by Robert Earl Houston
In beginning the process of completing my Internal Revenue Service tax return, I came upon the line that asked for my occupation. Today I’ve been thinking about that over and over and over again – is ministry my calling or is it my vocation?
In 1978 while a student at Multnomah School of the Bible (now Multnomah University), a group of pastoral theology majors (me included) would have out at the local Burgerville, USA restaurant (don’t laugh – they have one of the best hamburgers in the country). Many of the names are a blur but the conversation one day wasn’t. It was in regards to the call of ministry. It was prompted by a tremendous lecture from our professor, the late Dr. Kopp.
A couple of us went on to describe our “call” – how the Lord had spoken either verbally and indirectly into our lives and we had responded to the call by surrendering our lives and life ambitions into the hands of the Lord. I was proud to say that the Lord had “called” me at the tender age of 17 and I felt led to prepare for a lifelong ministry.
Then the conversation took a turn for the worst.
One student said, “I tried being a plumber and the work was too hard, so I decided to go into the ministry . . .”
Then another said, “I was going to pursue a doctoral degree in medicine, but I figured I could make just as much by doing a degree in theology . . .”
And then another yet, “My father and grandfathers are pastor. That’s the ‘family business.'”
Wow . . .
Methinks that with some ministers today, those kind of illustrations are not just theory. Sadly, some ministers go because of talent instead of gifts; oratory instead of pneuma; a business plan instead of vision. Ministry is not a job, it’s a calling. It’s not a vocation, it’s a calling. It’s not something that you study to become, it’s something that you study because you are. Ministry is a calling!
The New Testament bears witness of Jesus calling His disciples (John 6:70 and other references) and that call is continued by Him through the Holy Spirit (Acts 9). There are volunteer workers to support the ministry, there are volunteers that financially support the ministry, but there are no recorded volunteer preachers. You’re either called or your not.
For those of us who are called, ministry is not performance. We don’t seek public affirmation of what the Lord has led us to do or preach. We don’t gauge this week’s sermon by last week’s sermon. We view a “flunk” in preaching as a bump in the road and not the reason for resignation. We view our ministries in terms of seasons instead of years.
I don’t know whatever happened to those guys. But I do know what happened to the one who is writing this blog – he is a minister.