Is This a Career or a Calling?

Over the next several weeks, I and my colleagues will be thinking through the Complexity of Navigating Vocational Discernment during these strange and wonderful times.  If you’re like me and have a poor sense of direction, it’s very easy to get lost.  But finding one’s way in the dark or in a storm is challenging for the most capable navigators.  Thankfully we mustn’t travel alone.  There is light for our path, and a compass for our way.

Let me begin by saying:

  • You are not alone.
  • You have partners on this journey.
  • You have the gift of the Spirit to guide you.
  • You may feel lost, but GOD knows just where you are!

I realize that in some denominations, pastors are sent to congregations by a bishop or some other governing authority with little to no control over those assignments. Even so, most of us make choices about how and where we serve. Pastoral ministry is very much like any other career with one major caveat.  If we reduce it to ‘just a job’ and we begin to treat it as ‘just a job’ the tendency quickly arises to strive for the same goals that we would strive for if it was ‘just a job.’  Does this make sense?

Is this a career or a calling?

How we answer this question, can impact the integrity of our calling. If we view ministry as a career and embrace (solely) a performance based, promotion preoccupied approach to our calling – we diminish our calling. We undermine the integrity of our commitments, and we contradict the teachings of Christ. Our striving for promotion and success in God’s economy, should be marked by our impetus to willfully humble ourselves as we descend to serve.

The temptation to use congregations as steppingstones on a career track is damaging. Ambition is a noble thing, except when the goals are obscured by the raw desire for personal promotion. If we are aggressive or ambitious, let it be for God’s glory and for the good of those whom we’ve been given to serve.

This is not to say that we don’t all have times and seasons when the Spirit demands that we move on or step aside (which is sometimes a step up), but let’s make sure in our hearts that our intentions and motives are pure.

Here are a few questions we may consider:

How do we define success in ministry? 

What do we find most rewarding about ministry? 

What areas of ministry are we most drawn to (the-can’t-help-its)?

What do we find most frustrating about ministry – are there any deal-breakers?

What makes you want to quit? How often do we think about it? Why?

As we consider the answers to these questions, I admit that I am making an assumption. Our ‘callings’ are irrevocable and irresistible, but they are also seasonal.  Knowing if, when, and how to transition is difficult, but we can be faithful in our ‘unknowing’ as we discern GOD’s will for our lives. We can, with God’s help, figure this out together…

Pastoral ministry is not just an office or a title, it is indeed a calling. But we are called to particular people, in particular places, for particular periods of time.

May God help us all to discern the season!

(Excerpts taken from my book, “Blessed are the Tentmakers’)

  • Jason Cashing
    Posted at 10:03h, 15 February Reply

    The questions are important for ministers, and just as important for the laity whom we serve alongside! Thank you for sharing; I’ll be sharing these with the laity on my council.

  • Jim Kitchens
    Posted at 10:16h, 15 February Reply

    Adam, I agree with everything you wrote. I’ve had that conversation with many clergy over the years. AND, as I was reading it,this morning, the thought popped into my head, “I wonder if colleagues in the 17th century could have even conceptualized this idea.” Ah, to live in late stage capitalism!

  • Kevin Edwards
    Posted at 16:08h, 16 February Reply

    I think most Pastor’s get started in ministry based on feeling called into ministry. If you view being a Pastor as just a job, you are right that these individuals have missed the mark. As a Pastor you are called to shepherd the people who lean on you. The church members need to ultimately lean on Christ. Great post!

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