One of the most common frustrations I hear from egalitarian women who want to be in vocational ministry is that they want to be in a place where they can use their gifts. I understand this frustration because I share it, and I believe that all who desire to be in vocational ministry but currently aren’t also share in this.
The desire to shepherd, lead, and focus on kingdom work full time is a good thing, and it is compelling. It drives us to do crazy things like work a 40 hour week in the corporate world only to have meetings with brothers and sisters after work, walking through the muck and mire of life after barely dealing with our own junk all day. It pushes us to spend all day working hard, only to go home and read and write and think and pray. It forces us to also turn down some of those opportunities so that we can rest to avoid burnout, and this is the hardest of all because we don’t feel productive. But what if we’ve forgotten the nature of these gifts?
Yes, and amen, our gifts were given to benefit the Body. I don’t think anyone will disagree with that, but I feel that we often try to limit how those gifts benefit the Church. We want to rip ourselves away from working in the corporate world or caring for families so that we can pour out in service to our King, but we forget that as our King He is the Sovereign Gift-Giver. He gives to whom He wills and has the right to direct how and where the recipients use their gifts. This is hard for us, because we think we have a better vision for our lives than God does. We don’t want limits; we want autonomy. We’re like the young boy who gets his first Nerf gun for Christmas and is so excited, only to be mad a few minutes later when his parents say “Not in the house!” All we can see is our limitations, blinded to the joys that playing outside offers. God doesn’t direct us to limit our ability or our freedom, but to expand it, just as parents know that their son will have much more fun hiding behind and climbing on trees while he plays with his Nerf gun and that he also won’t have to worry about breaking his mom’s fine china. He’ll have more freedom, not less.
I absolutely believe that a good part of desire for vocational ministry is to focus on Christ and help others see Him more clearly. But, let’s be honest for a minute here: Part of it is also because it’s safe. It’s comfortable. We won’t have to worry about losing our jobs for telling people about Jesus, and when others come to us for counsel we know they’ve asked for it to be from a gospel-centered perspective. The gray of what can and can’t be said fades away and we can focus on speaking clearly the truth people so desperately need to hear.
But maybe God has us in positions other than vocational ministry to expand that ability instead of limit it. Maybe the gift of shepherding is something as simple as asking “You sure you want to do that?” when a co-worker talks about leaving early out of frustration and anger. Perhaps God gave you the gift of administration to help you organize a household and wrangle a passel of kids. God may very well have given you a love for teaching the gospel solely to focus that on your children, that goes for both moms and dads. We’ve come under the false notion that vocational ministry is the pinnacle of Christendom. To be sure, it’s definitely needed and I’m sure it’s also a blessing. But as Christians, we’re all called to minister in some form or other. The difference is that pastors and elders have signed up to lean on God even harder, have tougher conversations, and wish they had the type of relationships with and reach toward the lost that most of us have at work.
I know that there is all kinds of debate about gender roles in the home and church and that we probably won’t get anywhere with that today. So, let me say this: By all means, pursue vocational ministry. Study, shepherd, and love Jesus and teach others to do the same. But don’t limit yourself to having to be paid to do it. Enjoy the freedom God has given you to play outside the walls of the church building. Make ministering to others more important than being “in ministry” and you might just find yourself more fulfilled than you’ve ever been.