the weblog of Alan Knox

The non-vocational option

Posted by on Jul 23, 2013 in discipleship, elders, personal | 23 comments

The non-vocational option

A few years ago, my family was part of a megachurch in our area. We were involved in many of the programs offered by the church organization, and we had many good friends who were part of the church. There came a time when I sensed (somehow) that God wanted something different… something more…

I talked to a few church leaders, and I was given two options: God was either calling me to be a vocational pastor or a vocational missionary. Obviously, there were different jobs (“callings”) within those two options, but everything fell within those two divisions.

After much prayer and counsel – and deciding that God was not calling me to go overseas – I decided to go to seminary to prepare to become a vocational pastor. I’m glad that I made that decision, even though the outcome is not what I expected. I am not a vocational pastor, and I do not intend to become a vocational pastor. Instead, one thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that there is another option: the non-vocational option.

More and more people are beginning to understand both the scriptural precedence for and the practical benefits of serving others in a “non-vocational” manner – that is, serving others without being a vocational pastor or minister.

For example, see the Washington Post article from May 2013 titled “Seminary graduates not always ministering from the pulpit.” By the way, I’m not suggesting that you must be a seminary graduate to serve others. This article simply shows that even many people attending seminary are beginning to recognize the benefit of “non-vocational” service.

Recently, while speaking with a friend, he reminded me about a conversation that he had with a mutual friend a few years ago. Our friend was a seminary student, and had plans to become a vocational pastor. He was beginning to understand this different view of serving others, but didn’t know what he was going to do. He only had Bible school training and didn’t know how he was going to support himself and his family if he did not have a job with a church.

Lately, not only have I learned that God can use someone who works a “full-time secular job,” I’ve also been able to help others who want to transition away from a “full-time vocational ministry job.” Through this, we’re all learning that there are many benefits both to the individual and the church from serving others while also working a full time job (that is not a church job).

Hopefully, God will continue to provide opportunities for me to encourage others into this non-vocational option, and even continue to help them find jobs that provide for themselves, their families, and others – much like Paul encouraged the Ephesian elders to do in Acts 20:33-35.

What benefits do you see for individuals in being non-vocational servants instead of vocational pastors/ministers? What benefits do you see for the church? Are there any disadvantages?


23 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-23-2013

    It’s interesting how things can change. I spent more than 20 years as a vocational pastor and church worker and in addition to that training, when I was unsure where I might be heading I did MS work in the area of Organizational Leadership believing it would help with work and church.

    That training became part of what convinced me that church was not so much an organization but rather more of an organism and that realization helped me to cement my moving in different directions.

    I think there is freedom to serve in a vocational manner. What I’ve noticed since I shed the organization is that I’m more free to follow God’s leading in my life without the organizational politics and power struggles. That leaves me free to speak my heart and mind without fear and it also gives me the freedom to listen to others without having to weigh the organizational consequences of compliance or non-compliance.

  2. 7-23-2013

    I am the vocational pastor at my 150-member church. The other two pastors are seminary-trained volunteers, and my pastoral intern is going in seminary, and we are always equipping and commissioning volunteer lay leaders for ministry leadership. I find it out that a church would offer no options for leadership other than staff positions.

  3. 7-23-2013

    Bart,

    Given your experience working as a “vocational pastor” and now serving in a non-vocational capacity, I’d love to hear more, especially about “the organizational consequences of compliance or non-compliance.”

    Clint,

    For most organizations (even organizations created by believers), leadership is only possible through “staff positions.” However, for the church, this is not necessarily the case.

    -Alan

  4. 7-23-2013

    Alan,

    I think it would be helpful for some to share stories of people who made the transition from vocation to non-vocation and how they did it. Perhaps you could share stories of how you’ve helped in this regard and have others write up their stories of how they did it.

    I believe this would be very helpful to many out there. It would also make for fascinating reading.

