To illustrate the need to rethink vocation, think about what you did yesterday. Just take a couple of minutes to think about your day. Now answer this question: What percentage of what you did yesterday was spiritual, and what percentage was secular?
Consider this follow-up question. Does selling insurance, running a coffee shop, driving for Uber, teaching at a public school, or waiting tables at the local restaurant matter to God? If we attempt to answer that question by simply listening to the majority of preaching in North America, the answer will unfortunately have to be, “Not much.”
What percentage of what you did yesterday was spiritual, and what percentage was secular?
In one survey, over 90% of Christians said they had never heard a sermon that applied biblical theology to work. Yet, Christians may spend more than half of their lives in work-related activities.
The idea of rethinking vocation must start with considering this sacred/secular divide, or what some people refer to as the problem of dualism. Dualism, simply put, is wrongly dividing something that should not be divided. The Greco-Roman thought was that the world is divided into two competing domains: the sacred (spiritual) and the secular (material). Such a worldview tends to assume that the spiritual is the higher realm, and the secular, or material world, is lacking deep meaning. Dualism leads to multiple divisions in thinking, including the division between the clergy (spiritual) and the laity (secular), the church (spiritual) and the world (secular), and between so-called religious practices (Bible study, prayer, worship) and so-called secular practices (work, play, eating).
During the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, Martin Luther rejected this division between sacred and secular vocations.
Where this form of dualism happens often, and becomes harmful to our understanding of ministry, is in our view of vocation. The word vocation comes from the Latin vocatio, meaning a call or summons. It is normally used to refer to a calling or occupation that a person is drawn to or for which they are particularly suited.
The problem of work dualism goes back to the fourth century when Augustine compartmentalized the way people lived when he spoke of the contemplative life and the active life. For Augustine, the contemplative life was given to sacred things and was seen as a higher calling, while the active life was given to secular things and regarded as a lower calling.
However, during the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, Martin Luther rejected this division between sacred and secular vocations. He broadened the concept of vocation from a very narrow church focus (the priesthood, nuns, or monks) to describe the life and work of all Christians in response to God’s call. Luther argued that regardless of the vocation that God called someone to, it was sacred because it was God who did the calling. Therefore, it can be said that the doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers did not make everyone into church workers; rather, it turned every kind of work into a sacred calling.” Bottom line—all work matters!
Unfortunately, many Christians still see their work as nothing more than a necessary evil. They don’t understand how their “ordinary” everyday life is part of the mission of God.
But unfortunately, many Christians still see their work as nothing more than a necessary evil. They don’t understand how their “ordinary” everyday life is part of the mission of God. For example, the language of “full-time Christian work” or “full-time ministry” is commonly used to describe the calling to be a pastor, missionary, or parachurch worker. However, a proper and biblical understanding is that all Christians are called to “full-time ministry,” doing work well for the glory of God, regardless of their specific vocation (1 Corinthians 10:31).
If God reigns over all things (and He does), then all things are sacred. Too often people leave their homes on Monday morning and somehow think they leave God behind. Instead, the church needs to help people recognize that regardless of what God has called them to do, they are contributing to, and participating in, God’s redemptive mission.
Not only does this dualistic view of vocation harm our general understanding of calling, but it also affects the way we view the work of Bivocational church leaders. Historically the phrase “bivocational pastor” was used to refer to a leader who served a church that was unable to compensate a pastor with a full-time salary. Therefore, the pastor would work a second, or third job to supplement the salary the church could provide. In many cases, it was out of necessity rather than preference. Often the language of “tentmaker” (the Apostle Paul’s trade described in Acts 18) has been used to define this type of church leader.
One of the problems with the language of “bivocation” is that it often invokes the thought of two distinct vocations. We bifurcate, (divide into two) or compartmentalize, seeing little, if any, overlap between what a leader does to earn a living and his or her full-time ministry.
To begin to overcome this sacred/secular division it may be best to use the language of “co-vocation.” The prefix “co” means “together” or “in common.” English words like cofounder, copilot or companion are examples of words that denote partnership and equality. Covocation embodies the reality that if a person is called to be a dentist, a teacher, a plumber or a web-designer; and at the same time called to start or pastor a church, the different callings are not isolated from one another. Instead, they are interlinked and equal. The language of covocation pushes against the temptation to compartmentalize different aspects of our lives. When we begin to understand that each of our callings are legitimate and necessary aspects of God’s mission, they can be leveraged together for His purposes.
When we begin to understand that each of our callings are legitimate and necessary aspects of God’s mission, they can be leveraged together for His purposes.
Bivocational and Covocational Definitions
A Bivocational pastor (or church planter) is one who works a second job to supplement the salary the church provides. Their hope is that the church will eventually grow large enough to provide the financial support so they can leave their bivocational job to focus full-time on the church.
A Covocational pastor (or church planter) is one whose primary vocation is in the marketplace and at the same time are called to start a church. A “Covo” pastor/planter is one who has a clear calling in the marketplace that they never intend to leave. They know God has called them to be a teacher, mechanic, graphic designer or engineer and they desire to weave that calling into the plan to lead a church.
Written by Brad Brisco, Director of Multiplication Strategies for the Send Network.