3 Trends In The Call To Vocational Ministry

My call to ministry was not a flash of light, an audible voice, or a burning bush.

It was a process over time. In fact, after sensing God’s call I “ran” from it for a little over a year. Instead of pursuing full-time ministry, I followed my college degree program in Criminal Justice and worked as a Private Investigator.

Over the course of that year God’s voice became clear and my call inescapable. God’s loving and patient hand wrestled me down to a lifetime call in full-time ministry.

I have loved God and His church in full-time ministry now for over 35 years. I could not then or now imagine doing anything else.

There was a time when I thought most men and women experienced something similar. That is no longer the case.

God moves in very different ways for different reasons to call whom He chooses into vocational ministry.

I will admit there was a time when I was cautious about whether or not someone was serious about their call. My perspective has changed.

I still firmly believe each person should step into ministry without any sense of being double minded or opportunistic. They should be fully and seriously committed to God’s purpose. However, how that plays out may look very different from person to person.

(Vocational ministry is not limited to the local church, but the context of this post is focused there.)

Three trends in the “call” to vocational ministry:

1) Who God Calls

It was only a generation or so ago that most of the individuals called to full-time ministry were young adults in high school or college.

The “next generation” of vocational church leaders no longer refers only to young adults. I love the young millennials who are responding to a call to full-time ministry, but there are other age groups as well.

Here are three examples:

  • There’s an emerging group of adults who were in full-time ministry that stepped out for a season into the business arena. They now consider returning to the church. It’s not a huge movement yet, but this group intrigues me.The reason they capture my attention is that they know and understand the local church and they chose to return. I love the church, but it’s not easy, and this group knows it. They have experience, and now have more maturity and resolve.
  • There is an increasing group of adults (called “Half-Timers”) who have been in business or non-profit for perhaps 15-20 years and sense God’s call to vocational ministry. They bring a wealth of experience to the local church.This group isn’t new to the church environment, but we only have about 20 years of the Half-Timers slowly moving to vocational ministry. Bob Buford began to write about it in 1997. My point here is that this group is increasing, and we are wise to pay attention to this group, to help many pursue ministry.
  • There is a growing group of Boomers, a huge group in fact, who are taking earlier retirements after about 25-30 years in the workforce who sense a call to vocational ministry. They have no desire to retire fully.They are sold out to God and have served faithfully for decades as volunteers. Money is not the issue; many would serve for a modest salary. This has huge potential for moving God’s Kingdom forward.

2) How God Calls

God began to make my call clear through several people and processes, I responded over time, and it took many years to become ordained. That is still an excellent route for many but is also nearly obsolete for others.

God’s voice must always be in the center of a call, (it’s His Church), but the traditional route doesn’t fit everyone.

It’s now more of a blend rather than clear lines of distinction between those who are full time and those who volunteer.

For example, there is a significant and growing group of business people who lead their businesses wholly for God and minister within their businesses. It’s a beautiful partnership with the local church.

This merger or blend of calling does not diminish the more traditional call; it’s an elevation of a lay movement rising to their greatest Kingdom potential.

On a practical level inside the church, the scope and definition of ministry has changed. We now have production specialists, creative teams, IT specialists, social media experts, etc. Without these uniquely called and gifted individuals, the church doesn’t function on a relevant level in current culture.

Their call to ministry is just as valid as ministry directors and ordained pastors.

3) What God Plans

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

When it comes to how God wants to advance His Kingdom, culture is changing, and therefore new things are happening. I hope we are all open and receptive.

Much of my generation thinks of calling as a lifetime thing. I still believe that is right for thousands of men and women. But it’s not true for everyone.

God can bring people into vocational ministry for a season and send them back out into the marketplace. Both environments serve as training grounds.

I love the potential in this because it strengthens the partnership and bond between the church and business and non-profit by us understanding each element better.

The future is bright!!

11 thoughts on “3 Trends In The Call To Vocational Ministry”

  1. Dan, this is a very interesting article. I could actually end up being in that 3rd group you described in 1) Who God Calls. I’m still waiting to see what God does there because as you said in 2) God’s voice must always be in the center of a call. I especially like the insight you shared that God can move people in and out of vocational ministry during different seasons of their life. I think what God is teaching me at the present time is that if we are sold out and seeking Him with all of who we are then we are all vocation ministers, no matter what that vocation is.