  5. 7-23-2013

    I had typos in my last post. I meant to say that I am the only vocational pastor at my church, the rest are volunteers. I also meant to say that I find it odd that a church doesn’t welcome volunteer ministry leadership. I am aware of many, many churches that have volunteer elders and ministry leaders. It is actually quite normal… especially in healthy, biblical churches.

  6. 7-23-2013

    I believe that allowing someone from within the congregation to preach, that has a true gift in preaching, could sometimes be viewed as a threat by the vocational pastor of that congregation. I’ve actually experienced this first-hand.

  7. 7-23-2013

    I have come full circle and shifted away from vocational ministry. A main problem I see is a shift away from what I read elsewhere on the blog…”one anothering”. In my experience, the paid guy simply studies more, plans more, prepares more etc. etc., partly because, consciously or unconsciously, he’s paid. Then the people in church, comparatively speaking, study less, plan less, prepare less, partly because, consciously or unconsciously, their not paid. I suspect if no one was paid, people would simply do more. They might feel an obligation to study, prepare, and contribute more. But since the vocational pastor is taking care of so much, others see that and step back.

  8. 7-25-2013

    I respect & appreciate so much this non vocational option you chose and your desire to help others who choose the same.

  9. 7-25-2013

    Scott,

    I agree; that would be extremely beneficial. While I was headed toward a job as a vocational pastor, I never got to that point. However, I would be happy to publish anyone’s story if they want to share it here.

    Clint,

    I have seen that in cases in which the “volunteers” are under that authority of a vocational pastor. However, it’s only been in rare cases when I’ve seen only non-vocational servants of Christ working together among a church.

    Neil,

    I think that “threat” is often a problem, unfortunately.

    Dave,

    Were you ever a vocational pastor?

    Randi,

    It was definitely not what I had in mind a few years ago. :)

    -Alan

  10. 7-26-2013

    Vocational or non-vocational is not the answer. This is my understanding: The “perfect” (God’s completed Word – the Bible)replaced church salvation instruction with individual Holy Spirit instruction through reading and living the completed perfect Word. This happened around 70AD. In fact,Jesus warned in Revelation 2:5 that church assemblies (in whatever form) would be removed if the people did not return to brotherly love. The people did not return – one church turned into 30,000 individual man-made flavors. The completed Word defines true overcomers as those who: Believe, Obey, Love and Persevere without adding to or subtracting from His Word. People must stop telling others what they should do to be saved and just live righteous lives for others to follow. When Jesus said, “Call no man teacher” I believe He was indicating that no man should interpret God’s Word for another! This is my understanding – A watchman of His Word.

  11. 7-26-2013

    Peter,

    Isn’t your comment an example of “interpreting God’s Word for another”? What was the reason for the letters of the NT? Also, why are there so many exhortations to teach and admonish one another? I think teaching (and leading) not only continue to be valid today, but they are necessary means that God uses to help his children grow in maturity.

    When that perfect comes (“Jesus Christ” in 1 Cor 13), we will no longer see in part and we will no longer need the spiritual gifts that we have been given by God through his Holy Spirit. Until then, we still need one another because God works through each of us to help us grow in maturity in Jesus Christ.

    All of that said, this is a completely different discussion to the one I started on this post. This post is about “elders” (which are very evident in the New Testament) and how they can work among the church without being paid by the church.

    -Alan

  12. 7-26-2013

    Dear Alan,

    First,Please note that I was not teaching! I stated two times that this was only the understanding of one man. You asked a question … and I answered the question. Remember,Peter said, we must always be ready to give an answer … You asked … I gave an opinion, not a teaching. However, I do detect I touched a nerve.

    Second, I qualified further that my understanding of the “perfect” was God’s completed perfect Word, not the return of Jesus when we shall see Him as He is. You, however, did not qualify your understanding of 1 Corth. 13 BUT instead passed off your personal opinion of this verse as universally being accepted another way. When people don’t qualify their opinion when discussing scripture, they sin twice – once vertically against God by stealing His shekinah/glory and once against his neighbor by causing division. Remember the two greatest commandments?

