BI.233 “The Bible and the Hermeneutics of Ministry,”
Describe your understanding of Christian vocation and ministry (one page, single-spaced).
As is no doubt unsurprising, my understanding of Christian vocation and ministry is deeply shaped by the polity and mores of the Presbyterian Church (now P.C.U.S.A.). Chapter Two of the Book of Order’s “Form of Government” indeed opens with a declaration of Christ’s ministry as it is expressed through the humans whom he calls into being his Church, noting that “[t]he basic form of ministry is the ministry of the whole people of God[…]” (Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.) 2017, G-2.01). Thus ministry is inseparable from breathing while being Christian — we are all Christ’s ministers in whatever ways he chooses to deploy us. We are to serve each other, extending God’s new creation in how we live and how we interact with the other folk we encounter, regardless of their circumstances or faith choices.
Vocation, then, in part becomes whatever work that is set before the Christian. Understanding God’s providence as pervasive and believing with Paul that “God makes all things work together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” (NRSV, Romans 8:28) no job of work lands outside God’s scope of Kingdom employment. This not only elevates labor that is not socially prestigious, but can operate to submerge any tendencies toward pride in one’s work should that work be shepherding a congregation. Per Presbyterian understandings of ministry, a Minister of Word and Sacrament is a particular role just as semiconductor analog design engineer is a particular role, with God deploying both in our time of already/not-yet. Despite customs of social deference, to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament is not more valuable to God than to be a McDonald’s staffer.
That said, there is a nuance of the word “vocation” that lies beyond the sense of “the work one happens to be doing.” There is a sense of calling and discernment that most invoke when discussing their “vocation” and not their “job.” This idea that, as a Christian, God created one to do a particular work — or works — makes it our responsibility to spend time and give attention to discovering what God’s intention for us might be. “Let this therefore be the first step, that a [person] depart from [themselves] in order that [they] may apply the whole force of [their] ability in the service of the Lord” (Calvin, Institutes, vol. 1, Bk 3, Ch 7, Pt 1). Rather than randomly bouncing from activity to activity, one hopes that intentionally seeking to work according to what God is interested in having happen will both bring one closer to God as well as contribute toward embodying God’s realm on earth.
As Christ’s operatives, Christians thus vocationally serve “in order that we may therefore think, speak, meditate, and do, nothing except to his glory” (Institutes, Vol 1, Bk 3, Ch 7, Pt 1). The particulars of the vocation are less important than the Christian’s effort to remain aligned for the moving of the Holy Spirit “so that the [person themselves] may no longer live but hear Christ living and reigning within [them] [Gal 2:20]” (Institutes, Vol 1, Bk 3, Ch 7, Pt 1). Similarly, that person seeking to live a congruent Christian life will find opportunities for ministry — to serve as Christ would serve — in expected and unanticipated corners of their life. In calling us to God’s realm, Christ gave us a picture where everything small, large, and in-between weaves together to express God’s chesed. Our ministries and vocations are components of the warp and weft strung onto that loom.
Calvin, Jean, and Ford Lewis Battles. 2001. Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion. The Library of Christian Classics. Louisville, Ky: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
Coogan, M. D. 2010. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version : An Ecumenical Study Bible. Vol. 4th, rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.). 2017. Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2017-2019, Pt. 2 : Book of Order. Louisville, Ky: Office of the General Assembly.