I usually write posts that include lists, but this one is different. I thought it might be good to post on Labor Day.
Somebody asked me the other day how I determine God’s will for my life, and I think I may have surprised him when our conversation led to a discussion about bi-vocational ministry. So, I figured I would lay my thoughts out there on my website and invite you to critique my thinking.
Here’s where I land: God called me to Him first. Then, He called me to a task more than a role.
When I was 13 years old, God saved me. That same day (the first time I was in church in my life), I’m certain God called me to preach. I was sitting on the front pew of the church, and I sensed very clearly in my heart these words: “I want you to preach My Word.” Those words were so pounding to me that I have never questioned that calling in over 40 years.
What I have learned, though, is that my calling was to this task – without specificity about the role. For the first part of my ministry, I served as a senior pastor for fourteen years. I’ve served as a seminary professor for almost twenty years since then. At the same time, I’ve worked with a mission board either part-time or full-time for the last seven years. My side business as a church consultant is simply another way for me to do ministry.
In every role, though, I’ve been a preacher of the gospel. God has expanded my understanding of His heart, and I’ve learned much about multiple platforms for preaching the gospel; however, my calling hasn’t wavered. My locations have changed, and my titles have differed – but my calling has never waned. “I want you to preach My Word” is still at the center of everything I do.
Now, here’s where I think I may have surprised my friend. I genuinely believe I could tomorrow start teaching high school English in a public school system (my undergrad training) and still fulfill my calling as long as long I’m preaching the gospel. I assume that role would be a bi-vocational role as pastor or missionary, but it could even be a non-paid position. Life would be different (primarily because I’ve been full-time inside the church world for so long), but my calling wouldn’t change. I could preach the Word in a bi-vocational role and not risk my obedience a bit.
In fact, it might be that I would have more immediate access to non-believers in a public school role. Sure, I would need to be careful how I shared the gospel, but I could still be light in an increasingly dark world. It’s even possible I’d have more immediate opportunities to reach out to students of other world faiths than I do in my current role. I trust I could, in God’s power, lead a church to reach its community without my depending on that congregation for my salary. And, my teaching English again could further prepare me to teach English at a later time anywhere in the world, including places where the gospel has not gone.
My calling is to God and the work of preaching the gospel. I’m glad, frankly, for this calling to a task. I’ve been privileged to serve in multiple roles, and perhaps God will bless my serving in others someday—including in an intentional bi-vocational role.
I don’t know what those roles might be. What I do know is that He won’t allow me to stop preaching His Word. I’m okay with that.