    Third, If scripture clearly indicates to me(Note – how I qualified myself again) that the church/assemblies have been removed – then any discussion about elders would be senseless. Besides, there is NO Scripture that tells US today HOW to select elders.

    There is in the Bible a first century Apostle with Apostolic Authority telling a mini-Apostle who was given a gift by the Holy Spirit and had hands laid on him by a 1st Century: Apostle, elders and a whole 1st Century church, but they don’t exist today which further leads me to believe the status of the church has been removed by God for His completed Word.

    Once again this in my understanding answering your questions; this is not me forcing my will on others… that would be Pride in action!

    I am thinking Pride might be at work here. Here is a test for Pride. Start qualifying everything you write as your understanding … if you can do that … you will prove to all of us that Pride isn’t affect and effecting you personally.

    Respectfully submitted in love.

  13. 7-26-2013

    Alan, limited experiences produce limited perspectives.

    I’ve seen the horror stories of unhealthy churches, psychopathic pastors, hierarchal bureaucracies. I’ve also seen seductive false teachers, seditions, and division-makers.

    But there are many, many healthy, biblically-structured (albeit imperfect) churches with godly servants as leaders, and where every member is seen as a minister and missionary.

    Although I the only vocational pastor among a team of volunteer pastors (we use pastor/elder interchangeable as Paul and Peter did), they are not under my authority. We are all under collective authority, and the supreme authority of Christ as head. Jesus is the “senior pastor.” All of the rest of us are undershepherds.

  14. 7-26-2013

    Peter,

    Everything that I say is my opinion, and everything you say is your opinion – until one of us begins thinking that we speak for God… then there is certainly a pride issue involved.

    I can tell that we interpret Scripture quite differently. For example, you’re willing to take part of a statement (“be ready to give an answer”) out of the context it was originally stated (“giving an answer when asked to the hope that is in us while we are suffering for doing good”). I’m not willing to take Scripture out of context like that.

    Again, the authors of the New Testament wrote to normal, everyday Christians – like us – and exhorted them to teach and admonish one another. There are several instances. but Colossians 3:16 is a good example. I don’t see any indication in Scripture that this had ended. One day it will; but not yet.

    Obviously, you disagree with me. Our opinions of what Scripture means differ.

    Clint,

    I agree. We all have limited experiences and perspectives, which is one of the reasons that I love to read about other believers’ experiences and perspectives. I also love that God uses all of his imperfect children including you and me. We can always trust him.

    -Alan

  15. 7-26-2013

    Ditto. That’s why I need a team around me. And also why I think the idea of a solo pastor is not just unbiblical, but impractical and perhaps borderline insane.

  16. 7-26-2013

    Dear Alan,

    This is my understanding which I am not to proud to qualify: We are different … I will continue to qualify everything I say so as not to pass off my opinion as church doctrine or God’s thoughts and you will continue not to qualify your thoughts risking offending God vertically and your neighbor horizontally. Yes, picking and choosing is indeed a problem.

    Respectfully submitted in love

  17. 7-26-2013

    Clint,

    I’ve been amazed at who God will use in my life when I’m open to it.

    Peter,

    It’s a good thing God loves us and uses us both, in spite of our differences.

    -Alan

  18. 7-27-2013

    Alan,

    Great post brother. I can see where people could really use assistance in that transition. Thanks for your non-vocational service to the body of Christ ;)

  19. 7-27-2013

    Michael,

    Thank you. It has been interesting and exciting to see what God is doing in this area.

    -Alan

  20. 7-28-2013

    Yes, in the traditional patterned church I have been a youth pastor, and also an assistant pastor.

  21. 7-28-2013

    Dave,

    How are you serving your brothers and sisters in Christ now?

    -Alan

  22. 7-29-2013

    I had e-mailed you about a week ago from Tampa…we have just started work on establishing an assembly here.

  23. 7-31-2013

    Dave,

    Yes, I remember your email. But I didn’t associate your comments with the email. Thanks for making the connection. Please email again and let me know how things are going.

    -Alan