The 2002 Princeton Lectures on
Youth, Church, and Culture
Compass Points: Navigating Vocation
The fundamental question of adolescence—”Who am I?”—is increasingly answered by our society with “You are what you buy.” As youth navigate the choppy waters of identity formation, they long for true meaning and direction but often settle for defining themselves as consumers. The church offers youth a compass for their journey that is pointed by the cross. Christian vocation gives young people validity, purpose, and direction. As youth take up their crosses and follow Christ, they learn to rely on built-‐in GPS (global positioning system) to set their course. The good news we can share with young people is that God is calling them to a unique identity and task. They need only listen and respond. The 2002 Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church, and Culture explore how the church can help youth discern their life’s calling and their vocation as teenagers.
Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger sees a paradox in Christian vocation. Vocation is an astonishing gift from God and yet also a human task and responsibility. She raises the question of how we in the church can teach youth to trust fully that God will speak to them, and yet also urge them to map out their life plans as best they can. Hunsinger argues that the teaching of the church about the nature of the God who calls them can provide youth with much-‐needed guidance in the face of dizzying choices. Young people need to know that the God who created them has given particular gifts unique to each creature; the Christ who redeems them saves them from aimlessness and sin; the Holy Spirit who sustains them creates the community where they may be fully seen as who they are and where they can be called forth. The church community also has an obligation, says Hunsinger, to help youth identify and call forth their gifts.
Joyce Ann Mercer urges the church to take seriously the vocation of young people and of the adults who minister with them. After examining Christian theological understandings of vocation throughout history, Mercer links the vocation of youth to identity, community, and solidarity. She also lifts up youth ministry as a legitimate lifelong vocation rather than a steppingstone to “real” ministry. She claims that youth ministers are people who share with all Christians the one call to ministry, that God’s Spirit gives certain gifts to people with a vocation for youth ministry, and that the vocation of youth ministry draws its meaning, character, and work from the one call to ministry and from God’s calling of youth.
Miroslav Volf addresses a crucial question for Christians in today’s world: If memory is part and parcel of the way we relate to one another in situations of conflict, then how does one who loves remember injuries and injustices? Volf discusses the importance of memory with a particular emphasis on the role it plays in the contemporary world. He points out that while memories give us identity and can promote justice, they can also become roots of bitterness and obstacles to reconciliation. Volf goes on to explore what it takes to remember in redeeming rather than in destructive ways. He considers how the proper remembrance of the exodus from Egypt and the resurrection of Jesus Christ inform the task of redemptive remembering.
Michael Warren challenges us to consider what youth ministry in a church of radical discipleship might look like. How, he asks, can the church help youth move from being conspicuous consumers to having a commitment to the poor and to gospel simplicity? Warren contrasts the gestures of consumerism with the gestures of the gospel, and he lifts up examples of ministries that are teaching young people not simply what they ought to believe but what concrete skills are needed for living out the gospel. Warren also discusses the power of social influences on youth and on their ability to be influences in their own right. When the church is a community living out gospel alternatives to consumer culture, he argues, it offers youth a powerful vision of life’s purposes and possibilities.
May these lectures remind you of your own true vocation and equip you to accompany young people as they listen for God’s call.
Director of Leadership Development
Institute for Youth Ministry
- Vocation: An Inexpressible Gift
- Vocation: A Joyous Task
- Call Forwarding: Putting Vocation in the Present Tense with Youth
- Are We Going on a Vocation Now? Ministry with Youth as a Lifelong Vocation
- Love’s Memory: The Role of Memory in Contempory Culture
- Love’s Memory: Redemptive Remembering
- Youth Ministry in an Inconvenient Church
- Cultural Resistance in Youth: Problems and Possibilities
Vocation: An Inexpressible Gift
I have long been fascinated by a paradox that lies right at the heart of our calling to ministry. While it is true that the life of faith is riddled through and through with paradox, I find myself pondering one particular paradox as I think about what it means to help young people to discover the call of God in their lives: namely the mystery of divine and human action in the discernment of God's call.
How vividly I remember my own sense of call, coming to me in such an ordinary way out of the blue after so many years of searching, worrying, fretting, investigating, and wondering what it was that I was meant to do in this world. Then one fine October day, one of those "Mary-Queen-of-Heaven-Blue" days in Minnesota, when the air was crisp and the sun was bright, everything fell into place. I remember how distinctly etched against the sky each of the individual leaves on the trees were. I remember how it felt as if I were floating a few inches above the earth, as if my feet weren't actually touching the ground. And I remember how the cool, clear air in the world around me seemed to match a sense of inner spaciousness and feeling of freedom within.
