In a recent Church Worker Recruitment & Retention Task Force meeting the topic of quality of life came up as a rationale for encouraging young people to consider a career in vocational church work. When we think about our service as church workers, all too often the discussion turns to frustrations. Long hours, lack of appreciation, angry parents, jammed copiers, etc. We can all provide a healthy list of frustrations. Yet, if we are able to let some of those frustrations go, we have the chance to really enjoy our divine calling.
As a DCE (Director of Christian Education), I often cringe when I hear some younger DCEs talk about the time they discovered, perhaps in a youth ministry setting, that there was a career option where you earn an income hanging out with youth, going on mission trips and retreats, and leading songs for VBS. While I always want to make sure that people understand how much more goes into the ministry of a DCE, there is a joyful simplicity that ought not be entirely quenched. This simplicity is what initially attracted me to DCE ministry.
While there may not be a large number of church workers who look forward to budgeting or any in-depth work with spreadsheets (those of you who are the exception to this are a special prize to find), even these details can be a joy if we keep in perspective the privilege that we enjoy as called to serve the King. Scripture is replete with stories of God selecting the least likely and the unwanted to fulfill his purposes. Read through the genealogies of Jesus -- they are a rogues gallery, not a pristine listing of saintly characters. Consider the twelve disciples, would anyone in their day have predicted them to change the world?
Keeping in mind the privilege we enjoy working with our Savior to further His kingdom transforms the mundane into the glorious. With Jacob we think to ourselves, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it,” (Genesis 28:16) when we see unexpected blessings take shape in the lives of those we are called to serve.
Sadly, for many church workers, the joyful moments are too few and far between. Over the years, I have received a few framed photos and pictures with the signatures and notes from youth and parents from the congregations that I served. I was blessed to be given a tangible reminder of the impact that I was able to have through the ministry of Christ. While that may not be something that every church worker is able to receive, there are many smaller notes of appreciation that are worth hanging on to. Keep a file of thank you cards or notes that you can take out when you begin to question your calling, which happens to nearly all of us.
Vocation, however, it not exclusively related to our professional ministry service. Luther puts it strongly: “Vocations are ‘masks of God.’ On the surface, we see an ordinary human face — our mother, the doctor, the teacher, the waitress, our pastor — but, beneath the appearances, God is ministering to us through them. God is hidden in human vocations.” God does not need our good works, yet as Paul points out in Ephesians 2:8-10 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” While we are not saved by our good works, in Christ our works are made good and are a response of love to God as we serve others.
That is how we understand vocation. This transforms everyday tasks and duties from the mundane to the glorious. I serve God when I make breakfast for my children, and while I would love appreciation or a simple thank you rather than a complaint about what was served to them, it is my joy-filled vocation to serve God through that breakfast.
The famous example from Luther on vocation involves what makes for a Christian shoe maker (cobbler). Luther’s response was not that he put crosses on the shoes, but that he makes quality shoes for his neighbors. Taking pride in our work as a service to God is more than appropriate. As church workers it is worthy of our callings to put our best efforts forward, whether we are examining a budget or experiencing the joy of hanging out at Taco Bell with a small herd of 13 year olds.