Church leaders, rightly, have a primary thing on their mind: The mandate to see people come to salvation in Christ. Church programs, worship services, missional small groups, and outreach events are all geared toward obeying the Great Commission that Jesus gave us in Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples…”
The Commission to Make Disciples
But what does it actually mean to “make disciples”? When we realize that a disciple is more than just a new convert to Christianity, but a life-long apprentice of Jesus Christ – one who lives for the purposes of the kingdom of God, one who willingly and sacrificially participates with God in his mission to reconcile all things in the world back to himself, one who lives in such a conspicuously loving way among people that he or she actually serves as a witness to the goodness of Christ and his kingdom so that others will also become disciples – then “making disciples” is far more than what we have made it out to be.
When church leaders begin to realize that our calling from God is to make disciples, that is, to equip the people in our flocks in their callings from God so that they can do the things that a disciples do, then it ushers in opportunities for exponential proclamation about the goodness of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior into a broken and hurting world.
Equipping People to be Disciples
For the past year, I’ve been interviewing pastors around the country about their experiences equipping people to be missional in and through their vocations.
One pastor who has dedicated his ministry to being such an equipper confirms this. He said,
“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.
This pastor along with others shared their stories of how shifting their ministry paradigm has benefited their ministries and the effectiveness of their churches in“The Transforming Power of Helping People in Their Vocations: Pastors Share Their Stories.”
Michael Wittmer, author of the influential book Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God, offered three reasons why it’s important for pastors to frequently remind their people that God calls them to follow him in their various vocations in “Preaching the High Calling.” He asks,
“Pastor, do your people know that Jesus cares just as much about how they choose their entertainment, treat their family, and do their jobs as he does that they read their Bibles and pray? Can they explain why everything they do matters to God?”
So what are some practical things that church leaders can do to move toward equipping people in their callings?
Amy L. Sherman, author of the Christianity Today book of the year winner, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, gives us a rich set of ideas gleaned from her experiences leading pastors through a Vocation Infusion Learning Community in “Inspiring The Church: Vocation Matters.” She says,
“Given sufficient creativity, intentionality, and prayer, church leaders can help their congregants to live missionally, in and through their daily vocations.”
There are many more resources from around the web that can help church leaders step into their calling to equip people in their callings.
Resources to Help You Equip the Saints In their VocationsJohn Yates (Rector of The Falls Church, Anglican), at a commencement address for seminarians, said,
“After several years of ministry, a friend of mine refused to stand up in church one morning when I called on everyone to stand as a way of expressing their desire to serve Christ sacrificially as Christ’s servants. He told me afterward that the way I described Christian ministry left out all those folks who were focused on trying to be God’s servants in the workplace and marketplace. I had become so intent on building up the local church, seeing it become strong and healthy and active, that I was apparently implying that’s all that mattered. My friend got my attention. I realized I had unconsciously developed a view of the ministry that was too narrow – too church-focused.”
I encourage you to read the entire address here.
In this video, Steven Garber of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture says that one’s calling is meant to be much more than a paycheck. He makes the case that our faith should inform our vocations, and that those vocations should transform the culture. He says,
“Vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei.”
Bill Hailey, in “Theology of Vocation and Spiritual Formation,” writes,
“Vocation becomes either the back door or the front porch to deeper things. It allows God to really start messing with people in different parts of their life in such a way that it comes back around and gives them more clarity and confidence and competence in what he has called them to do.”
In this video, Tom Nelson explains that, as a pastor, he struggled to connect Sunday church life with weekday work life. He ended up writing a book on why “Work Matters,” the title of his excellent book on the subject.
For those who want to dig deeper into the theology of vocation, check out the excellent new website, Theology of Work Project.
Speaking of theology, in order to have a good understanding of what God calls his people to do, we need to first understand the mission of God’s people in the world. In two lectures given at The Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, Virginia, N. T. Wright discusses how the resurrection of Jesus informs us about what is to come in the future, and then, as a major implication of this, what the church is called to be in the present.
Resurrection and the Future World (31.5MP MP3)
Resurrection and the Task of the Church (33.8MB MP3)
A wonderful book with theological and practical application to this is The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission by Christopher J. H. Wright (no relation to N.T.).
Matt Smethurst of The Gospel Coalition recently interviewed Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and author of Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. He calls into question the idea that the preacher has the “highest calling” because that demeans the callings of every other Christian in their particular vocations.
On the practical side, Celebrate Your Work offers many free resources to help pastors and churches to start conversations about the goodness of work, from Bible studies, sermon outlines, videos, commissioning services, prayers, and song/hymn suggestions.