“I was repeatedly hearing back from congregants,
‘Thank God somebody is caring about this!’”
That is what one pastor said was the result of becoming intentional about encouraging his congregation in their vocations.
In my research for a doctoral dissertation, I’ve been interviewing pastors around the country who have made a concerted effort to proclaim that every Christian has a high calling from God in their daily work. Due to the nature of the research, the pastors must remain anonymous. I’ve enjoyed the stories that they have told me, stories that I think will be encouraging to you.
These pastors have been intentional in equipping Christians in their callings. This has become as a major aspect of their discipleship paradigm. What have they experienced?
Christians Affirmed in their Callings
One pastor, with a bright smile, said,
“The number one emotion I remember was actually affirmation because I could tell that I was helping people so much and I could tell that there was a deep hunger for this.”
What are congregants hungry for? A pronouncement that they are not second-class Christians – that even though they are not pastors or missionaries, they have a major role to play in God’s mission in the world.
As another pastor put it, he is excited to see people dive deeply into their work as a major part of their participation in God’s Kingdom. He is actually happy that they are seeing their role in God’s work as being more than giving their weekly tithe, as important as that is. He says,
“I see an attitude shift, one that affirms people that God wants to use them for his grand purposes. They’re thinking, ‘I have more to contribute to the mission of God than simply supporting the church with my dollars. My work matters, not just my bank account.’ That is huge, massive!”
Pastoral Ministry as Exponential Influence
Another pastor talked about how this shift in emphasis has sparked his enthusiasm for pastoral ministry.
“If this is true, if we’re getting this right – this theology of vocation as a part of a full Christian worldview – it is very encouraging! Because that means that God is really at work everywhere and in every way. And that is exciting!
Because if the other worldview is correct – that the main thing God does is on Sunday mornings in the churches – then He is really only busy one day out of the week, and in one place, and in one way.
Whereas, what this does is open up a whole world of possibilities that really lights the imagination aflame, because it means that you may not see it quite as distinctly, but you just don’t know what God is doing in that office across the street. You just don’t know! You don’t know how God is working out his mission in all these secret ways and in all these creative ways which we will never be able to fully make sense of until the Day brings it to light. So there is mystery, there’s imagination, and there’s possibility. I think this makes my pastoral ministry exciting and fun. There is a whole boatload of ministry potential that can be unlocked here in this congregation.”
The Holistic Gospel
These pastors are excited that Christians are developing a deeper understanding of the implications of the Gospel – that God certainly cares about people coming to salvation, but that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God also encapsulates justice issues, ministry to the poor, loving of neighbors, and seeking the flourishing of everyone in a Christian’s sphere of influence.
People are starting to not only be affirmed that their work matters, but also and more significantly, that there is supposed to be something distinctive about a Christian doing work for God’s glory out in a secular world. As one pastor put it,
“Working as unto the Lord is often the best way we can love our neighbors. Good work is good for the flourishing, the shalom, of those around us. And this is not unrelated to evangelism. Somebody who actually knows that their work matters and is therefore robustly able to work as unto the Lord, is a shining light in the average workplace.
I know of a couple of guys who work together; they’re in their mid-twenties. When they went to work, they did a great job in that they worked hard because they knew they were working as unto the Lord, that God cared about what they did in their vocations.
So they worked hard; they produced well. But they also worked hard in reaching out to their coworkers. And the two were by no means unrelated because they finally did start getting those questions of, “Why do you guys keep delivering the goods? The rest of us are just mailing it in.’ Because at this particular workplace they had plenty of people who were just cashing their paychecks. And these two, because they felt that God cared about this work and so they gave themselves fully to it, started having these evangelistic encounters with people at their work who were just asking the “What’s different about you?” type of questions.”
Helping People in Their Vocations Benefits the Church
Shifting a church’s discipleship paradigm to include a robust understanding of the high calling of people’s everyday work has amazing benefits to that church’s mission. As a pastor noted,
“Its lives fully devoted to the Lord – and recognizing that you can’t have that if six days of the week you’re not really thinking about him, or, if the way you’re thinking about him is just, ‘I’ll have my daily quiet time… Okay, that’s done, and now I go to work.’ Now I’m seeing people having an attitude through their day of praying continually which means they’re working within the context of their faith, not working in a context that exists outsideof their faith.”
So what is a pastor’s role in a ministry devoted to helping people in this way? One pastor articulated it well when he said,
“I see myself as being upstream. I take seriously Ephesians 4 – that pastors are equippers of the saints, not the main doers of ministry but the equippers of those who are called to do the work of ministry. And – this is what’s huge – I think that applies not just to the churchand its ministries, but also to the world and the way the Kingdom of God is ushered in through people’s daily work.”