After searching for so many years, it was as if I had turned a corner that day and there it was, given to me with such clarity, a complete gift. After so much effort, this was entirely effortless. It fell into my lap. Looking back now nearly thirty years later, I can see how that day changed the course of my entire life. Sometimes I wonder how my life would have evolved if I had not met that stranger that afternoon, with whom I spoke for twenty short page 2 minutes. But every time I try to imagine it, I am thrown into a place of complete wonder; it is like trying to imagine myself not being myself.
After that day, I made decisions to be sure, one after another as I responded to what I had heard that day. But the perception has never left me: The call of God is an astonishing gift long before it becomes a human task. The task—even the many tasks that followed as I began to live out what was given me that day—hardly seems worth mentioning by comparison with the magnitude of the gift. And yet, here is what is so curious: If I hadn't been actively seeking and listening, would I have been in the position to receive the gift that God had prepared for me that day?
That's the paradox: How can something be so wondrously and completely a divine gift and yet also completely a human task and responsibility? For if I hadn't been searching so avidly for my life's work all those years, would I actually have heard God's call to me that October afternoon? Could any of it have happened as it did? It is such an imponderable mystery right there in the middle of my own life story, the event of discovering what I was meant to do with my life. 2
And so now I wonder about the next generation. How do we teach them about this paradox? How do we teach them both to hasten and to wait, really to trust that God will speak to them, and yet also urge them to map out their life plans as best they can by exploring and developing their gifts and interests? How do we teach them truly to ponder the question in their hearts, listening for God to guide them to their vocation, not simply a career to pursue or a way to make a living but the discovery of their life's path, the flourishing of their uniqueness, that sense of "yessss, this is what I was put on earth to do"?
One of the texts read at my ordination service speaks of just this kind of paradox, this mystery that lies at the heart of discerning our vocation. It is from Paul's letter to the Philippians. Since it immediately follows that wonderful hymn about Christ's self-emptying—not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptying himself, taking the form of a servant—it can easily be overlooked as something worth pondering in its own right. But it is well worth thinking about as we consider the task of helping young people find their true calling. Paul writes:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13, RSV).page 3
Paul is describing here the paradox of grace that suffuses all that we do in the Christian life: The nitty-gritty working out of our salvation occurs in and through our imperfect, faltering human choices. But hidden from our eyes, God is the chief actor at work within us, sometimes despite and even against us, both willing and working out that salvation for his own good pleasure. The salvation that comes to us in the midst of our fear and trembling is at once completely God's gracious work and yet, mysteriously, also something in which we actively participate. We certainly are not the ones to bring it about, yet we need to be there, actively seeking, responding, listening all the time, participating in a profound mystery, the mystery of God at work in and through us.
The vocation we are given by God as disciples of Jesus Christ is both a divine gift and a human task. The gospel first comes to us as a wondrous gift, freely given, something that we receive by the mercy of God. That alone is an imponderable mystery. How is it that one person is open to hearing the gospel when another isn't? How can it be that one hears it and it gives him life when his sisters and brothers, children of the same mother and father, neither hear nor believe, nor receive it with joy? The calling of God is an inexpressible gift. As we hear and receive it and then weave it into our very identity and sense of purpose in life, it also becomes our joyous task. Only as we ourselves actually live by the gospel, only as we accept it as our daily bread, can we also share it with those who are hungry. For, asks St. Paul, "What have you that you have not received?"
In this lecture I focus on vocation as the gift of God, and in my next lecture, I speak of it as our human task. Of course, it is always both at the same time, both God's gift and our response. They cannot actually be separated from each other without falsifying the reality of the mystery. On the other hand, however, they should not be confused with one another, for the sovereign prevenience of God's gracious call obviously forms the very presupposition and basis of our freedom, our ability to respond in a glad and wholehearted way. As for us, so it is also for the young people to whom we minister. They, too, are enabled to discover and live out their vocation only as they first receive it as a gift from God.
