Voices on Vocation

Fuller Seminary's voices on vocation

“Vocations are not just the domain of monasteries and priesthoods, but of marketplace, homes, and professions. Since the call of Jesus is first and foremost to discipleship, none are excluded.”

+ Tod Bolsinger, in his guest-edited FULLER magazine on vocation. This generous view of vocation is part of the Fuller “DNA” (see Mark Labberton’s vision for more), but identifying that calling is not always easy. Clarifying our vocations can be a messy combination of study, prayer, false starts, and frustrated passions. It is important for the struggle to find support within community, with spiritual practices, and with insights from leadership training. Fuller Seminary has made this commitment in the form of a new Vocation and Formation division overseen by Vice President Tod Bolsinger. Our process includes reflection on the central integration question: “At this point in your journey, how do you envision your call to God’s mission in the world?” Throughout this page are short video interviews featuring the men and women pictured above (left to right: Brian Wallace, Kara Powell, Brad Strawn, Amos Yong, Oliver Crisp, Alexis Abernethy, Tod Bolsinger) and many others.

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“There’s a fundamental reason why we need a context of community: no one in the history of the world has been invited to follow God by themselves. . . . We need community to help us stay in the story. When we’re in these places of great trial, we can’t tell the truth to ourselves; it needs to be spoken to us.”

+ Executive Director of Fuller Formation Groups Brian Wallace recently guided a national group of church leaders through Fuller’s first Formation Group, an initiative to help leaders deepen their vocational and spiritual formation in community with their peers. Pictured above: Fuller’s first Formation Group members enjoy support in community during their inaugural retreat in Malibu, California. Watch more here.


A Theology of Vocation

“Real-life callings are complex. We are rarely called simply to one thing at a time. We are called to do good work, to be effective parents, to be loving spouses, supportive children, wise mentors, and nurturing friends in the context of one’s called life. Callings do not come with specific instructions about proportioning our time, or exactly how much effort is ‘enough’ to have fulfilled our responsibility.”

+ Shirley Mullen, president of Houghton College and Fuller trustee, in her essay on the mystery of calling. Read her essay and more from the voices quoted below in our first issue of FULLER magazine focused specifically on the topic of vocation.

“One of the challenges of discerning one’s life vocation is determining which voice or voices should dominate the conversation. For some a calling is a response to an inner voice, a gut-level feeling that “just feels right.” For others a calling is discerned by the “counsel of many” in their lives who know them best, who assess their gifts, abilities, and passions and work with them to focus on the direction of their lives. These two paradigms are never more clearly demarcated than in the areas of religion and art, where a personal passion can be stonewalled by lack of external support or encouragement, putting the internal and external voices in opposition.”

+ Todd Johnson, professor of worship, theology, and the arts. Read his reflection from teaching vocation at Fuller’s immersion course in New York City here.

“The yearning of the heart and the examples and expectations that shape the first steps toward vocation often change as one learns about oneself and examines the influence of father and mother on the choices of one’s early life. Authenticity may demand a rehashing of the reasons for early choices and the fire of internal conflict may crystallize the specific strengths that, when honed and properly developed, will serve an area of the kingdom for which a young person is uniquely suited.”

+ Winston Gooden, Dean Emeritus and Evelyn and Frank Freed Professor Emeritus of Psychotherapy and Spirituality, from his essay “A Retirement View of Calling.

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“We were sitting on the edge of the furrow, behind the plow, facing the freshly turned soil over which the seagulls swooped in search of frantic worms. It was the second cup of coffee time. The cigarette lightened the load and loosened his tongue.

‘Stick your hand down into the soil, son,’ he suddenly said without warning. Breaking the rules by looking into my face and talking directly to me. As I did, he said softly, ‘Son, this soil is part of your lifeyou take care of it and it will take care of you.’

What my father had long discovered, but left for me to find for myself, was that there was neither mystery nor magic in the soil. The mystery and the magic, if we dare to use such words, lie in the connection of the heart to the hand. There is no place or task on earth which can satisfy the restless hand which is not attached to the heart.

My father had not attached my hand to the soil on that day long ago, although that was how I had understood it. Rather, he had attached my heart to my hand. My inner self had become bound to my outer life. As a result, whatever task to which I put my hand was done with a sense of finality and completeness that brought joy rather than a feeling of fatalism, which can only produce melancholy and despair. Transplantation without transformation kills the roots as well as the plant. The once in a lifetime gift is one that continues to transform.”

+ Ray Anderson [School of Theology faculty 1976–2009], in his book Dancing with Wolves, While Feeding the Sheep.

“As the world continues to change at an accelerated pace, people are under increasing pressure and stress to successfully navigate through their lives and careers. Our educational institutions have the opportunity and responsibility to educate and equip our students to lead lives of purpose and meaning through intentional focus and investment in personal and career development.”

+ Andy Chan, vice president for personal and career development at Wake Forest University, in his essay on practical approaches to vocation. Read more here.

“Centuries before Christendom raised its head, followers of Christ required training in godliness, in renouncing impiety, in righteousness and justice. All the more today, followers of Christ trained in the palace and now spurned by Caesar need new training for life after the palace lest they default to their training in the ways of privilege and power. Who can train a palatial church in the ways of God and the ways of the people on the streets? We can find many of the trainers we need in the often-overlooked immigrants and aliens already among us.”

