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Calling? (RRoundup)

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.


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?

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

19 replies

  1. Interesting. I believe that God calls some people into ministry at a stage in their life, and gives them the gifting to do so, but I would see calling in a looser way than Tim and ministry as a vocation needing to be less static than Piper etc. I.e. one can move in and out of ministry according to God’s calling.

    I think for some people there isn’t a clear sense of ‘call’; they seem to have the right abilities and gifting for ministry, they can financial afford to do so and then an opportunity arises. But retrospectively (if they succeed) they can often see a ‘calling’ – God preparing them in advance and then blessing their ministry.

    Perhaps calling should sometimes be looked at in the retrospective sense. If someone feels they should try out ministry, but then doesn’t enjoy it and/or doesn’t have the right ‘mix’ of gifting, personality etc., then I would suggest that perhaps after a lot of prayer, both on behalf of the individual and their supervisors, that God isn’t calling this person to ministry.

    Vocation is about working both with God and the talents we have.

  2. Have you read Luther’s ‘the freedom of a christian’? I found it very helpful on this issue…

    we’re all priests (if you want to know what the christian is ontologically…and kings as well by participation in Christ). It’s just that some preach the word…

    freedom of a christian text …towards the end of part 1.

  3. I think part of the problem is a model of church where a large amount of ministry is done by professionals. We expect one man to be preacher, pastor, and director. If you have someone who can do the whole lot that’s good, but when that sort of ministry is shared around according to gifts and availability, less relies on the individual leaders.

    I don’t think there were that many paid ministers in the early church (not sure on that one).

  4. Hey Reuben – I did ‘Freedom of a Christian’ in MAP training last year. I think the same as you – all kings, but some preach. That was what I was getting at with the body thing. We’ve also been looking at some Luther in class but that’s part of what’s prompted the discussion. Tim thinks that Luther’s been pretty misunderstood on this issue and that the reason we think Luther hasn’t got different types of Christians on view is because we’ve misunderstood his take on the priesthood of all believers.

    Eric, we’ve been talking a lot about the professionalisation of ministry – which goes hand in hand with the consumer mentality of many in the church. That’s certainly what the raising of the laity idea does – it opens the ‘sacred’ sphere to the laity not just by making their careers ‘sacred’ but by encouraging their participation in the body as well. I think there’s certainly precedent for those who are set apart in the New Testament, but I agree that it’s often to equip God’s people for ministry rather than to do be the sole preacher / director, etc.

    Thanks for your thoughts I.I. I think that’s what Tim’s talking about with “inward call” and “outward call”. Your idea of retrospective call is one I’ve heard before (and certainly one Tim subscribed to). I think I’m suspicious of calling it ‘a call’ though – partly because invisible call doesn’t make sense to me and partly because I’m still suspicious of there being a ‘something else’ to be called to (as a rule).

    Another one of my questions about this is whether, if there is a call, it can be adequately understood through having the right abilities, heart, prayer, etc. I’m doing an essay on the prophetic calls of Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel at the moment and Jeremiah at least was very reluctant. He’s a lot like Moses, thinking he doesn’t have the skills and, in a way, not wanting to do the job. Although of course, one thing the essay shows is the great diversity of calling experiences.

  5. Hmm, the reference to Peterson is interesting because I think thats where Tim is getting this stuff. Anything that forces both full time ministry people and ‘not full time ministry’ people to take their lives more seriously, without collapsing into the other is worthwhile. Ask Tim if he thinks clergy should avoid crossing over even if they stopped being paid. ; )

  6. I’m not sure that when you describe Tim as saying:

    “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.”

    and then you disagree by saying:

    “we are part of one body and some in that body are given particular gifts of leadership.”

    That you are not both saying the same thing with different labels…

    But then again I could just not be understanding

  7. Hi Chris

    I suspect that labels is part of it.

    I think the distinction that concerns me is this idea that you can be a different ‘type’ of Christian which suggests some kind of ontological change. (Tim was a bit fuzzy on this – he talked about a difference in ontology but was reluctant to explain further.) I see no ontological change or difference – and so Christians are free to move in and out of leadership.

    Does that make any more sense?

  8. Hi y’all, hope you don’t mind me gate crashing the party.

    Three things.

    I was not speaking about two ‘types’ of Christian, but arguing that there is a distinctive pastoral ‘office’ (cf. 1 Tim 3; Eph 4.9f).

    Second, I argue that holding this office is more than functional, without becoming ontological. As an example, a king holds office, and it is more than a functional office, and yet he is no different in terms of his ‘being’.

    Third, the idea of a distinct pastoral office is exactly what Luther teaches in “Freedom”, and it is an office that requires more than preaching (it includes sacraments, for example).

  9. Hi Tim,

    I’m glad you’ve joined in as I felt kind of awkward …as though i was talking behind your back, and without even knowing you! My apologies if i’ve offended you by doing so!

    Would you be able to say a little more to clarify?

    On (1) I’m with you on there not being two types, but different offices.

    On (3) that is my reading of Luther too – amongst christians who are all priests+kings in Christ, a distinct pastoral office given to some for the good of all – though i feel free to depart from a Lutheran position over what exactly that requires.

    I don’t quite understand your example in (2) though. What is the point that you are making about the king? My particular questions are:

    1. in what way is ‘king’ more than a functional office? Are you saying that ability to perform the functions of the office is not a sufficient pre-condition in order to occupy the office perhaps? i’m not sure…
    2. what is gained or guarded against by establishing that it is so (that the office of king is more than functional)?
    3. What are the similarities and differences in your king analogy to the office of pastor?

  10. Hi Reuben, My example was certainly unclear.

    I am not saying that more than ability is needed.

