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Discerning God’s Call Throughout Your Life

By Melissa Cooper

I S OA Discerning Calling

I remember going to camp every summer and then being part of youth events. I served on camp summer staff and campus ministry, and the word “calling” was ever-present. The formative teenage and young adult years are ripe with opportunities to talk about building and discovering life’s purpose. Those years are designed for us to explore our gifts and passions. It’s the era in which so many systems and structures are concerned with discovering meaningful vocation.

And that’s about it. There’s not another point in our lives where there are abundant resources for discernment. Youth and young adulthood are the only times in life when you might say you’re “trying to find yourself” and not be met with sideways glances or eye rolls. We make “mid-life crisis” a punch line, as though if we didn’t get everything about our lives right and set when we entered the full-time workforce for the first time, we are flawed.

But in reality, calling is so much broader. It’s not relegated to one age or stage in life. God’s callings are lifelong. So, why don’t we support discernment work at all of life’s stages?

Melissa Cooper headshot
Rev. Melissa Cooper

At St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, we have committed to fostering the discernment of God’s calling and gifting throughout all of life, not just in the culturally acceptable moments. Our discipleship strategy is centered around the idea of leading your life: being intentional about every facet of life, from relationships to finances to how time is spent, and everything in between.

We consider “leadership development” and “discipleship” to be synonyms, and the centerpiece of our ministry programming is a course we call “Lead Your Life.” It invites congregants and community members to explore the concept of calling, discover their God-given gifts, and learn how to tell their faith stories in ways that transform the world in their spheres of influence.

It's the kind of course that would be easy to segment into different age groups. After all, calling when you’re in high school and when you’re at retirement looks different, right?

That’s not what we have found. The most powerful part of our “Lead Your Life” classes is not when people get to reclaim the idea of God’s activity in their lives; it’s not when people learn to tell their faith stories; it’s not even when the “a-ha” moments happen.

The most powerful part of our 'Lead Your Life' classes is not when people get to reclaim the idea of God’s activity in their lives; it’s not when people learn to tell their faith stories.

It’s in the relationships that are formed between twentysomethings and octogenarians; between empty nesters and new parents; between teens and new retirees. The intergenerationality of the experience creates opportunities unlike any other. It allows youthful energy to revitalize aged cynicism. It allows longevity of experience to instill hope and perseverance in early career exhaustion. And it allows stories to be shared for which there is no other forum in our modern American society.

“Lead Your Life” is not your average “church study.” It’s a life-shaping experience that is rooted in an understanding that discipleship is more than just spiritual disciplines; it’s a full understanding of God as a calling and gifting God, ever-active in each of our lives and inviting us to truly be the priesthood of all believers, which requires that we embrace the idea that we are leaders in every sphere of our lives … and at every age.

So, what might it look like for you to embrace and foster a culture of calling in your ministry setting? Do you find yourself relegating that idea to particular moments in life, or is your discipleship strategy rooted in the work of intergenerational companionship in lifelong discernment?

We have the opportunity to transform the world because we have helped people see that they are world-shapers in their everyday lives. So, how are you shaping your world?

Rev. Melissa Cooper is an ordained United Methodist deacon currently serving as the Minister of Adult Formation and Leadership at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, Florida. In this role, she develops opportunities for adults in her church and community to discover their callings in order to impact their community and world.

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