This week I posted a blog that people actually read! 10 Things about Your Home Church that You Won’t Find at a New Church. A pastor friend of mine commented on the quality of the humor and encouraged me to be a pastor. Numerous responses raced through my head. Because of the close relationship I have with this pastor I could have said most of them directly to him but not publically on Facebook without explanation. He would get the humor but others wouldn’t. I chose to say, “I’d rather be faithful to God’s call in my life.” Several responses I chose not to say on Facebook were:
“I have something more important to do.”
“Why? We already have too many of them.”
“Maybe then I would actually get paid.”
“I did finally grow up from being a youth minister maybe now I can leave campus ministry and become a real pastor.”
I want to use his comment as a platform to critique the typical church view of God’s calling in our lives. Don’t misunderstand me. This is not me being critical of this one particular pastor for his one particular comment. It’s much worse than that. This is me critiquing a set of ideas that are misleading most of American Christianity.
We often confuse the call to serve Christ with our lives as a call into vocational ministry.
Starbucks is the site for so many of my conversations. A Drexel student had borrowed a book from me. We used the return of the book as an excuse to get some coffee at the Starbucks in Pearlstein on Drexel’s campus. We talked for two hours. With graduation looming on the horizon our conversation naturally revolved around life after college. After five years of paying tuition, studying for exams, completing group projects, working at impressive internships and on the very cusp of receiving a degree in computer science, he was contemplating going into vocational ministry. I started to probe a little deeper and ask questions. I have had this conversation before. As a professionally trained biologist who now works as a campus minister I have had this conversation with myself. As a minister who works at a university that introduces students to the “real” work environment often and early, I have had this conversation with many students. Allow me an editorial liberty to summarize several encounters into one voice.
Student says: I am completely committed to serving Christ with my entire life.
Student says: I don’t know how to do that in (insert major here) the career path I have chosen.
Student says: If I become a pastor (or other full time, professional, vocational minister) I will be able to serve Christ with my entire life.
Student concludes: Jesus wants my whole life. The only way I know how to serve Christ my whole life is by becoming a full time, professional, vocational minister.
God calls every Christian to be completely devoted to Him. Every Christian needs to serve God with our entire lives. Not many of us actually listen to this call but it is there for all of us. Even fewer of us are effectively practicing what that means in our occupational lives. As students ponder their lives after college they need to understand that they can be fully devoted in whatever occupation they have. Many of them have never seen someone actually do that in the field they are pursuing. You might need to be the one who sets the example of what this looks like. Many may have never even discussed what complete devotion to Christ looks like in the field they are pursuing. You may need to be the one who starts that conversation.
Vocational ministry can be a way to avoid being faithful to God’s call in your life.
This reminds me of another conversation at the same Starbucks. I had a Pastor friend whose main emphasis was to get his church to meet the physical needs of the community around them. That particular church and neighboring community has been forever changed by his service there. In the process of getting his church to become more engaged in the community it became evident that God’s call in his life was more to social work than pastoral care. He “dropped out” of vocational ministry. I’m sure his leaving the ministry shows up in the statistics about pastors giving up. It is clear to me that God called him out of the pastoral ministry into a fully devoted Christian life. Staying in vocational ministry would have been disobedient to God.
On some levels vocational ministry is easier than being a fully committed Christian in the marketplace. There is more support. There are more models. There are less hard questions about how your faith connects to the principles that drive your profession. But on another level being a vocational minister doesn’t make the basic parts of being a faithful Christian any easier. If you struggled before with devotions or evangelism or consistency or patience, you will still have those same struggles. You will still have to be faithful.
The church needs to establish heroes of the faith who live out service to Christ in the marketplace.
With the professionalization of the clergy within our faith we have created a hero class of Christians. The models of truly devoted Christians that we present to congregations on a Sunday morning are those we pay. We do not celebrate that Christian who faithfully goes to some other job every single day of his life. The woman, week in and week out, who tries to apply Christian principles to her career gets no mention.
I have a campus minister friend who is transitioning from doing vocational ministry into owning and operating a coffee shop in a university town. His personal story of going through this process was inspiring to my business students as they ponder what it means to be a Christian as a business. The idea that God could call someone to run a coffee shop was eye opening. The fact that someone saw this move as being faithfully following God was encouraging. We need to show off not only our vocational ministers but every Christian who is serving Christ with their entire lives.
Ironically, this is all coming from a vocational minister who was called by God out of biology career. This has also been posted on my Baptist Campus Ministry Blog.