Formation and the Act of Being Attentive
Published by Geoff Vandermolen
Director of Vocational Formation, Director of Doctor of Ministry
Covid. Illness. Testing. Immunization. Boosters. Masks. Hospitals. Scattered around this world are lives, families, communities living in the wake of these physical realities.
Fear. Anxiety. Sorrow. Enmity. Uncertainty. Cruelty. Mistrust. Scattered throughout this world are human hearts and communities bearing the burden of these internal realities. Were these the sum total of liabilities on this season’s spreadsheet for humanity it would be more than enough. To the pandemic woes one must also add sorrow of ordinary time including illness, systemic injustices, war, famine, racial inequity, gender bias, the politicization of faith for human gains – and more. The combination of any number of these factors could easily swamp the naïve faith of the innocent, and also nudge resolute followers of Jesus to places of despair and a faith-strangling cynicism.
What’s needed is something to offset the weight of the season, a kind of ballast sufficient to keep one’s faith aright. This is no pithy recipe to save the church, or a concoction to buoy leaders just a wee bit longer until we can return to a “normal” that is arguably lost forever. No. Jesus will uphold his church, and leaders will make their vocational assessments. What we need is something which enables faith in Jesus to endure, and ministry within a plurality of contexts to be both imagined and realized.
What is needed is the courageous discipline of being attentive.
One of the ways that the Vocational Formation Office at CTS serves emerging leaders, mentors, and ministry leaders is by inviting people to develop the discipline of “being attentive.” The act of being attentive includes at least the ability to step outside of one’s self, to wonder, to watch, to listen, to examine, to prayerfully engage and ask questions of the Holy Spirit about all that is going on. Being attentive is often driven by a curiosity that inhabits a space beyond the “oughts and shoulds” of behavior modifications in Christian faith. Rather, it propels one into the territory of imagining simple, good acts, as well as Kingdom responses impregnated with meaning so vital as to act as an antidote to faith-robbing cynicism. Being attentive invites one to return to a place of wonder, where the simple beauty of doing and being good is restored. To be attentive is to courageously and humbly inhabit a interrogative space that is responsive to God’s invitation in Jeremiah 33: 3 to “ask, and I (God) will show you great and unsearchable things that you do not understand.”
How do we do this in the Vocational Formation Office? We pursue this mission critical attentiveness in a variety of ways, including:
- Inviting students to develop the skill and ability to be attentive in community to the stirrings, convictions, and work of the Holy Spirit in their lives as they adjudicate the stewarding of God-given gifts and abilities, as well as their own deficits – both inherited and cultivated
- Inviting emerging Kingdom leaders to be attentive to areas of sorrow, pain, brokenness that are part of their lives, family’s of origin, etc. and to lean in, keen to discover and participate in restorative acts in these areas
- Inviting mentors from real time ministry settings to walk alongside emerging leaders and offer assessments of skills, of character, of person.
- Inviting faculty and students together to wonder about the intersection of biblical theological truths and the challenges of facing this world as a servant of Abba
- Exploring the development of learning opportunities for pastors who long ago entered ministry, but who desire to be attentive to their person in light of their experiences
- Inviting students to give developmentally fitting self expression to a growing understanding of all that God is calling out of them and redeeming them to be.
If the past few years in particular have taught us anything, it is the need for humility. Yet, our humility is not without conviction. In fact, our conviction around CTS is that emerging Kingdom leaders must be equipped with biblical knowledge and theological frameworks that are deployed in a plurality of contexts by ministry leaders who know how to be attentive to self and others, who are keenly aware of contextual challenges and considerations, and who are able to live and act in step with the Holy Spirit and the redeeming power of the Gospel for all people.
This constellation of activity makes possible the recollection of incredible truths, including: We are image bearers of God with a truth that is capable of arresting cynicism. We are a people capable of being and contributing goodness. We can love deeply and act redemptively as we bring good news. When we are attentive to God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s presence, we can see the stains, the injustices of rebellion and the corruption of hearts and culture, all the while looking this world in the eye and speaking words of hope and doing that which is right and good.
While it is no silver bullet or panacea, a good measure of this work relies on our willingness to simply, courageously, and humbly – be attentive.
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