From the time we are old enough to form sentences, we are asked to articulate our plans for the future. While few people ask us to lay out a step-by-step action plan, each phase of life demands more nuance in our response. From “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to “What do you want to study in college?” to “Do you have a back-up plan?” the inquiries seemingly become more pointed and intrusive with each passing grade level.
Whether you call it a calling, career or vocation, what we endeavor to do for work weaves its way to the forefront of conversation throughout our lives. Within Christian culture, this also means prayerfully confronting the question: Do you feel called to full-time ministry?
This can be overwhelming for anyone.
From the high school senior picking a college or the executive who is self-evaluating, we all want to know that we are headed the right direction. At times this can mean standing at the crossroad of vocation and ministry.
If you are there now, trying to decide if our abilities are better suited for the church or the overall job market, here are some things to consider.
Ministry is more than being a minister
What does it mean to be called to ministry? The word ministry encompasses so much more than just the Church.
While apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were once the only ones recognized as doing the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13), we understand today that while they are ministers of the gospel, they are not the only ones who minister.
Their purpose within the ministry to equip the people of God to do the work of God. It is certainly important work, but these five distinctions are not the totality of ministry.
The Body of Christ takes many moving parts to function (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), likewise with churches and religious organizations. There are opportunities within ministry that utilize skills sought after in general job market.
You can sit on a board of directors, manage acquisitions or community relations, create continuity across social media platforms, or carefully direct fundraising efforts.
The limitations on how to use our skills to help build our local churches or to strengthen religious organizations are not limited.
Your vocation is a vehicle
In fact, whether you pursue a career in secular society or within traditional ministry, you are called to further the kingdom of God by the making of disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
In Christ, every single one of us is encouraged to live a life that is in obedience to the Word and will of God (James 2:14-26; John 14:23-24), and to relentlessly love the people around us (Luke 10:29-37; Matthew 22:39). Our vocation, when leveraged properly, is a vehicle through which we are positioned to accomplish these things.
The profession we choose and the company that we work for graft us into sectors of society that oftentimes we would not interact with otherwise.
We meet people and go to places that outside of our professional life, we would not encounter. When we choose vocations that reach into secular society, we are stepping into roles that give us opportunity to reach the lost right where they are and to be salt and light in the places that need it most. The prophet Daniel is a prime example of this.
You can do both
Although his people were captured and taken into exile, Daniel was brought into the service of a foreign king and excelled while gaining a secular education.
The young man, whom the Bible describes as attractive and skilled in wisdom, spent three years learning Babylonian culture (Daniel 1:1-6). Throughout this however, Daniel determined that he would not dishonor the Lord, defile his body or worship false Gods.
As a result, God showed Daniel favor in ways that caused him to be elevated to a formal government position and for the king to declare that there is no God like the God that Daniel serves.
A non-ministry job doesn’t mean you’re not “in ministry”
For Daniel, it was his devotion to God that granted him access and opportunity. His ministry as a prophet proved invaluable to him as he advised several kings.
He accomplished his tasks and took on secular responsibilities, but he did it with God at the forefront of his mind.
This is something we are encouraged to model by the apostle Paul in the book of Colossians. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23), he writes. He also reminds us to be obedient to our bosses, not just to get on their good sides, but to honor the Lord (Colossians 3:22).
If our inner desire when it comes to our careers is to honor the Lord, and we approach them with attitudes and actions that display this desire, then the divide between the secular and the sacred begins to shrink. We find ourselves, like Daniel, doing the work of the ministry in the middle of secular society. We find ourselves using our skills, being productive and exalting the name of the Lord. Ideally this leads to influence, which can lead to change. And change, when it brings things into alignment with the government, purpose and Spirit of God, is good.