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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 of the Roman Catholic Church. It was believed that the clergy had been called by God. They alone had a vocation while everyone else merely worked.

Why the Divide?

The idea dates back to Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century. He wrote that Christ had established two ways of life, the "perfect life" and the "permitted life." The perfect life was the one God called the clergy to—a life of prayer, worship, and service to Christ through the church. Other occupations, while necessary, carried less dignity. The labor of farmers, artists, merchants, and homemakers was not evil, but neither was it blessed, nor were these roles callings from God. After all, they were concerned with the things of earth, while the clergy were occupied with the things of heaven.

This hierarchy of labor went largely unchallenged for until the Protestant Reformation. Leaders like Martin Luther and John Calvin called Christians back to the authority of Scripture, and there they found no justification for the exaltation of the clergy or the abasement of other labor. They read in the New Testament that everyone should work and do "something with their own hands, that they may have something to share with ...

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Skye Jethani is the executive editor of Leadership Journal, an ordained pastor, and the author of numerous books. He co-hosts the weekly Phil Vischer Podcast and speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and colleges. He makes his home with his wife and three children in Wheaton, Illinois.

From Issue:Callings, Winter 2013 | Posted: January 16, 2013

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A Leadership Journal review

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Displaying 1–5 of 8 comments

Ross Rohde

November 11, 2013  10:28am

I liked where Skye Jethani went with this article. But, sadly, he was not able to question the unbiblical principle concepts that created the problem in the first place, the institutionalization of the church and the clergy/laity split. Both of these unquestioned assumptions are creating serious problems for our faith as we enter the postmodern world,which does and should question these assumptions.

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April 12, 2013  12:46pm

I am super encouraged by this article. It is right on target about the 3 levels of calling and the right way to look at marketplace work. My only beef with it is that it could talk more about evangelism in people's callings and it could be misunderstood as saying pastors shouldn't try to help people find their callings.

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tom keppeler

March 16, 2013  5:53pm

I think the whole conversation needs to be reframed.. not in terms of calling.. but in terms of what it means to live out one's "sentness" as part of a people of God that is sent to the world... I think this article touches on some of that but misses the mark by over-stating the case and assuming all that local churches want to do is align people into their institutional calling. Is someone "called" just because they say so? If the answer is "yes", we succumb to the individualism that the American church is so often accused of being captive to. This article could have been much more grounded and helpful if the author would have reflected on the role of the church community in affirming, confirming and celebrating the varied ways people live out their sentness to a hurting world.

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March 11, 2013  11:47pm

THANK YOU!!! Another by-product of these churches with a specific, institutional message is that something feels as though it's missing. It's because something IS missing! I see a lack of depth in our churches today because we are not fostering communion with God, and I miss it. I really hope this message takes root and leaders pay attention.

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Steve Skeete

March 10, 2013  3:58pm

Many years ago I heard the evangelist Tom Skinner say that every Christian was "full-time" since being a believer was a twenty-four hour commitment. Skinner believed that just like the pastor was called to "full-time" ministry the same could be said of the engineer, butcher, pilot or construction worker. He went on to say that every believer was called to serve God and be a witness for him in the occupation to which they were called. In other words, evangelism was not just for the pastor because he was in the "ministry", every Christian must be a minister to the non-Christians among whom he/she worked, and the evangelist to his workmates and colleagues. Is Skye Jethani of the same opinion? Or does he think that having an "uncommon calling" exempts one from witness?

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