For decades we’ve modeled the pastoral vocation on that of corporate CEOs. We often see the pastor’s task as rallying people and resources to advance the goals of their institutional ministry. In my latest book, Futureville, I unpack the neglected theology of vocation and its implications for the way we think about the pastor’s calling for the called. Below is an excerpt from Futureville.
“Right, now pay attention.” Few people spoke to James Bond with more condescension than his quartermaster—known simply as Q. Bond’s interactions with Q were often my favorite scenes in the 007 movies. They followed a predictable formula. Having been given his orders by M, the head of the British secret service, Bond then reported to Q to receive the gizmos, gadgets, and guns necessary to accomplish his mission. Bond’s casual disrespect for the quartermaster’s work created a playful tension between the two and provoked Q’s frustrated calls to, “Pay attention, Double-O-Seven!”
The pattern evident within Her Majesty’s Secret Service actually fits nicely with what Scripture says about the role of leaders in the church. While the popular model of ministry today views pastors more like M—the organizational chief who determines the agents’ missions—the New Testament presents a model of church leadership that looks more like Q. The apostle Paul says: “And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:11-12).
Like Bond’s quartermaster, leaders are to “equip” Christ’s people. This equipping is first applied to our common calling to “[build] up the body of Christ.” In other words, leaders equip us to serve one another within the community of Christians so that we may all grow in our communion with Christ. Here’s another way of thinking about church leaders: the pastor’s specific calling (to equip the saints) allows us to accomplish our common calling (to build up the church family), so that we all attain our highest calling (to live in unity with Christ).
In this model of leadership, however, the church leader is not given the mandate to determine each believer’s specific calling. The pastor is not like M—the one determining the mission for each of God’s “special agents.” While we all have a common calling that can be known and articulated by a pastor, as previous discussed, determining each person’s specific calling is a task reserved for God alone. For example, before ascending to the Father, Jesus called Peter to shepherd his disciples. Three times Jesus told Peter to “feed” or “tend” his sheep. In addition, the Lord said that Peter’s specific calling would include martyrdom. Perhaps Peter was less than thrilled with this career path, because immediately after hearing it he noticed another disciple, John, and asked Jesus about his specific calling. The Lord swiftly rebuked Peter, “If it is my will that he remains until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” In the scene we see Peter’s temptation to overstep his equipping role of feeding the sheep. He wanted to know, and perhaps influence, John’s specific calling; but Jesus makes it clear that this kind of calling is not Peter’s responsibility.
Similarly when Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” he does not tell his apostles to call or send more workers. Instead he instructs them to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.” Calling is the Lord’s prerogative. He is the head of the church, directing each of his servants to the work he has determined.
This requires a different model of leadership within the church. Rather than a command-and-control CEO model, where the pastor seeks to align every person and resource around the church’s institutional goals, leaders should be equipping God’s people to fulfill the specific callings they have received from the Lord because these specific callings are a significant way God’s work is manifested in the world. As Paul says earlier in his letter to the Ephesians, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Some of these “good works” fall into the category of our common calling, but many more of them are going to be the specific works assigned to each of God’s children. This model of leadership would also nullify the objections and cynicism of a generation that views the church as self-serving. Rather than simply recruiting Christians to serve within the confines of the institutional church, the equipping model of leadership helps each person discover and fulfill Christ’s calling for his or her life in his world.
Imagine a Christian community where followers of Christ are not merely focused upon church-based programs, but they are taught how to commune with Christ and glorify him in business, the arts, medicine, education, and every other channel of the culture where he has called them. Such a church would exist not to advance its own agenda but to advance the common good. Each person would know what part of God’s world he or she is called to cultivate with the order, beauty, and abundance of Futureville. Their callings would all be diverse, occurring in different parts of the world and in various channels of culture, but every calling would be held in esteem by the church as coming from Christ and as part of his plan to redeem of all things.
As Christians are equipped for these callings, their good works would benefit not only the church but everything and everyone in the community. Imagine Christian educators bringing order, beauty, and abundance to schools so students and their families thrive. Imagine Christian business leaders cultivating industries that value people, pay them fairly, and steward natural resources. Imagine Christian artists creating works of beauty that lift the spirits of those who have endured war or disease. Imagine Christian civic leaders passing just laws to ensure evil is restrained and life-giving order is possible. Such Christians would not only bring flourishing to our world, but they would also be cultivating the presence of Futureville today. They would serve as signs of God’s presence in the world and his mission to redeem all things through the power of the resurrection of Christ”Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work.
The paths of evolution and evacuation have no use for a theology of vocation, which explains why the idea of vocation has virtually disappeared within the contemporary church.
These paths, and the leaders that promote them, have predetermined what work is important. One values social transformation, and the other values saving souls. If God is going about the redemption of all things, however, and this redemption was inaugurated with Jesus’ resurrection, then hearing his call for our lives takes on unparalleled importance. His call is how we discover what part of the world we are called to cultivate to reflect the values of Futureville. But receiving our specific call can only happen through the presence of the Holy Spirit and when leadership in the church is focused upon equipping God’s people rather than using them.
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