Let us first consider just how I am using the concept of vocation. In the Old Testament, vocation refers to the call of God to a whole people, to the people of Israel to be a nation set apart, to be holy to God, and to worship him alone. Individuals called by God (prophets, priests, and kings) were understood as representatives of the nation; and as such they were to act on behalf of the whole people of God.page 4
In the New Testament, Jesus called specific individuals to follow him: Simon and Andrew and James and John left their nets and followed him in response to his explicit invitation to "Come, follow me" (Mark 1:17 NIV). Ordinary fishermen engaged in an ordinary day's work—yet here is the turning point of their entire lives, when they leave their nets and follow him. Like those who have come after them, they are called not by virtue of their works but rather by virtue of God's hidden purpose (2 Timothy 1:9).
Throughout the Middle Ages, "having a vocation" meant that one was committed to the monastic or priestly life. It was understood as a kind of withdrawal from the world in order to fulfill God's will for perfection. But at the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther radically redefined vocation. Since all believers were called to witness to Christ and to serve their neighbor, all evidently had a vocation that could be lived out in whatever station of life they found themselves. Since God was at work in the world and all believers were called to love and serve him, every person was in this sense a priest before God. No matter what the daily tasks set before a person, he or she was called to serve God and neighbor in and through those tasks. Thus the milkmaid and the mother were called to serve God in humble faithfulness and diligence just as much as the magistrate or the mayor. The call to discipleship was understood to pervade every aspect of human work and form of life and was not simply for those set apart by ordination or monastic vows. Rather all persons were set apart by virtue of their baptism to love and serve God and neighbor. 3
For Calvin, God's call was conceptually tied to his doctrine of election. As such, it was understood to be a sovereign summons that would ensure our human response. Such effectual calling depended upon our eternal election in Christ, to be among those who were united with Christ and who would thus receive all the benefits of Christ's work of salvation. 4 Believers came to know of their election by the obvious signs of having been called to some particular field of service. These "posterior signs" thus reassured Christians in doubt of their being counted among the elect, that they had indeed been predestined by God to live for his glory. 5
In contemporary usage, choosing one's vocation has generally come to mean discerning precisely in what sphere of work one is called to serve, by virtue of one's gifts and talents as well as one's very real limitations. Discerning one's vocation means to recognize "the place of responsibility" 6 where one will live out one's Christian discipleship. But this includes far more than choosing a career. It also includes discerning whether one is called to marry this or that particular person or no one at all, whether one is page 5 called to become a parent, and just how one's energies and talents are to be lived out in the fullness of one's whole life. The sign of our calling, after all, is not ordination but rather baptism, for it is baptism that marks us for ministry. Each person called by Christ is called as a member of his body to use the gifts he or she has been given in service to others.
It is, of course, a pressing issue that faces young people today to discern precisely what they are called to do with their lives, just how they find the place of responsibility in which they can use all the gifts they have been given. And when we think about the particular young people in our care, the question of their concrete and specific calling can become urgent. How can they keep anxiety or despair at bay as the pressure rises within them to find their place in the world? For unlike Luther's day, we no longer simply reside in a particular "station of life," where, within clearly defined horizons, we can continue in the life that we have known through our parents and grandparents or through a rooted community. Certain constraints that defined the boundaries of one's sphere of life for generations, such as the place of one's birth or the occupation of one's parents, no longer set the kind of human limitations that have traditionally provided a sense of security and belonging. For many middle-class Americans, even simple geography has ceased to be a defining constraint. So many young people live uprooted lives; having moved from one place to another, they have little sense of belonging anywhere or to anyone in particular. How, then, are they to face the daunting question of discerning the place and task to which they are called?
In a situation such as this, the teaching of the church about the nature of the God who calls them according to God's own purposes can provide much-needed guidance in the face of dizzying choices. For the discernment of their life path doesn't happen in a vacuum. It occurs, rather, as a response to a real call of God. In order to hear that call, young people need to have ears that are spiritually attuned, ears that can discern who they are in God's sight and where they are being led. How can they perceive God's hidden purpose unless they turn to God again and again as their source of guidance? The God who created them has given particular gifts unique to each creature; the Christ who redeems them, saves them from aimlessness and sin; the Holy Spirit who sustains them, creates the community where they may be fully seen as who they are and where they can be called forth.
God the Creator: It is not as if young people have to invent themselves out of whole cloth, or heroically just decide who they are meant to be. For they are already someone particular in God's eyes; by the time they are sixteen, eighteen, or twenty-years-old, they have a long history with God, even page 6 if they are not yet wholly aware of it. For God knit them together in their mother's womb and formed their inward parts in secret. Already before they were born, God beheld them and knew their unformed substance (Psalm 139). The same God who created the heavens and the earth and all the creatures of the earth, also created them in all their uniqueness. Becoming conscious of their God-given uniqueness usually takes years, as they test their strengths, encounter their limitations, and slowly begin to realize that some of the things they always took for granted about themselves might indeed be the very thing that is most needed by the world.
