by Dan Reiland
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 nonprofit 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. 9 “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!!
Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.