The Difference Between a Calling and a Career

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Those of us who have been in ministry for the long haul can easily find ourselves taking the slippery slope from living a calling to having a career. This is one of the most dangerous things that can happen in the life of a person called to full-time ministry. You’d be amazed at the times when I have been consulting or consoling a pastor and heard these words, “If I was trained to do and could make a living doing anything else, I would.”

It’s essential that each of us take the time in each season of life, maybe even once a year, to ask ourselves this one question… Am I in ministry to make a living or am I in ministry because God called me? Maybe it will help you to see in writing what the difference is between a calling and a career.

A calling comes from God, is inescapable, and demands God be at work accomplishing what only He can accomplish through you. Noah was called to build the ark. Nehemiah was called to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Peter was called to be a life-long disciple of Jesus. Those who are called live a life of full devotion and are disciples first, ministers second.

A career is motivated by the church leader’s personal needs and longings and is easily set aside when the work becomes exhausting and people become demanding. The expectations of a career pastor have been determined by the pastor himself with the goal being to stroke the ego more than to make the gospel known and to continue to make a decent living. The goal is personal accomplishment. In order for the career pastor to feel fulfilled, what is accomplished is dependent on the pastor himself. Why? The either straightforward or subconscious goal is to build an impressive resume so that you can move to a more impressive or influential church or see your salary soar. You are devoted to yourself first and the church secondly. In fact, if you’re not careful, your church is simply a means to an end. She is viewed more as a company you work for than the bride of Christ that you would give your life for.

If you just found out that you are a career pastor, please do one of the following things.

  1. Spend time with a professional counselor to find out if burnout is the real problem. If so, do what it takes to get the rest you need then come back to ministry ready to make a Kingdom difference.
  2. Get counsel from a mature pastor to determine if your calling was real and from God. If not, you’ll be an outstanding lay church member and will still have a major influence in the church where God places you.
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