I have found the poetry of David Whyte, a contemporary poet originally from Wales, to reveal a pondering heart that gives voice to a profound sense of this mystery of calling. His poems are set in a contemplative key and evoke in me a sense of wonder and curiosity about God's hidden purposes. In his poem "What to Remember When Waking," Whyte effectively juxtaposes the ho-hum reality of daily life with its limited and limiting plans with that sense of mystery that comes when we ponder what it means to have been created as the one we are. 7 Each human being is a whole world, an infinite mystery with a history that is unfathomable in its depth, stretching far back in time before his birth.
The Christian doctrine of election captures for many that sense of awe that we were known and loved and called by God even before we were born. And pondering Psalm 139 can be a salutary discipline for those young people whose sense of identity has been cramped into too small a space. I remember long ago studying St. Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle and being shocked into an intimation of the vast depths of my own soul. When young people are challenged to seek the "vitality hidden in [their] sleep," their sense of self can begin to expand. Augustine had a powerful sense of wonder about the mystery of the human beings created and called by God. In his Confessions he writes, "I cannot totally grasp all that I am. . . . I was overcome with wonder and almost stupor. . . . Here are men going afar to marvel at the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the movements of the stars; yet leaving themselves unnoticed. . . . " 8
A proper reverence for the mystery of one's own being also leads to reverence before the mystery of others. It leads to an attitude of inner expectation to find that kind of depth and beauty in others that actually helps to call it forth. For such an attitude assists others to become respectfully curious about themselves. When God calls someone to a particular task, the calling is unique to that particular person, with her particular history, in her page 7 particular historical situation. Life sets before us certain questions that grab hold of us, that we must respond to, given all that we have been and known thus far. But there is so much in us about which we are completely unaware. Our vocation is a continual unfolding as we turn each corner and hear God's call in each new and unique situation.
I sometimes think rather wistfully that the lived faith of earlier generations had more access to the perception that we are called to remember the other world, the unseen world of the spirit, as we go about our daily tasks. I think of the morning devotions of John Baillie, which are imbued with this kind of awareness. In his renowned A Diary of Private Prayer, a best-selling book of daily prayers written in the 1940s, Baillie writes with a palpable sense of God's unseen presence. In his prayer for the morning of the twelfth day he writes, "Let me not go forth to my work believing only in the world of sense and time, but give me grace to understand that the world I cannot see or touch is the most real world of all" and speaks of himself as a "pilgrim of eternity" standing before God. 9
The true inheritance that we have in the church is this knowledge that each young person is a pilgrim of eternity who stands ultimately before God. How do we convey something of the ultimate significance of their lives in the midst of all the clamoring voices of the culture that focuses incessantly on all the things that simply do not matter in God's eyes? How do we help them to identify the eternal issues hidden in their daily choices? To discover what really matters in life is who they are and who they are meant to be as they stand before God?
God the Redeemer: God gives himself to us wholly in the gift of his Son. "The gifts of God for the people of God." These words, solemnly spoken in the liturgy of the Lord's Supper as the celebrant lifts up the elements of bread and wine and offers them to the gathered community, refer to this lavish self-giving. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper, at the very center of our life together in Christ, is that which sustains us for the tasks we are called to do. For this is the gift of Jesus Christ himself. By God's grace we are permitted and invited to partake of his body and blood and thus to incorporate him into our own substance. As we participate in Christ's own life, we are given the vision and the courage to live sub specie aeternitatis under the aspect of eternity.
What does it mean to live sub specie aeternitatis under the form of eternity? Concretely, for today's youth I think it means an honest recognition that the choices they make at this juncture in their lives have immense consequences. So much of gravity is decided at this time of life. Erik Erikson's page 8 focused attention on the tasks of youth highlight the crucial decisions made at this time around questions of identity, ideology, and intimacy. "To whom do I belong? To which teachers shall I entrust myself? Which ways of understanding the world are worth learning? Where shall I put the energies of my life? And whom shall I love? To what way of life shall I commit myself?" Decisions made in these formative years about where to focus one's study or in which community to invest oneself or whom to date or to love, all carry with them profound, often unanticipated, consequences, the full extent of which is known sometimes only decades later.
