Explore: Vocational Discovery in Ministry
How many paths of calling can lead to a life of ministry? Editors Lizardy-Hajbi and Floding answer this question through an abundant collection of stories by individuals called to a full spectrum of ministry contexts. This is the fourth work in a series titled Explorations in Theological Field Education (all are edited by Floding, who is joined by a different co-editor for each book) aimed to support the type of outside-of-the-classroom training required alongside a seminary education and other academic contexts preparing students for Christian ministry. Clearly the publisher and editors intend for the overall series to be purchased and used as a set: the first book, Engage (published in 2017), offers a “toolkit” for ministry training, the second work, Empower (published in 2020), is a guide for supervisors and mentors preparing students for ministry, the third, Enlighten (also published in 2020), focuses on approaches to ministry learning and formation, and finally the present book, Explore, puts all of this in context through story after story of various ministry callings lived out on a daily basis.
Explore presents its many narratives through “eleven common vocational pathways followed by MDiv graduates.” These pathways include the pastorate, chaplaincy, the academy, camps and conferences/retreat centers, campus ministry, bishops/denomination, nonprofits, spiritual entrepreneurship, interfaith work, new faith communities, and bivocational ministry. The chapters are structured in sets of four, a “framing” chapter for each of the pathways followed by three chapters offering personal stories and examples from different practitioners.
The great strength of this book lies in its deliberate combination of poignant, personal origin stories across such broad ministry contexts. Chapter authors—a whopping 47 contributors including the editors—hail from an exceptionally wide variety of backgrounds and positions, and readers presently ministering in mainline theological contexts will find numerous familiar figures sharing their stories across these pages. That said, the editors also intentionally provide a platform for voices from non-white and diverse contexts, voices who still struggle for a hearing in literature related to Christian vocation. The result makes a potent contribution, with both familiarity and surprise on offer for very different types of students preparing for very different types of ministry.
One significant issue complicating the practical use of the book is how its thematic organization does not appear in the table of contents. Chapters are presented simply as a list with title and author (other books in this series number the chapters or organize further). The eleven vocational themes are never explicitly listed by the editors (at least anywhere I could find; for this review, I mined my own list above from the chapters themselves). While the structure of four chapters on each theme is alluded to in the introduction, the fact that these themes are not offset, or made apparent in the contents or elsewhere, makes the book far more difficult to use than necessary. The result will leave the average reader (and especially an average student) overly-dependent to access the riches of the book through a catchy or relevant chapter title or familiarity with a contributing author.
This organizational lack aside, Explore: Vocational Discovery in Ministry allows the path of calling, in all of its concreteness, potential, challenge, and persistence, to shine through. As a book of examples, it complements the other works in this practical learning series, and there will be something illuminating here for most, if not all, seminary students, whether they are taking on an internship or a new job or even thinking of changing ministry paths. In and of itself, this is a true achievement and one that the many participants of the book should be pleased to have accomplished.