Most churches don’t believe their own message. They tell people to “follow the Holy Spirit” and “go wherever God calls you.”
The problem is that the only calling they seem to talk about is the call to vocational ministry.
Ironically, in doing that, they’re acting more like a business than a ministry. Businesses are always trying to keep their top talent around. You show promise and, I promise you, you’ll get some extra development and new roles and opportunities.
It’s the same in ministry. You’re a good small group leader and before you know it, the pastor spends a little extra time with you and is talking about your coming on staff and how your skill set is a perfect fit for the church’s needs.
Here’s my problem with this setup: I don’t believe that God has a first team. I don’t believe the starters do ministry and the backups do second-class work (perhaps while they improve their spiritual skills enough to land a starting gig).
I believe in the priesthood of the believer—a technical term that arose during the Reformation as Martin Luther sought to tear down the wall between the spiritual people and the secular people. Every follower of Jesus is called to follow Him completely—He just leads a lot of different places.
In this article, Os Guiness, one of the leaders in this discussion, tells the story of a prominent D.C. church where during a “Recognition of Calling” service, the only people whose callings were honored were those in vocational ministry.
Sure, there is a call to vocational ministry and the Bible describes people like Peter, who Jesus called away from a “secular” profession (fisherman) and called to a “sacred” position (pastor). But most Christians aren’t called to vocational ministry. Most are called to work in the “secular” world.
• Joseph—shepherd, then slave, then government official • Boaz and Ruth—a landowner with huge holdings and a widow • David—a government ruler • Zacchaeus—IRS agent • Priscilla and Aquila—craftsmen
I’ve always loved the story in Luke 3, when the crowds ask John the Baptist what to do with his message. He answers each profession (tax collectors, soldiers, etc.) according to their profession. His answer? Go back and do your job in a way that honors the Lord. He doesn’t tell any of them to quit and join vocational ministry.
I could list scores of people in the modern day that follow Jesus with as much passion as anyone I know, yet they aren’t in vocational ministry. They’re somewhere else on God’s broad canvas.
If your church’s message (whether direct or implied) is that the most spiritual go into ministry, then 98% of the congregation is left feeling like they’re second class.
There is a lot going on in the Kingdom around the globe.
Think about the implications of teaching God’s broad canvas of calling:
If you’re a college ministry (college ministries seem especially prone to looking at a narrow canvas), aim for the 98% who won’t go into vocational ministry, not the 2% who will. What do the 98% need to know, believe, do, become?
If you don’t have the broad canvas of calling, you have a highway with signs that read, “God calls these few people to these few tasks.” If you get the broad canvas of calling, the exits on that highway are limitless, and both the individual journey and the national landscape are transformed because of it.
- Downline Ministries aims to train men and women in every vocation to make disciples. I love their heart and message.
- Redeemer Presbyterian, led by Tim Keller, who just wrote the book Every Good Endeavor. Here’s an interview with Keller by another great thinker, Andy Crouch.
- The influence of the Gospel reaches into more industries, thus touching more people and transforming economies and cultures.
- Your ministry becomes more sustainable (it’s the non-ministry workers who will fund your ministry down the road).
- You challenge all of your people with the full Gospel and don’t allow them to expect the pastor to do everything spiritual.
- You free people to utilize their God-given wiring for the Kingdom. Ambition is not a dirty word, but something to be used and directed for good.
- You equip people to engage “the world” that is often hostile to them and their faith.