Divine Callings

Divine Callings: Understanding the Call to Ministry in Black Pentecostalism

Richard N. Pitt
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Divine Callings
    Book Description:

    One of the unique aspects of the religious profession is the high percentage of those who claim to be called by God to do their work. This call is particularly important within African American Christian traditions. Divine Callings offers a rare sociological examination of this markedly understudied phenomenon within black ministry. Richard N. Pitt draws on over 100 in-depth interviews with Black Pentecostal ministers in the Church of God in Christ--both those ordained and licensed and those aspiring--to examine how these men and women experience and pursue the call. Viewing divine calling as much as a social process as it is a spiritual one, Pitt delves into the personal stories of these individuals to explore their work as active agents in the process of fulfilling their calling. In some cases, those called cannot find pastoral work due to gender discrimination, lack of clergy positions, and educational deficiencies. Pitt looks specifically at how those who have not obtained clergy positions understand their call, exploring the influences of psychological experience, the congregational acceptance of their call, and their response to the training process. He emphasizes how those called reconceptualize clericalism in terms of who can be called, how that call has to be certified, and what those called are meant to do, offering insight into how social actors adjust to structural constraints.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6825-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-16)

      First, Adam. At thirty, Adam’s youthful indiscretions caught up with him and he was incarcerated. While in prison, Adam acquired something of a layman’s sense of the law by reading books in the prison library. He was able to gain enough rudimentary knowledge to serve as a kind of “jailhouse lawyer,” informally helping other inmates understand basic legal matters related to their sentences. It was there that he began to feel something of a call. As he describes it, “I felt a lot of pleasure in that. Not self-gratification. Purpose.” Upon his release, Adam spent his weekends volunteering at a...

    • 1 The Church of God in Christ: Pentecostal History, Doctrine, and Polity
      (pp. 17-38)

      More than 80 percent of all Black church attendees are members of one of eight Black denominations. Three are Methodist (African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal), four are Baptist (National Baptist USA, National Baptist Convention of America, National Missionary Baptist, and Progressive National Baptist), and the last is the pentecostal Church of God in Christ. The remaining Black Christians can be found split evenly between smaller Black denominations (e.g., Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship), predominantly White Protestant denominations (e.g., United Methodist, American Baptist), and Roman Catholicism.¹

      Referred to enthusiastically as one...

    • 2 “Heard a Voice from Heaven Say”: Calling Narratives among Black Pentecostals
      (pp. 41-71)

      When Church of God in Christ ministers describe what it means to be called to the ministry, they talk about it as an inescapable imperative. This sense of requirement is different from any sense of commitment they may feel just serving as members of a church or even in other leadership positions. As Jimmy explained:

      I was already very committed to my work as a deacon. When [my pastor] called me to be a deacon, I felt like I was serving him. Sometimes I would slack off because I knew that if I wasn’t available, the other brothers would pitch...

    • 3 “All the World’s a Stage”: How Congregations Create the Called
      (pp. 72-104)

      When I asked ministers to tell me about their call to ministry, it was clear that they considered the most important social actor in their story to be God. From most callees’ perspectives, just having God call them was enough to birth the ministerial identity. Even those who were already doing some form of religious labor as lay-members did not consider themselves to be “ministers” until the moment of the call. They certainly consider the work they did to be “ministry,” but the labels “minister” and “clergy” were not something many applied to themselves until they experienced something they recognized...

    • 4 “A Stutter and a Stick”: The (Non-) Value of Educational Credentialing
      (pp. 107-148)

      The economist Robert Reich refers to professionals as “symbolic analysts,” experts who use specialized knowledge to solve problems.¹ The sociologist Andrew Abbott describes the work of the professional in three parts, stating that professionals make “claims to classify a problem, to reason about it, and to take action on it; in more formal terms, to diagnose, to infer, and to treat.”² The autonomy and authority, which also characterize the professions, flow to a large degree from their abilities to deliver on these claims in ways that nonprofessionals cannot. This expertise makes them accountable only to their peers while also earning...

    • 5 “Don’t Quit Your Day Job”: Redefining Religious Work
      (pp. 149-181)

      Zeni Fox, author of the leading book on Catholic lay-ministry, asks an important question about clergy, “Is being a minister about what you do? Who you are? Where you work?”¹ It is still very much the case that most people who pursue licensing or ordination as ministers intend to serve in positions easily defined as “clerical.” They plan to be leaders of congregations in some form, usually as a senior or associate pastor. While new routes and new entrants (particularly women and older aspirants) into ministry are causing a rapid expansion of where ministry is done, the bulk of our...

    • 6 “Chew the Meat and Spit Out the Bones”: Negotiating Women’s Clerical Identity
      (pp. 182-210)

      In seeking to understand “religious professionals” or “clergy,” social scientists have had to agree on a definition of the occupational category that would enable them to compare their findings across denominations. Many denominations do not require external credentials (e.g., seminary degrees, master’s and doctoral degrees in divinity, etc.) and not all religious professionals work in full-time positions as congregational heads. Regardless of their training or employment, the one thing most clergy are expected to have is the denominational credential called ordination. Ordained ministers are presumed to have what Zikmund and her colleagues call “full ministry,” that is, they have “the...

    • 7 Legitimating New Understandings of Ministry and the Clergy
      (pp. 213-228)

      The sociologist Richard Christopherson makes the observation that “the work of physicians, social workers, attorneys, scholars, professionals and semi-professionals of all sorts has usurped much of the territory that formerly belonged to the church, and these developments have often left the clergy scurrying about looking for something to do—and not incidentally, someone to be.”¹ This ongoing expansion of the boundaries of the cleric’s vocational identity has made the attributes that might mark the clergy as a profession more ambiguous. There was already evidence to support the fact that many clergy are not seminary trained, that many are either bivocational...

  8. Appendix
    (pp. 229-234)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 235-246)
  10. References
    (pp. 247-258)
  11. Index
    (pp. 259-264)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 265-265)