Sacred Space: Ministry as Vocation

Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.

Pastors are a gift from God to the church. So are plumbers and mechanics and medical doctors. I hate to say it, but there is nothing mystical about any of those vocations. There are prerequisites for each vocation, and each should be thought about wisely before one embarks upon those vocational paths—but do not look for signs and wonders or self-worth in any of those jobs.

Becoming a Christian is a supernatural event. The Holy Spirit regenerates a spiritually dead person by the power of the gospel. But when it comes to vocation, even pastoral ministry, no miracles are required. I have two worries about how many pastors and teachers in the church talk about one’s “calling” to the ministry. The first is that the Lord must do something out of the ordinary to call a man to the office of overseer. My second worry is that this elevated sense of importance that pastors often feel comes from the idea that they are “more special” because they are in the pastoral ministry. After all, if God especially selected them, for ministry, they must be more holy, special, sacred than those who weren’t.

This is not how Paul writes about the vocation of pastoral ministry. Instead, Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:1–2a). Paul teaches that two simple things are required for a man who seeks to be an overseer: He has to want to do it, and the church has to recognize him as a person who can do the job. It’s that simple, and there is nothing mystical about it. At least, it is no more mystical than someone who really wants to be a police officer, or a mom, or a dad, or an engineer.

Here is how I understand the ministry, and this is so simple that I fear people will laugh. The primary calling of every Christian is to be a Christian. This includes pastors. The job of the pastor is to devote his time to the study of Scripture, to prayer, and to friendship with the members of the church he oversees. His goal is to help Christians learn to be better Christians and to equip them to be good representatives of Jesus in their vocation. Those non-overseer vocations are not less important than the office of overseer; they are simply different. If I may use a military analogy, it would be like elevating the job of a Drill Instructor to the ultimate position of the military. Is the job important? Surely! But so are all the other jobs, including the cook’s job.

If we, as evangelicals, could tone down some of the mysticism that swirls around the office of pastor, I believe we might see more qualified leaders step up and take the job. Also, we would see non-pastors be more willing to take bad pastors to task for not doing their jobs because the “touch not mine anointed” defense that abusive pastors hide behind would be diffused.


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  • Adam

    Hi Brad,

    I must respectfully disagree in part. I think perhaps, we come from different streams of spirituality and you misunderstand reasons behind such a “calling” as you put it.

    Firstly, Paul himself was “called” on the Damascus road, and subsequently, through the ministry of Annanias, started following in it.

    (ASV) Acts 9:15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel:

    God chose Paul for a reason and his purpose. An interesting argument for election for a reforming Arminian to consider! (me!!) If people with a calling are proud, then we must also convict Paul. But perhaps we are merely arguing semantics…

    It appears that God chooses certain people for certain tasks and calls them to ministry. Whether they are humble or proud is not a result of Gods calling, but rather their own journey of sanctification.

    I’ve known from a young age that I would be a preacher, and had many prophecies confirming this. I consider it a calling. And I am proud, but not because of my calling. I’m proud because I’m a sinner saved by grace.

    In my stream, Jeremiah 19:11 is interpreted as speaking to every person. So every person has a calling and a destiny. A call to ministry may make some men proud, but so may a call to business.

    I hope my unorganised post can perhaps help you see another point of view.



  • Adam

    Sorry, that’s Jeremiah 29:11, and I’m proud because of my propensity to be so as a sinner… I’m not with it today!

  • Adam,

    Thanks for the comment. I did not mean to imply that people are not appointed to certain tasks by God. The point I was trying to make is that my appointment does not make me spiritually superior to anyone because I am a pastor.

    Also, I do not believe anyone is “called” today as Paul was. He was an apostle, and he never uses his experience as the way in which men are called to the pastorate. Instead, he specifically says that if a man desires the office of overseer, and if the church recognizes him as a person of character with the ability to teach, then he may become a pastor. Nowhere in the NT is a man told to wait for a celestial vision, a burning bush, or any sort of internal prompting other than the simple desire for the work.

    This post was my attempt to say that a Christian may choose whatever lawful vocation he desires and for which he is equipped. I am trying to eliminate the idea that pastors are somehow more spiritual because of their vocation.

  • susan

    I disagree I was ‘called ‘ to do Gods work. Plain old outright heard in plain language” you shall teach the word of God.” I dont feel at all that I am superior to any one, only that I am a very lucky person to do so and to have heard the words of God. I am now opening a non-denominational outreach store for all of those who are ‘ in between’ their faith and tipping their toes in the water to help lead them. I want to open a place ans show them an ‘example’ of what he can do through love and compassion as his son did. Thank you for your article, and God bless you.