+ Steve Yamaguchi, dean of students. Read more from his essay on “palace” thinking and bringing the gospel to the streets here.


Formed Not Found, A Theology of Vocation“Discerning calling is the long, complicated combination of convictions and context, of passion and prayer, of knowledge and need that seems to tap us on the shoulder and call forth from us an invitation into a process of self-discovery and humility.”

+ Interested in learning more about a theology of vocation? We’re offering a free PDF download of Tod Bolsinger’s essay “Formed, Not Found” here.


“At this point in your journey, how do you envison your call to God’s mission in the world?”

+ We ask our students this question (Read students answers to the “Central Integration Question” and more on spiritual formation here.) multiple times throughout their time here, and it’s one we continue to ask ourselves. Our specific relationship to God’s mission in the world is constantly evolving, a truth equally comforting and complex. Below is a selection of answers from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends, and we hope their reflections encourage you to live into your own answer to this lifelong question.

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Amos Yong on His Calling

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Oliver Crisp on His Calling

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Alexis Abernethy on Her Calling

“En este momento de mi caminar cristiano yo entiendo mi llamado a la misión divina como la de ser puente. Tengo el privilegio de ayudar a gente conectar con su llamado divino a través de la educación teológica y el apoyo pastoral. Como puente también me toca conectar a gente con oportunidades, conectar a personas de diferentes culturas, etnicidades e idiomas los unos con los otros y conectar a personas y organizaciones con visiones comunes para que puedan servir a Dios y a otros en maneras nuevas y creativas.”

+ Juan Martínez is professor of Hispanic studies and pastoral leadership. Learn more about Centro Latino here.

“I am a worship director, teacher of spiritual disciplines, and community church planter. I sometimes envision my calling to God’s mission in the world with that picture in mind. . . . I’m discovering that the work God requires of the church is not easily quantifiable, and is often incredibly messy.”

+ Brieann Knutson [MDiv student] is the director of worship at a local church in Utah. Read more voices on worship and the arts here.

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Kara Powell on Her Calling

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Brad Strawn on His Calling

“이슬람국가에서의 선교는 하나님의 사 랑이나를통해흘러갈수있는존재가 되는 것이지 말로 선포하는 것이 아니었 다. 또한 이천년의 신앙의 역사를 가진 콥틱교회는 가르쳐야 할 대상이 아니라 이슬람의 핍박에도 믿음을 지켜오고 있 는그들의삶과영성을배우는것이선 교라는 것도 알게 되었다 선교는주님을위해많은일을하여무언 가를남기는것이아니라모든사람이구 원에 이르시기를 원하시는 하나님의 신 실하신 성품안에 온전히 동참할때 하나 님께서 일하시는 것이라는 것을 이슬람 과 콥틱교회를 만남으로 깨닫게 되었다.”

+ JongJin Park’s [ThM student] calling as a missionary transformed after an unexpected discovery in the Egyptian desert. Read his story here.

“I spent nearly two decades becoming a religious professional. . . . Then I got a call to plant a church for the not-church people. My whole sense of vocation was transformed from just caring for the people of God to preparing them for the work of embodying Jesus to the world. I love and am invested in my community more than ever, but I serve the Lord by preparing them for the larger project of redeeming all creation.”

+ Kirk Winslow is a pastor and adjunct instructor of preaching at Fuller.

“How do we deal with a call to minister to people when full-time employment is rare? At this point in my Christian journey I feel called to help ministers deal with this tension and try to figure out, learn, and educate about the future of bivocational ministry in the United States. How do we give tools to lead in the church and also in the workplace?”

+ Gerry Picket [MDiv ’10] works in Fuller’s Technology Support department. Hear from other voices reflecting on faith and technology here.

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N. T. Wright Reflects on Vocation

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Christena Cleveland Reflects on Vocation

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Miroslav Volf Reflects on Vocation

“I want to give guidance to young women like I was by counseling girls on vocation and partnering them with mentors to encourage their personal, spiritual, and professional growth. There is a great need in immigrant communities for such mentors but not many are equipped to do it. My calling is also to assist women of my generation to understand their own vocations, thereby helping both girls and women lay the foundation for lifetimes of good work.”

+ Ingrid Melendez [MACCS ’14] studied Children At Risk at Fuller. Learn more about the emphasis here.


+ Highlights from the first Fuller Formation Group’s inaugural retreat in Malibu, California, with comments from some of its participants and director Brian Wallace. Learn more about these groups here.


Further Reading

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory
Tod Bolsinger (IVP Books, 2015)

The Vital Connection: A Fresh Approach to Christian Spirituality
John Goldingay (St. John’s Extension Studies, 1998)

Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life

Dale Ryan, Juanita Ryan, and Jeff VanVonderen (InterVarsity Press, 2008)

Available Classes

Practices of Worship with Todd Johnson, Roberta King (and other faculty)
Practices of Community with Erin Dufault-Hunter, Mark Lau Branson (and other faculty)

Practices of Mission with Ryan Bolger, Peter Lim (other faculty)
Practices of Vocational Formation with Tod Bolsinger, Jude Tiersma Watson (and other faculty)
Psychology and Spiritual Formation: Integrating Research and Practice with Sarah Schnitker