Profession vs. Vocation?

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“What do you do?”

“I am a pastor.”

Onboard an airplane or waiting in line at the local coffee shop the response is met with little fan-fair. The profession simply does not have the same cache or intrigue as say…

“I am a doctor” or “I am a writer.”

We pastors find ourselves in a professional culture. It is a culture that determines value, status and significance via profession. “What do you do?” is not only the first question we ask, it is often the only question we ask, and it is certainly the most important question we ask. A person’s profession is their identity.

In many ways we have simply embraced this cultural understanding of identity. We are pastors. That is our profession. We admit such an identity does not garner accolades from the outside world, but within our Christian subculture, within our churches, it is a position of power and authority. It is a profession of merit. It is a profession that can offer significance within the Christian subculture we call home. Furthermore, there is a clearly defined path of success in our profession, and we want to be on it.

Like any other profession we develop skill sets and build resumes in order to move up and move ahead. Along with other professions, we seek to master our craft. In order to validate our career we measure our aptitude against our peers. We have to keep up with the competition, because in an age when other preachers can be watched online, people in our church can assess our productivity and giftedness against the backdrop of the “successful”. After all, our job security could be at risk, or we might miss out on the next opportunity or promotion.

But is this the only way to understand what it means to be a pastor? How can we avoid the danger of finding our identity in what we do and how well we do it? Surely, there is a way to pursue excellence in what we do that is not self-actualizing, self-preserving and self-glorifying. Perhaps the world of professionalism is not the only place where we can live and move and have our being. Perhaps we can situate our title under a different banner.

What other categories do we have to work with? What biblical images might offer us a better vision? Might I suggest the word, vocation (Eph. 4:1)? A vocation is a calling. We are called to be pastors.

By viewing our ministry as a vocation/calling our identity ceases to be couched within the confines of professional achievement. Rather, our identity is found in the One who has called us. We are merely a person who has been called by God, and this orients what we do within the confines of a relationship (John 15:16). Our identity is not bound up in our job, but bound up in Christ. In Christ the deepest truth of my identity is that I am a child of God (Romans 8:12-17).

In viewing the pastoral office as a vocation we are now constantly reminded that we have not earned our post. It is not by skill set, training or ability that we are here, but solely by the grace of God. Much like Moses we are unworthy of the call. We are merely a fisherman or a tax collector called by God. Consequently, just as our initial call was by grace, we can only succeed by His grace. “Success” is a matter of doing the will of Him who sent me, rather than accomplishing professional objectives. We are always in need of the One who called us, because apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). We are in a position of inability. Rather than appealing to our competency to “get the job done” we plunge into prayer, which is the only place we can go to find strength and wisdom. Developing our skill set or knowledge is not about mastery, but about faithfulness to the call of God. The pastoral vocation will always be wrought with temptations, but if we walk forward embracing the way of dependence and humility we will be faithful to the call placed upon our lives.

  • Bernie Jager

    so true