A calling and a career are two different things.
A calling comes from God. It is really has nothing to do with a pay check or health benefits. It is not a good way to provide for your family or put a roof over your head. It is not voluntary, and it may have nothing to do with your personal ambitions or desires.
A career (a word I chose for the alliteration but job is maybe more apt) is provided for pastors by the church. It comes with many of the things listed above, but also with some obligations and expectations that are common to every job.
Sometimes, it seems, pastors and the church get confused about this distinction.
This issue is important to me these days as I am seeking to live out my sense of calling outside the only venue that our denomination supports for calling – the pastorate. We pay great lip service to the notion that all Christians have a calling and are in ministry, but when we talk about “call” we almost always mean the call to be a pastor. The upshot of this is that laity find very few theological or pastoral supports for working out their sense of calling in their jobs and careers because the only career that we really speak of as a calling are ones in the church itself.
By merging the notion of call with the job of pastor, we create a muddle that makes is difficult for both laity and the clergy to think carefully about what it means to have a call.
I know for a fact that there are pastors who go by the name United Methodist who take the name because it comes with health insurance and a retirement plan, not because they plan to preach or teach church doctrine or practice church discipline. I know of pastors who ignore church law and openly profess that they have no particular sense of obligation to the UMC.
But they assert that their calling authorizes all this. They confuse their career as UMC pastor with their calling and believe the call authorizes behavior that would not be rewarded or condoned in nearly any other job.
As a member of the United Methodist Church, I want my pastor to have a strong sense of calling, but I also want him or her to be faithful to the vows to uphold the teaching of the denomination. I want my pastor to show by example that his or her vows, like the vows of my baptism, are meaningful. I want my pastor to do his or her job.
And I want the church to help me understand that I have a calling, too. I want guidance in working out the ways that I can live that calling in my job or through it. I want help discerning when my call requires me to change my career or seek ways to be a tent-maker whose call is supported by a job but not bound up in it.
These are difficult issues for me. I suspect they are for others as well. They would be helped if we could start by distinguishing between the call of God and the job of pastor. Doing so would free up the concept of calling for those of us who are not in the clerical orders.