In the church, we often say, “He’s a called pastor,” or “She’s a called teacher, DCE, deaconess, etc.” These calls to church workers happen by a definite and ordered process by an action of the congregation. God calls workers “mediately” or through means (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14).
The Lutheran Reformation, however, is responsible for a more radical rediscovery. Everyone has vocations. Being “called to faith” by God in Christ brings a sanctification and value to all of life’s relationships. Our vocations are determined by where we are put in this life. We have what Luther called “stations” in life, which exist in three main realms: the church; marriage, which includes all economic relationships; and the state.
As a Christian, I’m called to be president of the LCMS, and I’m a called assistant pastor at Village Lutheran, Ladue, Mo. I’m also “called” in a different but certainly no less significant way to be a son, a husband, a brother, a dad, a friend, a neighbor. And finally, I have a vocation as a citizen. I am to honor the government (Rom. 13:1 ff.), be a good citizen in my community and be a good neighbor. And the Scriptures say much about all of these relationships!
The Lutheran Reformation re-established the clear teaching of the equal value in God’s sight of every station and vocation. The simplest or most humble station in life has the same duty as the most powerful and profound: to serve God and man. And to serve my neighbor (all those placed around me in my life) is to serve God. The most mundane callings and vocations in this life are holy and precious in God’s sight. We are saved by the merit of Christ alone, not by our works. Because this is so, there simply are no good works or even vocations (so far as they are not sinful by definition) that are inherently less holy or more holy and pleasing to God. To be sure, some receive more honor, but it is a profound New Testament truth that the “body consists of many members” and “if one members is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:12, 26).
As pastors, we have many important tasks. Like all vocations, the pastor’s vocation is one of Christ-like service (Mark 10:45). One area of service is assisting lay people to realize their callings in the life of the church, the family and the state. Without the service and wisdom of laity, the LCMS ceases not only to function, but also to exist. There are specific duties that the Scriptures give to the Office of the Ministry. The people of a congregation call a man to carry out those duties (preach, teach, administer the Sacraments). A pastor renders holy service when he encourages lay people to take up vocations of service in the church and when he values the vocations of the laity and teaches them how remarkably significant and God-pleasing even the simplest (and least honored by the world) vocation is!
As I was getting ready to head to my first congregation, I informed old Dr. Degner at the Fort Wayne seminary that I was going to a small, rural community. I also made a disparaging remark about it. I’ll never forget his wise rebuke: “Matt, you are going to find that those people will be the most industrious, smart and capable people you will ever know.” Wow, was he right! What a pleasure it was to be trained to be a pastor by that first congregation. I beheld the beehive of activity of those farming and rural folks as they served their families, church and community in myriad ways, and most significantly, they shared Christ within their vocations to those around them. What an honor to serve there! They knew what they were doing, even when I didn’t.
Understanding vocation is critical for the relationship of pastor and people. The early Missouri Lutherans were criticized heavily for allowing too much authority to the laity and balancing lay/clergy representation in the governance of the church. The second president of the Synod, Friedrich Wyneken, gave a classic response: “We will not tolerate it that the souls freed and purchased by the blood of Christ be brought again under the yoke of any little Lutheran pope. . . . The dignity, the desire, and the joy of the true co-worker of God is to draw ever more his community of believers into their freedom and its worthy use, to encourage them and lead them ever more in the exercise of their rights, to show them how to exercise their duties that they be more and more convinced of their high calling and that they demonstrate that they are ever more worthy of that calling.” In so elevating the dignity of the vocations of the laity, says Wyneken, the people love and honor the Office of the Ministry all the more.