Have you ever been in church on Sunday morning when one of the pastoral staff made the announcement that they were being called to another church? If so, you probably are well aware that the “call” of which they speak is not merely a call from a hiring committee. Rather, it is a call from God himself.
If you’re like me, you have noticed that more often than not, when God makes this call, it is to a more prestigious appointment, e.g. a larger, more successful congregation in a more desirable city or neighborhood. In other words, God appears to call pastors in a way that looks all but indistinguishable from secular career advancement, or what we used to call “moving up the career ladder”.
It isn’t long before some of us begin to ask: given that this looks like secular career advancement, how do we know that it isn’t merely secular career advancement? That’s a terribly important — and terribly awkward — question to be asking.
Note how people typically don’t ask the same questions of Christian medical doctors, teachers, lawyers, or car salesmen. If Smith is a lowly car salesman at Honest Al’s Used Car Lot, and he is suddenly offered a prestigious managerial position at Metro City Porsche, he doesn’t feel any need to sanctify the move by saying God called him to Porsche. The money’s better, the job security is better, the work conditions are better, and Smith gets to drive a new Cayenne home at the end of the day rather than his rusty Plymouth. Done!
Now consider Pastor Jones: after putting in several long years at Podunk Baptist, he is offered a prestigious head pastor position at Metro City Community Church. But while Smith is free simply to take the job at Metro City Porsche as a smart career move, Pastor Jones is obliged to baptize his decisions as a divine call. Why?
Is it really the case that God takes a special interest in the career decisions of pastors and missionaries which he doesn’t extend to other more “secular” denizens of the kingdom? How do those pastors and missionaries avoid merely baptizing self-interest as the call of God? And how are the rest of us to reconcile the call of the kingdom to our careers?