Non-Vocational Ministry

Article by Ben Honken

Last year, I finished Hope’s internship program, LDI.  It was a proud moment for me.  I worked hard to get into and through that program.  I had been talking about working as a worship pastor for over three years.  I loved LDI.  I loved the hands on ministry experience I got in tons of different areas.  I loved being a part of the worship team and meeting regularly with Tim.  I loved leading small group.  I loved mentoring.  I loved working with events like Study Day and Film Fest.  I loved the academic aspect.  The bible classes were amazing.  I learned a ton in interpretation and preaching and ethics and really in every class.  As a lifelong follower of Jesus, I was impressed by the fact that I was being poured into, and I was continuing to learn.  Everything about LDI helped me grow my ministry and leadership skills and prepare me for full time ministry.  

But here’s the thing:

I’m not in full time ministry.  

…Yet.

After spending a ton of time at Hope, and visiting a few other churches that were looking for a worship guy, I came to a conclusion.  I didn’t want to go to an existing church for a job.  The vision that other churches had for worship did not align well with my own.  That’s not to say there was anything wrong with it.  One place I visited wanted to do hip hop.  There is nothing wrong with hip hop, but you really don’t want to see me trying to rap.  Well, maybe you do, but not because it’s good.  Another place I visited focused on inclusiveness at the expense of quality.  Again, there is nothing wrong with this, but it is not how I want to do things if and when I become a worship pastor.  Maybe somewhere down the line I will visit a church and everything will line up the way I want it to.  Or maybe I’ll make some changes to my vision.  Or maybe I’ll go with a plant and shape the vision from the start.  

By now you’re probably wondering what my point is, if I have one.  I do.  My point is this:  I was in an environment where I was conditioned to do full time vocational ministry, and I had significant portions of my spiritual development laid out for me.  Now I am out of that environment, but I am not in a position to do full time vocational ministry.  And so I’ve been forced to ask myself, “Now what?”  

Now I was under no delusions that LDI was some sort of job placement program.  We already have two worship people on staff.  I did not anticipate us needing a third.  I had planned for this.  As for vocation, I chose to start a business.  After 7 years of tutoring experience and a good deal of contract work for some tutoring companies, I decided to start my own.  So the question of “Now what am I going to be doing with the bulk of my time?” was answered.  

But there were more aspects to the question “Now what?”  Now what am I going to do to continue studying God’s word since I don’t have anyone telling me when to read what and when it needs to be read by?  With whom will I discuss it?  How will I take time to gather 4-6 pages worth of reflection on certain aspects of it?  

I had kept a fairly solid prayer and bible routine for years prior to my time in LDI.  I changed it out of necessity to keep up with the massive amounts of reading required for the bible class.  Suddenly afterwards it was like the training wheels were off again for the first time.  I felt unsure of what to read, when to read, how much to read.  Questions that I didn’t bother asking myself in the past.  I felt distant from God in prayer.  Sometimes I still do.  

Everything was different.  My faith perhaps looked better on paper.  I had training.  I had ministry experience.  But honestly, I felt more confused about how to love and follow Jesus than I had in a long time.  

I was a part of a church staff for three years.  Suddenly I was not on staff anymore, and I felt like I was loving and serving God less because of my change in vocation.  

This, of course, was categorically false.  I was not loving and serving God less because of a change in vocation.  I was doing so because of my own idolatry of full time vocational ministry, because of selfish stubbornness and resistance to change, and probably for a host of other reasons.  

When I finally started listening to the gospel rather than myself, I realized that things being different didn’t mean that I was somehow less a servant of Christ than I had been.  It just meant I had to do things differently.  

So I started to ask myself some questions.  What does it look like to pursue Christ in this?  How do I take time to read my bible?  How do I set aside time to pray?  How do I use my current job to show people Jesus?  

That last one really started to excite me.  I wanted to run my business like Jesus would.  I wanted to figure out how to treat people respectfully and fairly.  I wanted to be a light and an encouragement to every student who worked with my company.  I realized that my particular line of work gave me some exciting opportunities.  I don’t know a lot of people who are invited into the homes of families every single week and given the opportunity to be a positive influence on kids from all faiths and walks of life.  Every week I get to influence these kids.  Usually we’re talking about math or chemistry, but sometimes we talk about politics, faith, racial issues, drugs, college, divorce, or any number of other things.  I count it an immense privilege to have a front row seat to their everyday lives.  

With a simple bit of gospel truth and a slight perspective change, being out of full time vocational ministry wasn’t so bad.  I still believe that one day I want to be a worship pastor.  But in the meantime, I feel that I am right where God wants me to be.  I know that he can and will continue to use me where I am, and that if and when he places another call on my life, I’ll be ready to respond to that as well.  

I want to encourage you to believe that the gospel relates to you and your life and the people that you work with.  Jesus wants to use you.  He is giving you incredible opportunities to show His love and grace to the people around you.  Will you see them?  Will you take them?  


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