IVP - Online Pulpit - Vocational Holiness

August 20, 2012

Vocational Holiness

By David Rohrer

Often after preaching a sermon or leading a weekend retreat a family member or colleague will ask me “How did it go?” In answer to this question all I can usually offer is some tepid remark like, “Well, it felt OK,” or “I got pretty good feedback.” The plain truth of the matter is that I am probably the person least qualified to weigh in on that question, because I am never quite sure how it went.

In thirty years of pastoral ministry I have yet to find a satisfactory measure of the success of my labors in the lives of others. Some say we can adopt the metrics of business and talk about growth in market share and income, which we translate into worship attendance and giving. Some look to formal and informal surveys of congregational satisfaction with respect to pastoral leadership. Yet none of these things can ever really tell me if people are growing in their capacity to say yes to Jesus and thus growing in the ability to love of God and neighbor.

While I can never be certain about what God is doing through me to accomplish this in others, I can be reasonably certain about is what God is doing in me as I try to faithfully answer his call. It is in this context that Eugene Peterson’s phrase vocational holiness comes to mind. I first saw it used in the title of his book, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. The phrase speaks to the way God grows us as we answer his call. It is the affirmation that what God is doing in us as we seek to be faithful pastors is as important as what God is doing through us in the lives of others.

If we forget this and make institutional metrics the primary arbiters of our success, the results can be disastrous. We start thinking of ministry in mechanistic terms like “deploying our people” and “aligning mission and resources.” We potentially objectify persons and make congregations into little more than institutional abstractions that need to be managed. We forget that real work of the Spirit is happening in the hidden recesses of individual human hearts, and we get lost in the burdensome and ultimately unfulfilling work of merely trying to make our congregations going concerns.

So much more than this is possible, things greater than “we can ask or imagine.” The miracle of people growing into the image and likeness of Christ is happening all around us. When we are attentive to the ways it is also happening in us, we are on the road to becoming better pastors. Our vocation is one of the means God is using to shape us and when we are well established in our role as followers of Jesus we are going to make better leaders in his church.

RohrerOP.jpgDavid Rohrer is the author of The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry (IVP, 2012). He was ordained in 1982 and has served 3 Presbyterian churches in that time, most recently in Seattle. He is currently serving part-time as a Regional Mentor for PC USA.

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