I remember sitting in church hearing sermon after sermon on the importance of giving it all up to serve God. These were great convicting sermons God used to melt my heart toward him. But I never knew exactly what God’s will looked like, specifically.
Did it mean leaving it all behind to go to the mission field? Did it mean surrendering to the “so-called” full-time ministry? Could non-professional ministry types possibly be doing God’s will in the “secular” culture?
It wasn’t until much later, after studying Scripture and reading some helpful books such as Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung and Work Matters by Tom Nelson that I grasped a full-orbed theology of vocation. The truth is that calling is not restricted to those receiving a paycheck from a Christian organization. And as a pastor, I’ve seen the vital importance of teaching this to our people, most of whom will enter the workplace on Monday feeling as if they are somehow on the Christian junior varsity, doing work that has a less eternal impact as the saints who work in religious contexts.
As leaders, we need to help Christians recapture the doctrine of vocation. We do this in two ways, I believe. First, we should infuse our preaching and teaching and counseling with the important truth that Christian ministry is but one place where God empowers people to serve him. We should resist the one-sided teaching that guilts hard-working lay people into thinking that their Monday-thru-Friday gigs are good only for the ten percent tithe, evangelism, and supporting their families. We should affirm their workplaces as areas where God is present and their hard work is a gift to the Creator. A plumber may be just as radical in his devotion as the missionary who digs wells in Africa. A stay-at-home mom may be as sacrificial as the translator in Equatorial Guinea. An airline pilot may be as much God’s man as the Senior Pastor.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had throughout the years with lay people who, after attending church for many years, felt their jobs were just “necessary evils” a means to an eternal end. Hundreds of times I’ve heard them say to me, “Dan, you are so lucky you get to work for God every day of the week.” My response is always, “You are working for God every day of the week, too.”
The second way we affirm this doctrine of vocation is to help others identify their unique life purpose. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that each person was placed on this planet to do works ordained by God before the world began. The gospel doesn’t call us away from our gifts and talents—it restores to us the purpose for which we were gifted in the first place. When I discuss this with fellow believers, I typically use this grid: pleasure, gifting, need, and circumstance.
We tend to make the discovery of God’s will harder than it is as if finding out our purpose is some nebulous, hard-to-grasp, ethereal thing. But it’s not. God speaks to us through prayer and through the Scriptures, but he also desires that we steward well the gifts and opportunities we’ve been given. To help people find their calling, I like to ask them a few leading questions: What kind of work gives you pleasure? What job would you do if you could choose any job in the world? What do people say you are good at?
Everyone has a package of gifts and talents that make them unique. Sometimes people don’t even recognize what they are good at until someone pats them on the back and says, “Hey, you are really gifted at this. Have you thought about pursuing it?”
When you combine pleasure and gifting, I think it leads people to the next step: how can your gifts and your desires best serve human need in the world? This is a market question (what careers best suit your unique talents) and a surrender question (how can I give away my life to serve others). Sometimes this leads to a career earning a paycheck from a Christian organization. Sometimes it leads to a career earning a paycheck from a business or corporation.
Lastly, I think we need to help people funnel all of these criteria into the circumstances. These involve leading questions like, How can I do what I love and still feed my family? Are there seasons of life where I do what I don’t love so much and build toward my ultimate calling? I don’t think we should lead people to make reckless choices to pursue a calling. Providing for a family is a holy calling in and of itself. Jon Acuff has written on this pretty well with his book, Quitter.
Every Christian leader will help equip his people differently, but it’s important that we affirm the unique callings of those people God has called us to serve, both in our public proclamations and in our private discipleship.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). Dan is the author of several books, including Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, Activist Faith, and his latest, The Original Jesus. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College and has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children and reside in the Nashville area. They attend Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, where Dan serves as Pastor of Teaching and Discipleship.