It is easy within the culture of the church for many people to feel the call to full-time vocational ministry at some point.
It’s almost a right of passage— someone gets serious about their faith and asks, “Should I be a pastor?”
And, most of the time the answer should be no.
Many people shake off this urge for various reasons. But some don’t. For instance, it is not uncommon for someone in the business world to sense a strong calling to give up a career, go to Bible college or seminary, and become a pastor. And sometimes God’s leading is clear and needs to be embraced.
Throughout history, people have moved from working in the marketplace to serving in vocational ministry.
However, there are some other issues at work here.
The fact is, we are all called into ministry. But this has become sort of a cliché: “If you are a Christian, you are in the ministry” or “Every believer is a missionary.” But the truth is that God does call certain people into vocational ministry. So while we are all 24-hour ministers of the gospel, some are fully funded to devote their lives to a specific work within the Church.
But what about the banker, the mechanic, the bus driver, the teacher, or the seamstress who feels called to ministry? How should we encourage people who sense God calling them into more intentional ministry?
First, we should acknowledge the value of their individual call and vocation. We can and must see the banker and the baker as able to do her work to the glory of God. And, for the mechanic or nurse to do his work, knowing that he is being used by God to do so.
That’s an essential point to make— people in vocation are using their gifts to the glory of God, and they can and should be on mission while doing so. But, the purpose of their job is not to do the ministry on the side, but to see the job as part of their calling, and, yes, part of that is to minister through that work, but also around that work. Colossians 3:23 reminds us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord...”
Second, we need to create a culture where people understand the real value of vocation and the real value of serving on mission where they are employed. Both matter.
This is not to be seen as a cop out to keep undertrained Christians away from the platform or mission hospital in Papua New Guinea. Instead, it is a way to maximize ministry to those who don’t know Jesus around us who need the gospel.
The fact is, God doesn’t want everyone to be the pastor of a church, or a Sunday School teacher, or a denominational leader, or a foreign missionary. Although we know this, people can still feel guilty because they haven’t forsaken all, sold everything, and moved to a mission outpost to translate the Bible into an unknown language. If we are honest, these things seem a lot more holy than bagging groceries at Whole Foods.
So how do we change the culture? Let me share two starting points.
It is important for pastors to empower their people to live on mission where they are, seeing their word “as unto the Lord,” and seizing the opportunities to show and share the love of Jesus there.
I grew up Roman Catholic. It was not unusual for the people to see the priest as the beginning and the end of ministry. He preached to us, prayed for us, and purged us of our sin. If we had a question about God, we asked him. This isn’t true for every Catholic, but it is largely the case.
So when I came to Christ, I eventually ended up in low church evangelicalism. And guess what? It was the same thing, in many ways, but now it was a pastor instead of the priest. Clearly, there were some theological differences, but the point is that it was still primarily one person in the church providing the spiritual ministry. And, again, we learned to rely on that.
If our people are going to see themselves as capable ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and are working unto the glory of God (Eph. 6:7), we must communicate the deep value of that. First, of that work itself. Then, of the opportunities that work might afford for ministry and mission.
In other words, they are not workers in the secular world who need priests for the sacred work in our churches. Rather, we are all priests (a kingdom of priests) in God’s world, working to his glory in all vocations (so-called secular or sacred) and then seeking to live on mission.
Thus, for this whole kingdom of priests, we need to create opportunities for them to exercise their gifts through valueable and God-honoring work, and also through evangelism, administration, teaching, etc.
Pastors and church leaders must teach their people how to study and discern the Bible (2 Tim. 2:15), train them in the various types of prayer, and empower them to be ministers wherever they are.
There are plenty of people serving well in the business world. There are even opportunities to be trained in workplace ministry. In many cities, there are organizations where Christian business people can mentor and fellowship, fanning the fire for those who are fulfilling the call away from the pulpit.
These people should be celebrated because work needs to be done to the glory of God. And, for those of us who also care about sharing the gospel, we all need to remember that programs are not always the best outreach the church has, but rather, that individuals in the workplace are the best and most consistent outreach into the community— what we sometimes call the 9-to-5 window.
So, people who see their work as inhernently valuable, and who are doing it unto God’s glory, are also those who will show and share the love of Jesus in the workplace.
When you accept that God has placed you in your vaocation, and called all people to ministry wherever they are, you realize that you are getting paid to glorify God through your work and to go to the mission field every day.
Celebrate the work of God happening outside of the four walls of the church. Talk about it, and have people testify to what God is doing where they work.
It is a wonderful thing to watch a young person surrender to the call to preach or become a missionary. But it is transformational when you watch an entire congregation step up to become stewards of their vocation and ministers in their communities. The impact will be far and wide.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.