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 the shape of leadership

What I Wish My Pastor Knew About the Calling to Non-Ministry Vocations

God has a place for each of us — and it’s not always on a church staff

Joy Qualls on August 31, 2018

I am a church girl. A cradle-to-grave member of the body of believers. I am a regular attender. I have done all the church things: clubs, camps, conventions and conferences — and even revival meetings and multiple-night gatherings. I volunteer, give and serve wherever people ask me to help. My church family can count on me to show up when they gather.

Yet, often, when pastors and other leaders speak of pursuing a calling, it is only in the context of professional, vocational ministry. What I wish my pastor knew about a calling to non-ministry vocations is that it is supernatural and necessary for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The work I do is ministry.

It started when I was a student at summer Bible camp. Every year, there was an emphasis on seeking God for a call to ministry. I often left those camp meetings disappointed that somehow God only called certain people, and He only called them to become pastors or missionaries. I sought the Lord for years to confirm a calling in me because the message was clear: To be called is to be a pastor or missionary.

But then my calling did come. It was not at camp or at an altar somewhere. Rather, it happened as I was standing in front of the U.S. Capitol. I was working my dream job. And then, God spoke. My path changed that day because I walked in obedience to a supernatural call to teaching and academics. It was as clear as every camp speaker talked about and had the same urgency they assured us would come.

The command of Jesus is to go into the world and make disciples. While the call to serve as a pastor or missionary includes inherent elements of the Great Commission, so does being a doctor, lawyer, teacher, cook … you get the idea. Your vocation is not your calling. Your calling is to make disciples. To fulfill this calling, we need people from all walks and stations of life. This makes the body of believers we call the Church more accessible to those who may otherwise never darken the doorstep of a “professional” Christian.

To fulfill the calling to make disciples, we need people from all walks and stations of life.

When Jesus called the disciples, they left what they were doing and followed Him. Yet we still see narratives where the disciples are carrying out the work they previously did (such as fishing) while they are with Him. We see in Paul’s letters that tent making and selling purple cloth was a means of funding for the missionary work of Paul and others.

Scripture talks about the gifts God gives the Church, and many of these are not specific to the office of pastor. To do as Jesus commanded, we need pastors and missionaries, but we also need those people who are willing to make disciples in every other walk of life and come alongside those in vocational ministry to build the body of believers.

The ministry of the Church does not just take place in the building we call the church. Pastor, I often hear you say the church is not a building but the people. If that is the case, then we also need to broaden our understanding of what ministry is and where it occurs. We minister to people through our hospitality, our compassion, our obedience, and our walking in the calling of God on our lives. When we do this, we are the Church God calls us to be. How we talk about what ministry is and how it functions matters.

The roles of pastor and missionary are important — vital, actually. But consider how those you minister to can come alongside you to help with the finances, volunteer coordination, networking, marketing, legal counsel, etc. Together, we are doing the work of the Church, ministering to a lost and dying world. If every member is a minister, then shifting how we talk about what ministry is can open doors to people who have never known that the gifts God gave them are also for the Church.

Pastor, what I want you to know about God’s calling to a vocation is this: Those doing jobs we don’t traditionally associate with ministry sometimes feel like second-class members in the kingdom of God. The message you communicate to them can make a world of difference.

There are people who are ready and willing to pursue a life of ministry if only someone empowered them to do so right where they are, in the work God gave them to do. Imagine the reach the Church would have if we took down the siloed walls of vocation and treated all Christians as ministers, regardless of whether ministry is their full-time job.

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