For years I served as a teaching pastor at my church, but then left the pastoral team to pursue a calling outside the institutional church. For the first time since graduating from seminary, I found myself in the pews more often than in the pulpit. It changed my perspective. Working as a writer and editor, traveling more often, and juggling a young family left very little discretionary time in my schedule. There was simply no way I could participate in everything the church was asking me to do while also fulfilling the calling God had given me to pursue outside the church.
Within a few months, I understood how most of the people in my congregation felt. And I realized how insensitive and guilt-inducing many of my past sermons had been. In sermon after sermon I had called them to give more time, more money, more energy to the work of the church. Little did I understand or affirm their callings in the world.
I had inadvertently created a secular/sacred divide in which the "sacred" calling of the church was pitted against their "secular" callings in the world. I never said this explicitly, of course, but it was implied.
Later I was invited to preach again. This time my message included an apology for my failure to understand the value of their work outside the church. The sermon was met with shouts of "Amen!"—not a common occurence in our predominantly Anglo surburban congregation. Why did it take me so long to see my error, and why did I have to leave pastoral ministry to recognize it? Part of the problem is history.
Centuries ago the word vocation, meaning literally "a calling," applied only to bishops, priests, and monks—those occupying offices within the hierarchy ...