Saturday, December 10, 2011

Between Calling and Employing

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 10 Dec 2011

"Adonay Yahweh is coming with power to rule with authority. His reward is with him, and the people he has won arrive ahead of him. Like a Shepherd he takes care of his flock. He gathers the lambs in his arms. He carries them in his arms. He gently helps the sheep and their lambs." (Isa 40:11, GW)

One pastor says this: "I know what to do. I know who to visit. I know what to preach and to teach. But I just don't WANT to do it anymore."

Discouragement. No amount of training can ever prepare anyone for this dose of reality. Years of experience cannot eradicate this. Neither can rest and relaxation prevent this state of emotional despair from ever occurring. This pastor says it very well. He knows exactly what needs to be done and what can be done. When it comes to personal motivation, there is no clear answer. My pastor friends tell me that the average number of years a pastor shepherds any congregation is about 3-5 years. After 3-5 years, they will venture into a newer parish and start the countdown all over again. Perhaps it is due to the lack of energy to continue with their existing parishes. Perhaps, they feel no longer as effective as before. Perhaps, they sense a change in God's calling for their lives. Maybe, all of these are related to this one word: Discouragement.

Pastors are not super-spiritual people. They are human and very vulnerable. I remember one particular time when I had an issue that I could not resolve with a pastor. Aware of the impasse, the senior pastor gently says this to me: "You need to trust me."

Of course, as a young church member, I let the stubborn side of me dominate: "Trust? Trust has first got to be earned."

The Fine Line Between Calling and Employing

One of the biggest differences between working for non-profit and for-profit organizations is simply between 'calling' and 'employing.' All organizations need both. However, the sense of calling is more necessary in non-profits where there is minimal monetary benefit. Those in profit-based corporations often remain with the job happily as an employee because of the money they are making. I have spoken to many people in various places, and one of the most common reasons why they stay in their 'crappy' jobs is because they need the money.

Not the paid minister. Very often, the pastor has given up his cushy job in the corporate world, so as to answer the call to serve God in a full-time capacity. The pay is minimal. The hours are maximal. There is no such thing as a union based 40-hour only workweek for the pastor. There is no way the pastor can forget about work in the office after 5pm. Sometimes, his work actually starts after dinner time. There are meetings to attend, and visitations to make. Small groups meet in the evenings, and weekends are perhaps the busiest times for the paid minister.

For paid ministers in Church, the line between 'calling' and 'employing' becomes very thin the longer the pastor serves in the same Church. One pastor begins his ministry, high on 'calling' and low on 'employing.' He ends his ministry low on 'calling,' and high on 'employing.' Steve Harper of Asbury Seminary makes this observation.
"I am surprised how many pastors lack confidence. They approach their lives and their work more as employees than as beloved sons and daughters. The most extended and deep period of spiritual dryness I have ever experienced occurred when I lost this sense in my own life and settled for a kind of 'mechanical' faithfulness." (Steve Harper, 'A Pastor's Approach to Spiritual Formation,' in The Pastor's Guide to Personal Spiritual Formation, Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 2005, 8)

This lack of confidence as described by Harper has a lot to do with trust, or the lack of it. When the trust factor is missing between pastor and the congregation, the road to spiritual dryness has begun. When one is walking along in this condition, his sense of calling becomes less and less. The expectations to discharge his work responsibilities as an 'employee' becomes more and more.  Let me share what are the finer differences between 'calling' and 'employing' so that we can get a better sense of what I am saying.

Firstly, calling is from above, which motivates the minister from the inside. Being merely employed is from the expectations of people, which attempts to move the minister from the outside. Moses is called by God to go to Pharaoh and plead the case on behalf of the Israelites. Time after time, Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to let the people go. Each sign from God seems to be matched by Pharaoh's magicians. It can be downright discouraging. Moses finds his strength from the LORD, who shows him each step of the way. It is the LORD who empowers and instructs Moses in the way he should go. On the other hand, a mere employee is motivated more out of a sense of duty, even guilt. One member in a church I know says this to a church worker: "You are paid to do your job, so do it!"

Honestly, when I hear that, my heart goes out to this worker. I can see whatever remaining motivation and joy drain out from her face.

