Finding Identity in Vocation
“Clint, I have a word from God for you.”
I half expected to turn around and find a wizened, old prophet wearing a long robe and sporting a staff in his hand. Instead, the oracle was none other than Dr. Jim Heugel, Northwest University’s provost, sneaking up behind me at various gatherings to drop the seed of an idea that would alter the course of my Fall 2017 semester for the better.
The final of three utterances came out of the passenger side window of his melon-colored car one spring evening. My wife and I were rounding the corner from our walk home from Watershed Park. This time Heugel provided more clarity: “I want you to consider teaching UCOR: Identity and Vocation in Ron’s absence this fall.”
The aforementioned Ron, of course, is former Dean of the College of Education Dr. Ron Jacobsen, who was leaving for Central Washington University. I stopped in my tracks.
Lord, I prayed silently, are you bringing my two loves together: pastoring and teaching?
The year 2017 marks my twenty-fifth year as an ordained Assemblies of God minister. I have served as a youth, children’s, college, associate, executive, home missions, and senior pastor of congregations ranging from 40 to 2,500 in attendance.
My wife and I joke that in 2011 I experienced a mid-life crisis of sorts, one that she chose to support: I resigned from a church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, to earn a doctorate in English from Middle Tennessee State University.
I had grown so dismayed by the abdication of Christians’ vital role in the marketplace of ideas that it became a matter of intense concern and self-reflection. At one point, I even sensed that the Lord was asking me whether I was going to continue to complain about the lack of Christian writers and thinkers in society or do something to correct this imbalance.
Having taught at Northwest for two academic years, I knew that I had found my “sweet spot” in ministry. Teaching writing at every level from first-year students to seniors awaiting graduation, I loved the collegial atmosphere on campus. All that I was missing was the opportunity to talk about spiritual formation beyond the times that Pastors Phil Rasmussen and Christian Dawson asked me to speak in chapel.
Enter Jim and his supposed “word from God.” Maybe he was a divine conduit after all. This fall, I have been honored to co-teach UCOR: Identity and Vocation with Dr. Renee Bourdeaux, my colleague in the Communication Studies department. Together, we are helping students transition to college and answer the questions central to their nascent experience: Who am I as a follower of Christ? What has God gifted me to do with this life that He has given me?
I will defer to Renee to tell you about our two sections of remarkable freshmen, 257 at last count, enrolled in Identity and Vocation, as well as what we are studying this semester:
Thanks, Clint. For the Christ-follower, understanding who we are and what we are called to is quite an adventure. My journey, like Clint’s, has been full of twists and turns as I continually learn more about who I am as I tackle the work that God has called me to do. For example, I switched majors three times in college—from chemical engineering to communication studies. In my professional life, I also went from being a Vice President of Communication and Marketing to (much like Clint) dropping everything to get my Ph.D. at North Dakota State University because I felt so strongly called to the college classroom. My life experiences help me to understand that we all need some guidance to more fully understand how personal strengths and calling work together. The invitation to serve NU by teaching UCOR: Identity and Vocation with Clint has been a great calling for me—I get to help students explore the complexities of understanding how to use the gifts God has given each of us to do what He has called us to do!
Clint and I designed Identity and Vocation to answer the question, “Who am I as a Christian as it relates to vocational calling?” UCOR 1052 is an introduction to and overview of the ways that a Christian worldview frames human identity and vocation. The course uses cool books, small group discussions, and personal assessment assignments to help students explore how their own personal strengths complement their calling.
The assessments are one powerful tool that students use in this class. In UCOR, each student takes the Yada and CliftonStrengths assessments. The students start by completing each of those assessments, and then they spend several weeks talking about the assessments in their small group sessions. The assessment experience culminates with students writing an in-depth reflection paper about how their strengths relate to what they see as their current calling. One bonus that the UCOR students get each fall is that Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott (creators of the Yada assessment) visit the UCOR large group session. Drs. Les and Leslie design a lecture that not only explains the utility of the Yada results, but also truly inspires students to seek out God’s calling in their lives.
The UCOR class also gives NU students the opportunity to learn more about serving the community, because one of the course requirements is that the students complete a service project. This fall, many of our UCOR students participated in a campus-wide service initiative called NU Loves Kirkland. The students spent a beautiful fall morning serving all over the surrounding Kirkland community by cleaning up the neighborhood parks.
One other aspect that makes the UCOR course a truly engaging experience for students is the small group structure. Northwest University is full of talented people with serving hearts, so each year, we recruit some of the best faculty and staff at NU to serve as UCOR Mentors. Mentors facilitate and lead the UCOR small group meetings. In addition, we also recruit the best and the brightest current NU students to serve as Peer Mentors. Each UCOR Mentor works side-by-side with a Peer Mentor to guide UCOR students through reflective conversations each week in a small group setting.
At the semester’s end, UCOR students will not only have more personal awareness of their own strengths, but they will also have put more thought into how those strengths impact their identity and calling. The final paper for the course involves articulating a personal vision of the integration of faith, learning, and vocation, so students leave UCOR with a better understanding of their identity and vocational calling.
UCOR is such a compelling and unique experience for students at NU, and Clint and I are thrilled to be teaching it! Both of us are thankful that God paired two souls with adventures in career-switching to help guide students in UCOR. Praise God for UCOR and all it offers our NU students!