    There is another trend I see that I think is worth some discussion but, I approach this very cautiously. Am I wrong in stating there is a growing trend, where vocational ministry is being viewed many times as just another job or career option. There are a number of things that attract people to vocational ministry but sometimes, I think we forget that God’s call must be at the center as you state and, while I don’t believe seminary is a requirement for someone who is called, I do believe the Bible is clear that those we put in positions of leadership should be people who are mature in their faith and people whom God has equipped for the role.

    1. I don’t see that as a trend, but I do see it as a risk in very large churches — where a position can be seen as just a “job.” Fortunately, I don’t see that often. It’s a complex matter and deserves our attention.

  2. Hey Dan,
    I’m a long time reader, however this is my first time commenting. There is another group that is on the increase that I’ve been a part of for 13 years. I’m an ordained Baptist Pastor in WV. But I’m bi-vocational, I’m a blend of both full time vocational ministers and full time in the workplace. This is a trend that we are starting to see on the increase in WV as a lot more churches are in need of pastoral leadership, however they can’t afford a full time minister. There is hope in gaining credentials and being used by Christ’s kingdom on this road I’m on. I’m recognized regionally for my ordination, I’ve been the association moderator and vice-moderator, and I’m on the association ordination committee.
    This type of ministry is very hard, as it requires 2 full time “jobs”. You have to be willing to give all of your self to building Christ’ kingdom. However, it is very fruitful as you keep your self grounded with the “real world” and are able to use that to minister to those in the church.

    1. Hi Casey! Glad you are a long time reader. This is a GREAT add! Thank you for bringing this into the conversation. You are so right, this is a big trend and a complicated one because of how much demand it places on the church leader / pastor. I’m also talking with businessmen who are stepping in to fill these bi-vocational “empty pulpits” because there are not enough pastors. Very interested in where this leads us.

  3. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for your insights…as a businessman who grew up as a pastors son, and long resisted the call to vocational ministry, this article rings true. Being a Christ centered leader in the marketplace and in the volunteer community play big roles in my current endeavors.

    Your perspective on current leadership not allowing their own experience to wholly define how someone else may experience God’s call is a point on which I believe many leaders struggle to find balance, understandably so, and in which leaders would do well to inquire more fully, and look more closely, at the reasons behind the acceptance or rejection of those who wish to engage with excellence in empowering others in the pursuit of a deeply personal relationship with our Creator. Our callings must indeed be above all Christ centered, and wholly committed to the excellence and service Jesus Christ emulated and taught–that is the main thing–beyond that we must encourage and inspire one another to excellence in every facet of life, as the contagious pursuit of excellence brings us into harmony with the heart and mind of God.

    Spiritual leaders possess the influence to empower or discourage full engagement with Divinely inspired purpose. While this is a weighty accountability, leaders would do well to take note of this accountability, and pursue with assiduity a necessary alignment with God’s heart, to be better enabled to give inspired response when engaging with those who are truly responding to the call of the Almighty.

    1. David, Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate comments. This kind of depth of thinking is both encouraging and inspiring. Thank you again, and thanks for sharing a glimpse of your story. Dan

  4. Hi Dan,

    In your article you state:

    “This merger or blend of calling does not diminish the more traditional call; it’s an elevation of a lay movement rising to their greatest Kingdom potential.”

    Does this statement imply that clergy has a higher, more elevated position over laity?

    1. No, clergy or even simply on staff implies greater responsibility than laity, but not elevated in value or spiritual importance. Only on a practical level, clergy carry a distinct responsibility. In fact, if anything, it implies more of a partnership in ministry between clergy and laity, rather than one higher and one more subservient.

  5. First time reader. I was called at age 8 to prepare for the pastorate. At age 17 I was a Chaplain Assistant in the US Army. After service, I went to college and took my first pastorate. 11.5 years later, I left the pulpit. I felt I had been released from my call. I retrained and am still in ministry, but in the corporate world. I feel that Ministry is more effective in the workplace where I am, than I ever was in the church.

    However, many people, especially preachers treat me as toxic. That somehow, I am not doing God’s will. Many have voiced that If I’m not preaching, then I am out of God’s will and am hopelessly lost. It is hard to feel rejected by the brotherhood I love so dearly.

    1. Mark,

      Thank you for sharing a part of your story.

      I’m sorry for how you have been treated by some people, but rest assured, you can carry on a significant and strong ministry in the marketplace. You can deliver the gospel there with hands and feet often better than we who teach on Sunday morning. Truth is, we need both. Keep doing what you are doing and know that any way you can take Jesus to the marketplace, is good!


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