As shepherds—stewards of the mystery of the gospel—assessment should be a regular tool of our ministry. Recently, as I considered the past eighteen years of my pastoral ministry, I realized I’ve failed to shepherd church members through one of the most important decisions of their lives: determining their vocations.
Many pastors haven’t considered this a matter of pastoral responsibility. Some even consider it an irrelevant, maybe distracting matter for the church to provide vocational guidance. They assume the church shouldn’t provide counsel regarding members’ future careers or degrees. Such guidance, however, is a matter of kingdom stewardship, global disciple making, and church multiplication.
One of the most important decisions our members will make is related to their future vocations and education.
One of the most important decisions our members will make is related to their future vocations and education. Jobs and degrees set a life course for decades to come. Yet, the church leaves too many of these decisions to family traditions, whims of youthful desires, or secular guidance counselors. The end results are often career paths divorced from pastoral guidance and the mission of God.
The Church Should Steward Our People
The church should be active in teaching parents and students about the kingdom ethic related to college and career. Pastoral conversations should include major life decisions and those things that guide our members on the path of life. Kingdom stewardship involves wisely using what we have received in light of Jesus’s return (Matt. 25:14–29).
The following are six practical steps to help us lead our churches toward a culture that encourages and expects people to work their way toward the nations.
1. Teach People a Stewardship of Vocation
Challenge them to study the Word and ask questions such as:
- Why does the Lord want me to have a job?
- Why is the Lord allowing me to go to college?
- What is the relationship of a career to making disciples of all nations (locally and globally)?
- Do I only get a job to share the gospel?
- If selecting a major/job is so important in life, how would the Lord want me to make this decision?
- Is the chief end of a job to earn a paycheck?
Show them God’s perspective of vocation. Teach them what it means to select a vocation wisely and why it is important in the mission of God.
2. Expect a Tentmaker’s Worldview
Luke recorded that Paul was a tentmaker by trade (Acts 18:3). He often supported himself and his team with his own means. Paul connected working with his hands to sharing the gospel and assisting churches. His trade skills provided a model to new believers and removed a burden from churches (1 Thess. 2:7–12; 2 Thess. 3:6–15), supported the team (Acts 20:34), and allowed him to avoid hindering the gospel (1 Cor. 9:3–27).
Teach people how can they can find a job and use it to make disciples locally and globally. We have made disciple making and church planting much more complicated than it is described in the Bible. For us, it’s so complicated, that we believe the only effective church planters are those who don’t have a job in the marketplace. A tentmakers’ worldview is more likely to develop within our churches if we keep Great Commission matters biblically simple and not culturally—dare I add, denominationally—complex.
3. Avoid Separating the Sacred and Secular
As kingdom citizens, we don’t have a secular compartment of life (vocation) and a sacred compartment (church activities). The “sacred” leaders who opposed Peter and John were shocked because the apostles were unschooled and ordinary men who had been with Jesus who’d been changed forever(Acts 4:13). It should not surprise us, when we later read Peter’s first epistle to learn that he, a fellow elder (1 Pet. 5:1), described the scattered believers (1 Pet. 1:1) as “holy” and “priests” (1 Pet. 2:9–10).
The church should be active in teaching parents and students about the kingdom ethic related to college and career.
Teach people to avoid compartmentalizing their “church” lives from their studies and their nine-to-five vocations. Train them to have the mind of Christ in all of life. Have each person ask, “As a holy priest, meant to represent God to people, how should I think about and act toward my future studies and career?”
4. Expose Our People to Local and Global Realities
Challenge church members’ thinking through books and short-term mission trips. Have them visit places of religious activities, stores, and restaurants operated by unreached peoples in your communities. Be students of God’s world. The news is also a very helpful source of education, sermon application, and points of application.
5. Challenge High School and College Students to Explore:
(1) The most marketable skills and degrees.
This information is easy to find and updated frequently. A simple online search will provide helpful information. Encourage students to look for skills and degrees that are in demand both in the United States and throughout the world.
(2) Their passions, interests, gifts, talents, life experiences, and abilities.
It would be poor stewardship for someone to neglect those things given by God because the global market discourages them. The Spirit must lead our members in the process of selecting majors and vocations. Have them ask: “How has God developed me over the years?”
It’s not wrong for students to move into less marketable skills and degrees. This may be the Lord’s will for them. If so, shepherd them in this direction for the sake of the kingdom.
Teach people how can they can find a job and use it to make disciples locally and globally.
However, students need to know that not all passions, interests, and degrees are of equal value and open many doors in the marketplace. Students also need to beware of potential massive debt and the inability of certain degrees and vocations to provide a sustainable income to pay off that debt. Many young people have been hindered in their kingdom service by financial shackles. Some degrees and vocations don’t even provide a sustainable lifestyle even when the person is debt free.
(3) Where marketplace opportunities overlap with passions/interests/gifts and the locations of unreached peoples.
Finding this information will require prayer, time, and research. Teach students to look for marketplace opportunities that allow them to apply their vocation among unreached peoples.
6. Provide Connections between Mature Believers in the Marketplace and Students
Men and women in your church who have been living out a kingdom ethic in the marketplace and making disciples should pour their wisdom and experience into the next generation. Connect them with your high school and college students.
Let them speak into students’ lives about:
- Obtaining marketable skills
- Choosing a vocation
- Developing a CV
- Working internships
- Developing a good work ethic
- Developing analytical reasoning skills
- How to dress for the workplace
- How to speak and act during an interview
- How to make disciples through a vocation
Breaking from the status quo of neglecting to shepherd our members to the marketplace will require pastors to take a risk and try something, even if they don’t have all the answers. Pastors, we’re not called to be career guidance counselors, but shepherds. It’s my hope that we’ll move toward better stewardship of our pastoral ministries while we help our people work their way to the nations.
J. D. Payne is the pastor of church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills. He is also a missiologist, author, podcast host, and blogs regularly at jdpayne.org.
- Marketplace Mission: Freelance Your Way to Europe [INFOGRAPHIC] (Britt Powell)
- Global Cities and Marketplace Initiatives: Pathways to Limitless Sending (Michael O’Neal)
- Marketplace Workers: Fuel for Limitless Sending (Larry McCrary)
- Rethinking My Pathway to Mission—and Yours—Through the Marketplace (Miles Simmons)