Secondly, calling is a journey of learning to trust. Employing is a posture of earning trust. The Patriarch Abraham has long been called the man who trusted God so much that he is willing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, in obedience to God. This act of faith is demonstrated through trust. Abraham trusts God to lead the way. He trusts that obeying God's will is much better. This calling as an act of learning to trust has a lot to do with grace. In grace, one learns to initiate giving more than mere receiving. In grace, one gives out more benefit of the doubt. In grace, one learns about growing a big heart.  In contrast, 'employing' has to do with earning the right to be trusted. This employer-employee relationship is basically an Employer driven relationship that basically says:
  • "I pay you to do your job, so you'd better do it."
  •  "You are an employee of the Church, so you are responsible to fulfill all the obligations of the contract."
  • "Your primary responsibility is to the Church."
Personally, I do not have a problem with pastors doing their jobs. Neither is it unfair to expect the pastor to fulfill all of his stated obligations according to his job description. My point is, when the relationship between the pastor and the congregation becomes an 'employee' rather than a 'calling,' the whole situation becomes very mechanical, very impersonal, and even very discouraging. Instead, calling is one of graciousness.

  • "I trust you to do your best. The pay you are getting is our way to encourage you to do your work better."
  • "Although you work for us officially, we will work with you to do Church. After all, the Church belongs to God and the people of God."
  • "Your primary responsibility is not to the Church but to God. We trust that God will help you do the best for the people of God."
Finally, calling has a lot to do with the giftings of the pastor. 'Employing' has more to do with the needs of the church. In other words, 'calling' begins with asking God what is God's gift and how these gifts can be used for the better of the Church. The Apostle Paul has the gift as a lawyer. He argues his case very well and we see him writing epistles to churches against false teachings, against disunity, and against all manner of dysfunctional behavior in the churches. With these gifting, he does not need people to tell him what to do. He takes initiative to do it. 

On the other hand, 'employing' begins with the needs of the church. If the Church has a lack of worship leaders, they hire a worship leader. If they lack a Sunday School Superintendent, they hire one. If they lack a Bible teacher, they hire one. It begins with a need. The employing process comes next. 


It is not easy to make a distinction between calling and employing. We have to try. For the sake of the Church and for the ministers, we need to. We need to remember that calling is from above, and not be distracted by all kinds of expectations by people.While it is important to minister to people's expectations, it is more important to listen to God's calling. After all, it is God who has the big picture. Calling is one that promotes grace and trust. Employing is one that prefers to reserve any trust until proven otherwise. Finally, calling has more to do with giftings from God and less to do with expectations of people.

Let us endeavor to help one another discover our calling for one another.Let us not let money or the pay element distract us from the kingdom of God. Let us learn to give one another the benefit of any doubt. For the sake of Christ. May this be the prayer of everyone, not just the Minister. Remember, all of us are first and foremost sons and daughters of God. Do not let money or pay make us forget that. When calling becomes the primary motivation instead of 'employing,' pastors will 'want' to serve better instead of 'have' to serve all.

Let me close with this Wesley Covenant Prayer.

Lord, I am no longer my own, but Yours.
Put me to what You will. Rank me with whom You will.
Let me be employed by You or laid aside for You,
exalted for You or brought low by You.
Let me have all things. Let me have nothing.
I freely & heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am Yours. So be it.
(John Wesley)




Timothy P said...

Thanks Conrad for your timely article. I agree especially with the vital sense of calling for full time pastors and missionaries. In fact, it extends to anyone who follows and serves vie Lord. Peter exhorts us in 2 Pet 1.10 that we are to make certain of our calling, and Paul likewise implores Christians to live lives worthy of our calling in Eph 4.1, in the context of spiritual gifts, and fivefold ministry of equipping the saints for service.

Personally, it has definitely been a faith journey for myself in ministry, and calling has been the difference in persevering despite the odds and obstacles. I resonate with your first point, where calling is from above and within. When we get discouraged, disillusioned, diminished, it's resting in God's promise and will, trusting Him, His purposes, His ways (Prov 3.5-6).

With your last point, though I agree and advocate serving in our giftings, not just needs, reality is, in a given church context, the problem is that a good percentage do not serve, the concept of 20% doing 80% of the work, coupled with the clergy view that the pastor does the work, versus the Eph 4 model. Also, for junior pastors just starting out, often they might not have the liberty to choose or decide what they should serve in.

Lastly, as you point out, calling is more about being, rather than of doing.

Conrade Yap said...

Hi Timothy, I enjoy reading your thoughtful comments. Ministry is such a mix-bag, isn't it. How are we to live Christlikeness in a sinful world? In one word: humbly.

Like Augustine once said, that humility is the soil that grooms the fruits of virtue. Pride is the soil that grows the fruits of vice. That is why even in churches, well-intentioned individuals cannot get along due to manifestations of pride in varying degrees in the church. When pride overwhelms humility, one's sense of calling becomes more and more flaky.

For junior ministry workers, if they adopt a heart of humility, they will not be easily disturbed by whatever tasks assigned to them. For those more established or senior, if they adopt a heart of pride, they will keep the best for themselves and delegate the rest to others. Humility cuts through all experience, organizational hierarchy, and so on.

Thanks for commenting.

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