This is the fourth Lent course in Robert Warren’s ‘Life …’ series, published for use in Lent 2008, and it looks set to be as well received as the others. Margaret Parker reviewed an earlier title in the series in Calling all housegroup leaders (see the three previous issues of Headline) and rated it strongly in areas such as use of the Bible, group activities and creative methods.
The five-session course focuses on understanding and identifying vocation: Called by God, Called from within, Called out, Called up and Called on. In this respect, it can be especially useful to Methodist groups in several ways. For example, it can help to deepen the concept of vocation and identity, moving on from the widespread practice in Methodist churches of simply finding everyone ‘jobs’ to do in the church, to a properly biblical treatment of the ministry of the whole people of God.
It can also be very useful to follow-up an Alpha course, especially in fleshing-out some of the issues that are dealt with in Alpha sessions 7 (‘How does God Guide us?’) and 15 (‘How can I make the most of the rest of my life?’). Two sections deal at some length with quite a variety of different ways through which we can discover God’s call: one includes turning outwards, anger, grief, grace, what is to hand, the negative way and prayer; the other more conventionally includes worship, scripture, intercession, conversation, intuition, life and the Holy Spirit.
The Methodist Covenant Prayer is very appropriately included in the final session of the course, not only as a prayer but as a focus for activity - selecting the most meaningful phrase, making art, and/or discussing it.
As usual, Robert’s sideways view comes through: ‘it is a call to be, before it is a call to do anything’; ‘it is the drawing out of what he has planted in us, not the imposing of something foreign to our nature. It is the expression of his image in which we have been made. However, we usually have to dig to find it’.
Life calling continues the ‘house style’ for this series in adopting a varied and interactive approach. There is less of what we traditionally think of as ‘teaching’, but more opportunity for learning! The approach makes it possible for Robert to suggest that ‘Most people, with preparation, could lead this course’ and this is a big plus point. The leader is an enabler not a talker or teacher, and the format of the course means that the task is ‘simply to take people through the material as it is set out’ and ‘delegate parts of the session’.
There is a mix of prayer, discussion, Bible study, explanation, exploration, hands-on activity, video clips from several movies, music, quietness and homework (my word!). It allows for the fact that ‘Many of us grasp things best by intuition, by seeing and by doing, working more with our imagination than with logic’. At the same time, there is a solid Bible base at the centre of each session. Everyone in the group needs to have a copy to make it work properly, and at £4.50 a time this may seem costly, although most churches, if they take vocation seriously, would no doubt be happy to subsidise it.
Additionally, there is advice for anchoring the course into the church’s whole life by running a parallel sermon series, using pastoral care to help people discover their vocation, including a wide variety of testimony and prayer in worship, commissioning people in their vocation (including their day jobs), and making the most of vocations Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Easter) for which extra web resources are offered.
In a way it is a pity that the series is offered as courses for Lent, as they are not Lent-specific but good materials for any small group activity. But I guess CHP as the official Anglican publisher finds they sell more with a Lent label! As with most CHP resources, they are at least equally worth using by others than Anglicans, but are not always that well-known.
My personal view is that this title is probably the second best in the series as regards pressing the right buttons with people today, only bettered by Life balance. I suggest this because Life balance deals with the huge issue of work/life/family balance that is a major theme for Christians and others alike these days. And Life calling in effect deals with identity and purpose as well as the more spiritual side of what and who we are and are called to be.
I can thoroughly recommend Life calling for your 2008 Lent course if you haven’t already picked one, or for your home group or post-Alpha group if you have. And, as the issues dealt with in both Life calling and Life balance are as much on the minds of those who are not yet Christians, I believe they could as also be used in parallel with Alpha or with pre-Alpha groups.