One of our subjects at Ridley this semester is Ministry Formation. It’s meant to help us to develop our own pastoral theology. One of the issues we’ve been looking at recently is calling and I’m tying myself in knots trying to get my head around it.
Our lecturer, Tim, believes that there are two types of Christians – lay and clerical. The “laity” are those not in full-time vocational ministry and the “clergy” are those who are (although he functionally reduces this those in a church pastoral role). He thinks that both roles need to be upheld, but not at the expense of one another. On one hand, the clergy can be upheld over the laity by suggesting that any non-ministry work is not ministry, or is only there so you can get money to give to ministry. Tim disagrees – secular work is sacred work because whatever you do vocationally, as a Christian you participate in God’s creative and redemptive work. On the other hand, the laity can be upheld over clergy by suggesting that there is nothing special about the clerical role, that they are just like anyone else. He doesn’t think they are. Both their function and being (ontology) are different to the laity.
So, does being in full time ministry make you a different (though not necessarily higher or lower) type of Christian? My gut reaction is No! but Tim suggests that this is a reaction against, say, a Roman Catholic model, but actually loses something of pastoral theology. The thing is, I’m not sure where you get a biblical basis for the two idea of there being two types of Christian.
Tim seemed to ground his understanding of this in calling. Everyone is called to Jesus, but some, like the apostle Paul, receive a special calling to be in ministry. This indicates, apparently, that there is another ‘type’ of Christian to be called to being; another role to take on. Tim doesn’t think it has to be as spectacular as Paul – it might just be a desire or a logical decision to do ministry – but it is a call to something else, something different from the ordinary Christian. (This in itself doesn’t mean you ‘cross over’ to the clergy. You also need an “outward call” from the church as they and you discern and test your inward calling.) So every Christian is called to give their whole life to God, like the laity, but some Christians are called to do that by becoming this particular ‘type’ of Christian.
I’M NOT CONVINCED…
The way that I think of being a Christian leader (whether in full time vocational ministry or not) is that we are part of one body and some in that body are given particular gifts of leadership. I read Banks and Stevens who talk about one sure type of calling – and it’s to a person, not to a vocation i.e. to Jesus. Out of that relationship, a leader might function in different ways in the body (i.e. by leading, teaching, etc); they will be held accountable in God-given area of responsibility.; they are worthy of honour when they execute this task well. There’s something different about what they do, but that’s a function of the gifts that God has given them, not of being a different type of Christian. After all, God might take their gifts away, but that doesn’t change their calling to Jesus.
Another difficulty I have with the two different ‘types’ idea is this: How long ought you to expect to be classified in this way? The likes of Eugene Peterson and John Piper call for ministers to stay with the one group of people for their whole lives. Tim reckons that you ought not to ‘cross over’ lightly from lay to clergy or vice versa. The reason? As far as I could make out, being clergy is serious, so you can’t cross over lightly; and being clergy is serious so you can’t cross back lightly. That sounds like elevating clergy work over lay work to me. And how does that work with calling anyway? Can you be called for a certain time to clerical work and then change back? If your ‘inward call’ was a desire, if the desire goes, can you read that as a withdrawal of call?
Help me out here! What do you reckon? Are there two types of Christians? How does ‘calling’ fit in? How are we to understand special ‘callings’ like Paul’s?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.