Looking for Christmas stocking-fillers that could change your life's direction? Or make your church a place where members eagerly seek their calling from God?
Here are two that could make people think seriously about their life choices.
First, the Guide
The Great Vocations Conversation, a collection of 12 monthly resources to help people think about their calling in life, has been published by the Church of England. It's aimed primarily at CofE ministers, but could be a real asset for any church leader or member.
Subtitled 'A year of inspiration and challenge for ministers,' the colourful, illustrated guide has been produced by Bishop of Guildford Andrew Watson and Magadalen Smith, Chester diocese's director of ordinands.
Together they have developed a series of biblical reflections, vocational stories, questions to ponder and resources for prayer. The booklet is part of the CofE's drive to boost the number of new clergy by 50 per cent a year from 2020 onwards but would work with any denomination.
The authors say some churches are really good at encouraging people to think about their vocations. In these congregations, members see themselves as specifically Christian teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, pensioners, or whatever they do in life.
To help achieve this, the guide challenges church ministers 'to have at least one conversation about vocation each month with someone different from you'. These conversations, the authors say, 'should be a part of everyday life and ministry' and be 'constantly open to the God of Surprises, who rejoices in calling the unlikeliest of people to fulfil God's purposes in the world'.
So each month, the guide offers a Bible story of calling – for example, Samuel and David, Elizabeth and Mary, Jesus and Mary Magdalene – a reflection on the story, a prayer and probing questions.There's also a case study of how a range of 21st century Christians has responded to God's call – including a paramedic, a banker, a former Mormon and a consultant physician.
Any church minister would appreciate finding this guide at the foot of their Christmas tree, and many Christians would value its insights into how they see their calling in life.
...and then, the card game
In contrast, the School of Life, 'a global network dedicated to developing emotional intelligence', has produced a card game to help people choose their career path. The 52-card pack is called 'What Should I do with My Life?' It's a secular look at life's big job choices.
Described as 'a card game to focus your ambitions', each card features a profession from catering manager to philosopher, from zoologist to commodity trader, from school teacher to plumber and ranks them under eight headings.
These include difficulty of entry, meaning/purpose, salary, stress levels and – as artificial intelligence gathers pace – the risk of being replaced by a robot.
I bought a set of these fascinating cards in the School of Life's bookshop near the British Museum, London, and spent time reflecting on the life choices I could have made.
For example, a dermatologist rates a high threshold of entry at 89 out of 100, 93 per cent job stability and 99 per cent for the chances of earning a good salary. The risks of being replaced by a robot are put at zero.
In contrast, a legal secretary has an entry threshold at 43 per cent, 80 per cent job stability, just 20 per cent chance of earning a decent salary – and an 85 per cent chance of being replaced by a robot.
A coffee shop barista scores a 96 per cent chance of being replaced by a robot, little job stability, and minimal difficulty of entry. A nurse in a hospice, described as 'saints without religious affiliation', scores highly on meaning and purpose and – surprisingly to me – has an almost 50 per cent chance of being replaced by a robot!
The game can either be played be played in a Top Trumps format, or can act as a discussion starter. It looked to me like one of those fun games you could pick up on Boxing Day with a group of friends.
Part of the fun would be challenging the scores given to each job. Or maybe reflecting on what a Christian calling to each of the roles might look like.
But there was one major omission – no card for a vicar or any other kind of Christian minister. It left me wondering what my chances were of being replaced by a robot. Surely not...
'The Great Vocations Conversation' is published by Church House Publishing at £7.99.
The 'What Should I do with My Life?' set of cards is published by The School of Life at £10.
Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Hertfordshire.