Sacred Space: Ministry as Vocation

Sacred Space: Ministry as Vocation November 11, 2011

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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