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Growing up I knew I could serve God in whatever profession I chose. Providing, of course, I chose to be either a missionary or a pastor.

In the particular subculture in which I was raised, those were pretty much the two vocations available to serious Christians. And even within the dyad, there was hierarchy. Missionary was preferred to pastor. If you had a physical condition that made overseas living prohibitive, or had too many children when you applied to be a missionary with our denomination (as was the case with my parents), becoming a pastor was a respectable Plan B.

I remember one traveling missionary thundering, "Every Christian is called to go to the mission field!" This was no metaphor. He wasn't talking about being a "missionary" in your workplace or neighborhood. No, this was drop-a-finger on a map of Africa—and go!

I still appreciate that kind of passion for global missions. But that mentality often had negative, if unintended, consequences. For instance, it devalued "secular" callings. The exclusive focus on "full-time ministry" vocations created a two-tier spirituality. Those in "full-time ministry" were the spiritual one-percenters; bi-vocational ministers and secular workers the second-class Christians.

Sure, a wealthy executive or doctor who lived faithfully for Christ might achieve a modicum of respect in church circles. But spiritually speaking, they were "walking wallets," useful for funding ministry—the real work of the Lord.

Thankfully, we've seen a shift away from that sort of thinking. The sacred-secular line has blurred while the desire to affirm all callings has sharpened. Many now rightfully see all vocations as equally valid ways to glorify God.

"Church leaders are increasingly talking about the mission of God in the world and our role in it," Amy Sherman, author of Kingdom Calling, recently told Christianity Today. "Many leaders realize that if we want people to bring about restoration in the fields of business, law, the arts, and media, we need to think about what it means to be a Christian businessperson, a Christian lawyer, or a Christian journalist."

I applaud this move toward a more holistic understanding of vocation. I've seen numerous books on the topic published in the past few years. Conferences are springing up. What's most heartening is to see some churches, like Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, launching programs to help parishioners think theologically about their vocations. We still have a long way to go, but things are changing. And I'm thankful. Yet amid the excitement to affirm all vocations, I want to offer this caveat. Let's not forget to also honor the call to full-time ministry.

Since graduating from seminary six years ago, I can't think of one former classmate who is now a pastor. For many young Christians today, going into missions or the pastorate is now the second-class option. Doing social work, starting a charity, or working for an NGO—those are the cool vocations. Next to ...

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Drew Dyck is managing editor of Leadership Journal.

From Issue:Callings, Winter 2013 | Posted: January 14, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 11 comments

Ken Duncan

February 24, 2013  7:09pm

I've read many books and articles on this topic. I also have done significant academic biblical studies education, including a Ph.D. in New Testament. I don't do what I really want to do full-time: teach biblical studies, or even serve as a full-time teaching pastor. My training, however, is all about how to interpret Scripture and how not to interpret Scripture, how to see implications of a passage and things to guard against, lest I read into the Bible what I want to find there. Sorry, but for all that I've read or heard, I remain totally unconvinced that my day job as a computer programmer has any significance to the kingdom of God. I've never led a co-worker to Christ. That might be my fault but it's still true. Nothing I do in my day job has any meaning that I can see as a Kingdom task. Yes, I can do all things as unto the Lord, but that's not the same as what I do being meaningful for God's purposes. I might glorify God but writing good code, but nothing of significance.

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February 11, 2013  12:10am

I work as a conservator for a government agency. Because I am a surrogate decision maker for the elderly and mentally ill, I deal with end of life issues in my work. In the area where I live, there is a great pull in the medical profession to end lives prematurely, abuse Medicare billing and even harvest organs. All of these are very sensitive issues that Christians and denominations have not handled too well. By being able to follow the law and use Christian based ethics, I feel that I am ministering to my clients. On rare occasiona, a client may bring up a religious topic. That becomes an open door to me to speak God's truths. I am the only one that I know of who works for the government who can pray for, comfort and help make better decisions for clients.

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Ryan Connor

January 29, 2013  10:38pm

Right on, Drew. Thanks for setting the right balance!

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January 22, 2013  12:05pm

What we do for a living and what we do for a calling may or may not be one and the same. I have acquaintances who co-pastor a thriving growing church that both work full time at other jobs, not because they have to but because they want to. It allows more of the church's finances to go to ministry instead of salaries. Everyone in the congregation understands that they are called to ministry in some way or another. God places us in various vocations to accomplish ministry where we are at. Any time we build up one vocation over another we do a dis-service to the ministry God has called each of us to. So yes, we do need plumbers and pastors. (I am a pastor who can do plumbing, but I hate it. Why not let someone who enjoys it do the work and it be a ministry opportunity for them instead of a chore as it would be for me?)

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January 21, 2013  7:01am

Nice article but seems to leave some sacred cows in the field. Should we still be assuming "ministry" means full time church work??? cEph 4:11-12 I gather the scholars are saying the best reading is building up the body for the work of ministry - ie train the body to do ministry (diakonos). Furthermore it should include prophets apostles and evengelists in the mix - not just pastor/teachers. I'm a thousand kilometres from my church every couple of weeks and off the churches radar - as have been in every other job. We rarely pray for roles outside "religious" jobs. I just witnessed to my taxi driver and he will never end up in the local parish where i am home on sundays. World is changing and we need the vitality and genius of original biblical framework, not the institutional form that has held us in thrall for so long. Thats before one considers the need to recover the wider meaning of kingdom in the gospel of Jesus - what Gospel did Jesus actually preach? A new King who fulfills.

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