    What I mean simply is that having been given an office, it means more than fulfilling a function. There is more to being a king than doing the stuff a king does. An office confers identity, responsibility, and even a kind of status. Function follows that identity and status.

    As to what is gained, that was the subject of at leats an hour’s lecture, but I think reducing the pastoral role to being ‘merely’ functional creates all sorts of problems. Breifly, I argue that the lack of clear and strong pastoral identity, authority, responsibility and even status have contributed to a crisis among pastors, and rampant individualism and anti-authoritarianism among people.

    Doubtless I have begged more questions than I have answered.


  11. Hi Tim and Reuben

    I’m enjoying your little exchange here. I can totally see how having an office gives a certain identity.

    So office => identity => function (is that right?)

    I can see how that makes sense. You start from who you are rather than from what you do. But I assume, Tim, that you would see a pastor’s identity as broader than his office? i.e. he has an identity in Christ which stands irrespective of his office, and to which his sense of office is subordinate?

    I had thought you were arguing the other way around Tim, but the whole lecture about pastoral identity, professionalism, etc makes heaps more sense now.

    Just thinking more about it though, Reuben, you said that you’re happy to diverge from the Lutheran understanding of office? In what way and why? (I’m wondering whether this would help those of us headed into non-parish / pastoral work to understand what our ‘office’ is.)

  12. @Tamie, I think the lutheran concept of office is fine! (it’s biblical! as Tim pointed out…) What I meant was that I’m happy if people want to depart from what Lutherans say pastors must do.

    So, for example, some might not agree that pastors must administer the sacraments.

    That’s a great question re: how applicable this concept is outside of a parish church context. not sure! (I’d happily read a post on it though :-)

    @Tim. Thanks for the clarification… the lecture sounds like it would have been interesting! I think i see what you’re driving at – office deserves a certain of seriousness and proper behaviour from those occupying it and also respect by those benefiting from it. Sounds good. But hard when we all breathe an air of suspicion toward people in authority.

  13. Oh bother! Reuben, I was hoping you were going to have the answer for me! I’ll keep thinking. We have a 3000 word essay to write on our ministry identity in a few weeks so I’ll figure there’ll be posts coming as I try to sort it out!

    With the sacraments thing, why do you (or some) think that the pastors don’t have to administer the sacraments? In the model we’ve been looking at in class, that’s been pretty central to the pastoral identity and task (I think it’s the Anglican model?) but I’m not sure I’ve had a clear idea of why.

  14. I’m quite happy to, and personally think the anglicans have the right idea…but I don’t think that my congregationalist friends are sinning by allowing non-pastors to baptise or administer communion.

    There is no command in scripture to do so …so you have to work out what is the most faithful way to serve God and his people.

    Here is why you want to be careful about how much administering sacraments becomes part of patoral identity (from MacCulloch ‘Reformation, Europes house divided’ p. 130)

    ‘[Luther] insisted that the mass could not be a work, therefore its performance could not be a sacrifice or be manipulated for any one human intention. It was a road of communication from the divine to the human, a channel of God’s love … Christ on the cross had been the only sacrifice. A sacrifice is done by priest, and so Christ had been the only priest, sacrificing himself. No sacrifice, no priest: so the clergy who administered communion were not set aside to be special priestly beings; that idea was part of the Roman cheat. Every faithful Christian was a priest …’

    Also interesting is Luther in ‘The Babylonian captivity of the church’ :

    ‘I cannot understand at all why one who has once been made a priest cannot again become a layman; for the sole difference between him and a layman is his ministry’

    As an aside – I notice that there seems to be a bit of a revival of sacramentalism amongst reformed dudes at the moment. or at least an elevation of the importance of the eucharist… what do you reckon? does it need to be more prominent in our churches?

  15. Tim, what do you reckon about the second Luther quote? I seem to remember you saying in class that we should be slow to make such a change. Do you think the sole difference between the priest and layman is the priest’s ministry or is it a little more complex than that?

    Reuben, I suspect we do need to elevate the importance of communion – although the very idea of it makes me cringe, I think because it feels ritualistic and I’m highly suspicious of tradition and rituals. But Mark (our pastor) explained communion really well the other day. He said it’s a remembrance – and the opposite of ‘remember’ is not ‘forget’ but ‘dismember’. What we do in communion is to bring together the threads of a story, to participate in God’s big story. So very little ‘magical’ about it – much more narrative based.

  16. Tamie said “So office => identity => function (is that right?)”. Yes. So Luther says ‘the function of the priest is to preach and if you do not preach you are not a priest” which follows from your diagram.

    Tamie said “the whole lecture about pastoral identity, professionalism, etc makes heaps more sense now.” Well, I think it became clearer in my mind while riding home and reflecting on our discussion in class!

    As for the second sentence of the second Luther quote. I can’t find it in my copy, but I don’t think this means that he is therefore offering a purely functional definition of being a pastor. He is making a similar point as he is in my quote above – without the function there is no office. He is also, quite rightly arguing against ‘indelible orders’. But that’s not to say he would support a person moving in and out of the office.

    In this regard I am reacting to what I see and suggesting that we are helped by recovering the understanding of the ordinal that we are intending to embrace this vocation for life, though of course circumstances might change. I’m not saying this is required by the bible, but that it would better for all concerned if this perspective was taken more seriously.

    Mark’s view on communion is very helpful. We tend to think that ‘remembering’ means ‘thinking hard about Jesus’ death’ which is off the mark. It is ‘remember’ in the sense of commemorate, celebrate. But more than that, since this is our foundational story this act of corporate commemoration shapes and defines who we are.

  17. @Tim: I don’t have the original at hand to check… it’s quoted in MacCulloch (above) p. 130. His reference:

    The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (Luther’s Works XXXVI) p. 116-7

    I’m sure you’re right though…

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