By Jonathan David Faulkner,
This is a Think Piece, as in, we are thinking through this topic and this is not our final stance on it. Please be gracious as we take on you on this adventure of us learning.
One of my brothers from Sterling brought this question up in a group chat with me and another brother last week, and I am glad he did. As we have all been thinking through what it really means to be Christians and have taken a critical look at the American Church we have used the group to raise those questions which often come up when looking at what we have always accepted as true. American Christianity has always taught us that you are called by God to a certain vocation and you have to be sure that God is calling you to that Vocation. This might be alright if Scripture taught it and if it had not left an entire generation of believers wondering what God was going to lead them to do as a career.
Of course, this was the idea I encountered when I first arrived at Seminary: “You should be seeking God to help you figure out your calling while you are here.” As if those unsure just do not know what God is going to do with them so they should seek Him to figure that out while they are here. Part of that is right, we should seek God to know what He has for us to do. When it comes to both our careers though I have started doubting that God calls people to specific vocations.
Do not get that confused with “I have started to doubt God,” nothing could be further from the truth. I have more confidence and a deeper faith in Him than ever, I am not questioning Him and I certainly do maintain that God can do what he wants, which includes calling to a certain vocation, but I do not think that it goes that way most of the time.
I also do not find that to be the case in scripture. Sure one can look at (as they often do) the calling of Peter or of Paul. The great Theophany that is described in the narrative of the four Gospels and the book of Acts. But to say that “God is going to do it this way with you” is to make experience normative. It makes sense of God to work that way in Israel at the time. It was for the establishment of His catholic (universal) church. The Gospels had not been written yet, the Gentiles had little to no access to hearing the good news and so God had called these men to do a specific task. And sometimes God does call us to a specific task, in fact, we are all called to a shared task. Being ministers of the Gospel.
That does not mean that we are all pastors, because we are not, but we are called to share the good news of the Gospel and make disciples of all nations. That is the shared calling of the church and because we are all created uniquely we all will do that in a different manner and through different means. This separates Calling from Vocation because it says that we are not called to a specific vocation but a specific, and shared, task. The calling of the believer is plain to us in Scripture, it is stated in both the Old and New Testaments by various writers over thousands of years and it never changes.
As for the idea that churches call pastors, I think that is sound, because God is sovereign over where we go and churches should seek after Him in deciding who is going to serve them under the leadership of Christ.
What about Vocation?
So what about our vocations? You might also ask, “Well, how did you know you are supposed to be a pastor? How did you come to the conclusion of your Vocation?”
That’s a tricky question for me, given my story one would think that I would run fast and far at the prospect of being a pastor. I remember distinctly when God brought that idea to mind, and I say He did it, because it was an unnatural thought to me at the time, to even consider being a pastor. But as other evaluated my skills and walked with me through life they began to affirm that as a very good potential vocation for me.
As God changed my heart over the next few years after it began to become something I wanted to do. I wanted to be with God’s people, I was starting to love them more and more deeply. I love the church, with all our dysfunctions and I want the church to know of the deep love of God for them. As much as I rail against the American Church, I do love it, I just want to see it built up and abandon those things that have kept it from knowing the fullness of God.
One of my brothers pointed out that what should lead us to our vocations then is where our pleasure, desires and skills place us. Those skilled in teaching scripture should probably be pastors or professors. I have had two vocations in my adult life, working as a grounds keeper and pastoring a small church. Both were enjoyable to me, I could have been happy in both, but my love for God’s people makes the second one more preferable.
For the man who is good with numbers, perhaps accounting is the best vocation for him based on the skills that God has given him. That man is still called to be a minister of the Gospel, this would make his vocation a means to carrying out his call.
Vocation as means to call is closer to what Scripture describes for us. We see this specifically in Paul who made tents so that he could carry out his call. Tent making became was his vocation, preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles was his call.
When we separate vocation and call we create less panic in the life of the believer. God has called us to live out and be ministers of the Gospel, the means by which we do that are our vocations.
I think this view also requires us to abandon the rampant individualism that has become a huge problem within the church in America. Forcing us to see one another as part of a large body, trying to carry out that which we are collectively called to. It also forces us to stop seeing as some vocations as “Less holy” than others. Eliminating dividing lines that society puts between the Pastor and the Janitor. Making us one body, carrying out one call through different means.
Because we are one, with one call, let’s do it together and seek to do it by grace alone.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree inChristian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry