When I was growing up, I wanted—at various points—to be an astronaut, a comic artist, a basketball player, and a guitar virtuoso. In my teens, though, my newfound faith brought clarity to my vocational search. I knew I wanted to teach the Bible so that others could also know Christ.
I’m sure there are others who feel or have felt as I have. Perhaps when you became a Christian you immediately sensed a clear call to church ministry, or perhaps over time you’ve had a growing sense you didn’t want to do anything else. In light of the gospel, of eternity, of what’s at stake, devoting your life to anything else seemed like wasting your life.
If that’s you, I’d like to offer both an encouragement and a warning.
First, I’d like to encourage you. Keep pursuing your call. The world needs more men called to preach the Word and love a flock for a lifetime. It needs more men and women in ministry who can teach, train, and mobilize local churches to carry out the Great Commission to the end of the age.
Second, I’d like to warn you. Whether you’re a pastor or working in another church staff position, it’s likely the congregation you serve will imitate you. Through your teaching and life together with them, they will learn to love what you love and hate what you hate, to value what you value and to despise what you despise.
That’s a blessing and a danger. It’s a blessing because your congregation will tend to reflect your strengths, but it’s a danger because they’ll reflect your weaknesses, too. This means they’ll be passionate about studying the Bible, growing in holiness, and sharing the gospel. But it may also mean they won’t find much significance and meaning in other things, particularly the things that aren’t directly “spiritual,” like their daily routines and jobs—the things they spend most of their hours doing. They will do those things out of obligation, all the while wishing they could be doing more “spiritual,” more, “missional,” more real work.
That would be a tragedy, if we failed to train our people for the work of ministry in every sphere (Eph. 4:1–13). And it would misrepresent the King, who deployed them to be worshiping ambasssadors in the world (2 Cor. 5:20).
Fresh Look at the Gospel and Its Implications
So as those who are, or who aspire to be, in church ministry, what can we do to avoid this? Here are two suggestions.
1. Don’t teach a small gospel.
Many of us have learned a version of the gospel that’s too small. The work of Christ (his life, death, resurrection, and ascension for us) is often seen as a mere ticket to heaven—a ticket that doesn’t really change how you view your current location. It’s a gospel that secures your eternity (which is glorious) but has no relevance for your daily life (which often feels anything but glorious). This truncated gospel doesn’t capture the full scope of our redemption.
The biblical gospel, however, is about the glory of God through our complete redemption (1 Thess. 5:23). God not only forgives our sins but also gives us his Spirit to walk with him (Rom. 5:1–5). Jesus gives himself for us “to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Through faith in Christ we are raised with him to new life—a new life that begins now (Rom. 6:1–11). Jesus is our Lord and Savior (2 Pet. 3:18) who summons us to follow him daily (Mark 10:45) and to do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:23). He calls us to make disciples and teach them to obey everything he’s commanded (Matt. 28:18–20). In our salvation, we’re more than justified; we’re sanctified, too.
Isn’t this gospel so much glorious than the truncated one? Doesn’t it give us a vision of the work we’re called to do from the moment we’re saved to the moment we pass into eternity?
Perhaps you already believe all these things; after all, they’re in the Bible, right? But perhaps you’re a bit skeptical about emphasizing them and thinking out their implications for all areas of your life, including your daily occupation. Doing so may feel like an underemphasis on the gospel’s indicatives (what Christ has done) and an overemphasis on its imperatives (what we do in response). But look again. True, the indicatives of the gospel always precede the imperatives, but if we fail to emphasize the implications of the gospel, we may eventually undercut the gospel itself.
2. Familiarize yourself with the faith-and-work conversation.
This isn’t a conversation about the relationship of faith and works in salvation, though it’s in some ways related. The faith and work conversation is about how Christians integrate their faith and daily callings—at home, at school, at the workplace. As TGC’s Theological Vision for Ministry states:
The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation. . . . Therefore Christians glorify God not only through the ministry of the Word, but also through their vocations of agriculture, art, business, government, scholarship—all for God’s glory and the furtherance of the public good.
When I started becoming acquainted with this conversation, I was skeptical. It all sounded a bit too Protestant ethic-y, too Kuyperian, too overrealized eschatology, too optimistic about what Christians can accomplish in this fallen world. Certainly there’s something to be said about unhelpful language often used. Yet I’ve come to see that faith and work is not about building the new heavens and new earth by our own efforts, but about how our faith in Jesus should not be sealed off from what we do each day. It should inform and shape everything we do, particularly our work.
I’ve come to see that faith and work is not about building the new heavens and new earth by our own efforts, but about how our faith in Christ should not be sealed off from what we do every day.
As someone who was born, grew up, and became a Christian in Latin America, I believe this vision of how the gospel influences work is a particularly urgent need there and in the larger Latin American and Hispanic community. By God’s grace, many are discovering the precious doctrines of the Reformation and embracing them with passion. Few, however, are working out the implications of a Reformed worldview for all areas of life—perhaps because they’re skeptical, like I was, of certain language used, or simply as a general overreaction to unsound doctrines (e.g., social, prosperity, and Roman Catholic “gospels”) so widespread in Latin America.
In trying to protect the gospel indicatives they love, they inadvertedly limit its imperatives.
Heavenly Minded Earthly Good
Pastoral ministry isn’t the only thing that should be framed by our faith. The same gospel that calls some to church ministry calls others to their own ministries at home and the workplace.
So learn about faith and work. Learn also about what your people do every day, and help them see the endless implications of their faith in relation to their work.
It’s sometimes said that Christians are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good—and in view of the truncated gospel many of us have believed, the labeling is sometimes justified. But there’s no reason this should be the case. The gospel—the full, rich, explosive biblical gospel—calls and equips us to be both.