In the final issue of this anniversary year, we look back once again to our history to see how it applies to us today.
I never wanted to be a pastor. Of course, if you look up at my bio line, you’ll see things didn’t go the way I intended…
Still, I always looked up to pastors. “They are doing the Lord’s work,” I thought, “but I don’t have the skills (namely, communication skills) required to do that.” I thought that somehow pastors had better calls than anyone else, that when God looked at the vocations of different people, He was most pleased with pastors. After all, they were directly preaching His Word. They must be better.
But then I got to Bethany Lutheran College (to study communication, of all things) and was introduced to the Biblical doctrine of vocation. Vocation, from a Latin word which means
“calling,” teaches that each person has unique callings that God has given to them. God calls us to be in relation to other people. If a man has a wife, his vocation to her is that of a husband, which carries with it all sorts of good works God desires for him to do. His wife in return has a vocation to him. If a woman has a son, her vocation to him is that of a mother, which again comes with good works God desires her to do. If a teenager has a friend, her vocation is that of a friend. If a young adult has a job, his vocation is that of an employee to his boss and a colleague to his coworkers.
It is important to know that vocation doesn’t have to do with our relationship to God, but rather our relationship to other people. It is where we put love into action, where we accomplish the good works God has prepared for us to do. As it has been said, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.”
The offices of pastor and teacher are vocations. But they are no more meritorious, no more pleasing to God than a farmer who serves others by growing food for others to eat, or a woman who stays home to serve her children in her vocation as a mother. In our vocations, we don’t serve God directly. Rather, we serve others. Through our work done for others, which God has given us in Christ to do, God is served and with this God is pleased.
Pastors, despite what I originally thought, don’t serve God directly, either. They too are called to serve others, but in a very specific way: they proclaim publicly the forgiveness of sins. We commonly say that pastors (and teachers) have a “Divine Call,” yet it is true that all people have callings from God – all Christians belong to the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:9) and all can proclaim the forgiveness of sins because God has given such authority to men (Matthew 9:8). The difference is that pastors are called to do this publicly and they receive their call through Christian congregations. Pastors don’t have a direct call from God, but a call mediated through a congregation.
In the history of our Synod, while the original Synod was just being formed, this was a big issue. Some people believed that they had direct callings from God to be ministers to groups of people. They would travel around and preach even though they lacked the proper Biblical training and a call from the church and even though their theology was often very flawed.
They felt that in order to really serve God, they must be ministers—public servants of the Word—even though they were not called to that vocation. Today, this is still a danger for all Christians.
We must remember that we don’t have to be doing “church work” in order to be working for God. We don’t all need a “ministry” to serve other people. Those who are the voters of the congregation serve God no better than those who are not. Those who spend every night in church meetings aren’t more pleasing to God than those who stay home to read evening devotions with their families. Pastors aren’t more holy because of their vocation.
But pastors are called to administer God’s holy things – His Holy Word, Holy Absolution, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion. Their vocations, like the vocations and work of all Christians, aren’t always easy. But the pastoral vocation is necessary, for through it, God makes orderly and regular opportunity for others receive the Gospel.
Ironically, it was understanding this doctrine of vocation that led me to more fully appreciate the teachings of God’s Word and finally pushed me to be a pastor, and it was others who suggested that I should become a pastor. Perhaps someone has suggested that you become a Pastor. If so, consider how God has already worked through you in your various vocations. Maybe God could use your unique skills to serve others specifically in the vocation of pastor or teacher.
Rev. Jeff Hendrix
Faith Lutheran Church