In my work as a pastoral counselor, I have seen again and again in the lives of middle-aged adults, how the choices they made in their youth have affected the entire course of their lives. The reason that parents worry so much about their children getting involved with drugs or sex, of course, is that these choices are so frighteningly consequential. They can literally change the course of an entire life. Imagine yourself as a parent, bringing a child into the world by means of the blood, sweat, and tears through which every child is brought into the world and pouring your life's substance into that child. When that child finally becomes a young adult, you discover that he is addicted to alcohol or cocaine or heroin. This beloved child, this child who is bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh, is suddenly lost and cannot be reached; in fact, he seems to be in danger of losing every single God-given gift that you have nurtured for years. Such an outcome is painful almost beyond bearing.
Similarly, teenagers who buy into the culture's version of sexual fulfillment can get so far in over their heads that it can take decades, perhaps a lifetime, to come to terms with the consequences of heedless choices made in their youth. A man nearing fifty recently mused over the fact that he was with his son's mother for two short years before his son was born and for one year after. "When does it end?" he asked ruefully. Within the context of our conversation, I understood him to mean: "I don't love this woman anymore; she was just a brief episode in my life; why do I have to be involved with her after all these years?" Well, the fact is, it doesn't ever end. To be a father is to be a father for life. And the child's mother will remain his mother for life. Though long since divorced, this man and woman are still connected to each other through their son and will remain so, even beyond the years of sharing the common task of raising their child to adulthood. And whatever meaning they convey to their son about the choices they made that brought him into the world will inevitably affect his whole sense of identity for good or for ill. And the worst possible outcome for him is when one or the other page 9 of his parents effectively tries to deny that common history. For no rejection screams more loudly to a child than the rejection of the half of their identity that is represented by the other parent. These are emotional and spiritual facts about which our culture is usually silent but which profoundly affect the inner reality of millions of children of divorce.
Further, to engage in premarital sexual intercourse is to bear consequences that last a lifetime, even if no child is born. "Sex was never safe," writes Wendell Berry, "and it is less safe now than it ever has been. What we are actually teaching the young is an illusion of thoughtless freedom and purchasable safety, which encourages them to tamper prematurely, disrespectfully and dangerously with a great power." 10 Anyone involved in a ministry of the care of souls is inevitably given glimpses of the kind of spiritual consequences of such premature tampering. I think of the bitter tears of one woman's regret over an abortion she had chosen decades before. How could she have known in the immediate panic of discovering that she was pregnant and unmarried that the spiritual and emotional wound of deciding to terminate the pregnancy would still be open and gaping thirty years later? A middle-aged man, haunted by the memory of a former lover, has been unable to let her go even in his imagination. Despite the fact that he hasn't seen her in more than twenty years, in his mind's eye, she is still the love of his life. What could this possibly mean for his ability to live his life fully in the present? The spiritual truth is that men and women are bonded to one another—in a certain sense I want to say—irrevocably when they engage in sexual intercourse, for "the two become one flesh." "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband,'" said Jesus to the Samaritan woman, "for you have had five husbands and he whom you now have is not your husband" (John 4:17-18 RSV). And yet, where in our culture today can we get a glimpse of this little-known truth about sexuality apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ?
How can young people know this if they have never heard the gospel? Even more crucially, how will they ever learn about God's love for them, a love so great that even a sordid life of sexual entanglement and aimlessness and drugs cannot dissuade God from drawing near to them, reaching them at the core of their being and healing, and forgiving and saving them by drawing them to himself in love? Those who have carried the weight of the sins of their youth around with them for decades are mercifully renewed when they hear the gospel faithfully preached in their middle years. But young people, too, need to hear this gospel of forgiveness and receive it into their hearts. For they, too, are burdened with the weight of choices that they know have been disobedient to God's purposes for their lives. And as they page 10 find the grace to receive the gift of God's forgiveness, they will also find the freedom to repent, to turn away from life-denying choices toward life-giving ones. And in the new-found freedom to obey, they will find the courage and hope to seek more fervently that place in the world where they can serve God.
When God calls young people to ministry, he calls them to himself. God's inexpressible gift is the gift of his Son, a gift that cannot be known or received apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For some time it has seemed to me that the evangelical wing of the church understands this and works to build up faith in its members by focusing on the nature of faith as a personal relationship with Christ. In my experience, the mainline denominations don't quite know how to do this. I remember meeting a young woman in seminary years ago who asked me if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior and had invited him into my heart. I certainly had never done any such thing, and I had never heard anyone talk like this before. Even though I have since come to appreciate how a sentence like this can sound canned and trite, I have never forgotten the young woman's earnestness. It seemed clear to me that a relationship with Jesus was real for her in a way that it wasn't for me.
