By Dr. Nathan Hitchcock, Associate Professor of Church History and Theology
No One Gets an Exemption from a Calling
Long before I was a seminary professor I was a bear.
In southern California there was a local children’s newspaper called Bear Essential News. At their community events they featured their mascot, Benson the Bear. The Benson costume was enormous, however, and no one at the company could make it fit. Enter me, the kid who towered at 6’3”. Wearing the bear costume was like sitting in a sauna. But the pay was good and, as a bonus, I got to dole out hundreds of hugs to kids and their bashful parents. Even so, even in the midst of such ministry, I remember asking, “God, when are you going to call me into ministry?”
Fast-forward the story: I was working for a national mortgage company serving as a notary coordinator. The job felt alienating most days and the workplace environment was oppressive. (Indeed, the company ended up collapsing under its corrupt practices.) However, in those hard times I got to know dozens of fellow employees, counseling many of them and getting all sorts of opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus. It was a rich time of service, yet again I was asking, “God, when are you going to call me into ministry?”
Fast-forward a few more years: I was finally a pastor. I was preaching, teaching, leading worship, doing all sorts of public, holy things. Yet what shocked me was just how normal most of the job felt. Behind the scenes were all the “worldly” tasks I thought I was getting away from: budgets, reports, scheduling problems, interpersonal conflict, office politics.
Each generation of Christians has struggled with a perceived split between the sacred and secular. At face value only a select number of people have holy, churchy jobs; most people have profane, worldly jobs. Yet this is only an appearance. In God’s economy every job is sacred and secular. Some jobs (like data entry for a mortgage company) have a secular exterior – but underneath is a sacred interior. The kingdom of heaven is just beneath the surface of the kingdom of this earth, you might say. So too it is the case that sacred jobs have the secular just beneath their skin. The international missions organizer still has to think through general liability insurance.
Beyond all our anxiety about sacred and secular, at some point we must hear the promise of God: vocational ministry is for all. No one gets an exemption from a calling.
Consider afresh a remarkable promise found in the book of Joel. The prophet describes a period of great economic and political turmoil for Israel. Famine has hit the land on account of invading armies and, it seems, a locust plague. Priests and farmers alike are suffering (1:8-12). The Day of the LORD is at hand. Yet the Day of the LORD is not principally about destruction. It is also the occasion of great renewal for priest and peasant alike. After the time of corporate repentance God will restore the fortunes of Israel and cast out all her enemies (2:18-27). Most remarkable of all:
It shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit (2:28-29, ESV).
All flesh! In the end times everyone will be empowered by the Spirit to do ministry, receiving revelation and serving in priestly ways.
God never promised to pull His people away from their fields and flocks, the vineyards, and marketplaces. He did, however, promise to pour out the Holy Spirit as His saints went about their work. Empowered in such a way, believers go about all their “secular” tasks in a new way.
We are called. As called ones, some put on Dickies and steel toed boots, others a suit and tie, others still a robe and collar. And a few really blessed ones get to dress up like a bear.