, she said, "[They] gifted and blessed me far beyond what I gave them."

"Mission Has Come Home"

Kaufmann's calling to community expanded to agricultural communities as far away as Zimbabwe, Vietnam and France.

Plenary speaker Ray Bakke knows you don't have to go that far to reach people from every continent. "God is re-wiring the world. Today you go to cities to find the nations," he told Convo participants. "Mission has come home." Bakke is Distinguished Professor of Global/Urban Ministry and chair of the board of regents of Bakke Graduate University, Seattle, Wash. He's also the executive director of International Urban Associates in Seattle.

Bakke followed God's call from a rural Washington state upbringing to a ministry on the gritty streets of inner city Chicago where he and his family made their home for 35 years.

In Chicago, "I began to see that in America, we throw away communities like we throw away Styrofoam cups," he said.

Bakke was discouraged to see that "the real barriers to reaching communities are in church." He encouraged the audience to throw the "we've never done it that way before" mentality out the door.

"Jesus said we should be fishers of men and women, right? But how do too many congregations fish today? They put a barrel in the front of the sanctuary, they fill it up with water, and they invite fish to jump in it so they can catch them! That's absurd, of course. We all know that when you fish, you need to go where fish are and use different methods to catch them--some on the surface with flies, some deep; different ways at different times of the year," Bakke said.

"We need senior pastors to be vision casters, to create staffs of people--diverse kinds of people," he continued. "We need teams of men and women to work with institutions and others to work with economic development. We need teams to work with domestic violence, with abuse, and with addictive peoples. We need teams of ministry--24-hour coverage, multilingual coverage. Everything missionaries did abroad we now have to do at home."

I'd Like to Do Something, But I Could Use a Little Help Myself

Gary Simpson laid out why one needs to heed our calls to community. Simpson is professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary. He created a sociological map that showed how the political state (power) and market economy (money) tend to flatten out our "lifeworld" of personal values and beliefs. He showed how "civil society" becomes the cushion and channels for communication and impact between power and money and the lifeworld. Simpson defined civil society as various "networks, associations, institutions and movements for prevention and promotion of this, that and the other thing." Civil society often takes the form of nonprofit organizations--other groups that translate the needs of community.

In his second convocation presentation he introduced the participants to individuals, congregations and organizations that were working together to meet specific community needs.

Think About It

  • Bakke spoke of the need for "teams of men and women" to work with the institutions and issues that face us in the modern world, especially in our cities. But organizing teams suggests either very large  congregations or a high level of cooperation among congregations. Does any of that make sense where you live? What are the challenges around you that churches should be addressing? How might you help do that?

  • What are some ways you have understood and used the gifts God has given you, bearing witness to God by serving your neighbor?

  • Think about making an inventory of the involvement of members of your congregation in civil or church service organizations of all kinds. They might be surprised to see what they are doing. Think of ways to display or use this information to stimulate the ministry of your people and the work of God in your community.

    Hear or Read All of the Plenary Presentations

    Audio CDs are available for $30,and a booklet, Living Out Our Callings in the Community, can be purchased for $7.95. Order either at www.centeredlife.org, or call 651-641-3429.

    Plenary speakers Gary Simpson, Diane Kaufmann and Ray Bakke held a question and answer session for Convo participants.