But however this relationship comes into being by the providence of God, the experience of hearing Christ's words of forgiveness spoken directly to you is an unforgettable moment in anyone's spiritual journey. For many, it coincides absolutely with their sense of call, with the core meaning of their life's purpose. To experience being forgiven for something that causes unbearable shame and searing regret is to be completely reoriented in one's inward being. We have to think only of St. Paul. A new sense of purpose, indeed a complete reorientation of his entire life, rose out of the very place he had sinned most gravely. What wonder there is in this unremitting theme in the Bible, that even our most grievous sins cannot separate us from God nor stop God from finding a way to bring good out of the evil that we have perpetrated. "Joseph wept when [his brothers] spoke to him. . . But Joseph said to them, 'Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.' Thus he reassured them and comforted them" (Genesis 50:17-20 RSV).
The inestimable gift of our calling is Jesus Christ himself. For it is his complete self-giving in love that enables us to give ourselves to others for his sake. Jesus Christ alone has the capacity to call us forth. Through page 11 Scripture, through the Word of God, through the testimony of another human being, or through the preaching or the music or the service of the church, through the witness, in other words, of other human beings by word and deed, we have been given a glimpse of the living God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has actually disclosed himself to us. And then we want to know and love him ourselves. We feel summoned in such a compelling way that we cannot remain neutral.
"What have you that you have not received?" asks St. Paul, who clearly knew what it meant to receive such grace. Somewhere in your actual lived history, you have met the Lord Jesus Christ himself. You have pondered the question of his significance for your own life. And if you have come to know him at all, you find yourself, like Peter, unable to imagine where else you would turn. For you recognize that Christ has the very words of life that feed you, body and soul.
God the Sustainer: Finally, when God calls us to himself, he gives us the gift of his Holy Spirit. Here I would like to emphasize three brief points. First, the Spirit grants each person a particular charism, or spiritual gift that is distinct from, but perhaps related to, one's natural talent. Second, the Holy Spirit gathers the church, granting us the gift of true community. And third, the Holy Spirit gives the community the gift of discernment in helping each member to discover and live out his God-given gift. Let's look at each point in more detail.
First, what are the spiritual gifts? In his letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul labors to spell out just how each member of the body of Christ fundamentally needs every other member in order to function as a church. The spiritual gift that each person is given is absolutely essential for the thriving of the whole body. Just as every part of the body is essential to it being able to function as a living being, every member of the church is essential to its spiritual well being. Just as the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor the head to the feet, "I have no need of you," so also in the church. There is not a single member of the body that is not needed for the functioning of the whole. For each member is given a spiritual gift for building up the body of Christ. Whether writing to the church at Corinth, Rome, or Ephesus, in each letter, Paul always sets his understanding of spiritual gifts in the context of this vision of how the body of Christ is to function: Each member offers his or her gift for the good of all. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he writes:
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, page 12 and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Corintians 12:7-11 RSV).
Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation, and finally, love—the highest of all the gifts—all these are granted by the Holy Spirit for the upbuilding of the community for both its internal mutual care and its service to the world.
Second, the community itself is a gift of the Spirit. With all our talk about creating community, it is nevertheless something that human beings are unable to do by their own power. God is the true author of community. When each person finds the freedom to contribute the gift he or she has been given for the sake of the community, the community as a whole flourishes. With each member playing his part for the upbuilding of the whole, the community functions like a healthy body in which every part of the body helps every other part to function properly. When every single member is able to contribute her gift, something far greater than the sum of the parts comes into being. Radiant energy and life set this body in motion with a sense of direction and purpose and joy.
Young people are naturally drawn to a community that has a clear sense of purpose and seeks to fulfill it with some measure of joy. They are drawn to the love and respect that each member has for every other member, and they want to get involved and play a part themselves. As they are drawn into the gathered fellowship, they find the most precious of all gifts, a place where they can be seen and known for who they truly are and where they can truly belong. For to know Christ is to know his benefits. As they belong to Christ, they also belong to the community that is his body. And in that context, the community itself can now help them discern and call forth their gifts. For—and here is the paradox once again—Christ uses the community to participate in his work of calling each one. For each person in the body of Christ has been created to become "fully and visibly human as they carry what is hidden as a gift to others." 11 This is the joyous task of vocation to which I will turn in my next lecture.page 13