Vocation as Mission

Today Dr. Peters took our Church and Society class to visit The Neighborhood Academy.  The Neighborhood Academy is a private, faith-based, college-preparatory school which serves low-income families and children from the inner-city neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.  In short, this school takes students from an underprivileged backgrounds and uses high expectations and a highly structured curriculum (12-hour school days, mandatory extracurriculars, nearly year-round schooling) to instill in them a strong work ethic and a good education, ensuring that they go on to college.  This is all a part of the bigger picture of breaking the cycle of generational poverty by giving these children tools to build a successful future. 

As Portia, a junior at the school, gave us a tour of the building and told us about her classes, I was blown away. I kept thinking, “This is real ministry.”  I had the same feeling a few weeks ago when we visited The Pittsburgh Project.  These institutions are doing the work of the Kingdom of God in such powerful, Spirit-filled ways.  And they are not churches.  The Neighborhood Academy grew out of a church.  The Pittsburgh Project is associated with a congregation that meets on their campus.  But these ministries are not “churches” in terms of being congregations of disciples who gather together for worship on Sunday mornings.  Nor are they programs of churches – they’re not branches of congregations who simply wish to extend their influence and ministerial brand-name over a certain social cause.  These are separate institutions – “public ministries” as opposed to “parish ministries”, in my professor’s words.  And the people who work at these institutions truly are missionaries and ministers – whether they’re teaching, answering telephones and scheduling appointments, or serving as janitors – because God is using them for the sake of the Kingdom.
And this makes me wonder:  Since there’s such a need for public ministry, and since institutions like the Neighborhood Academy and the Pittsburgh Project are already doing it so well, what does this mean for the parish ministry that takes place on Sunday mornings?  Should the parish ministry – the “church” which gathers for worship – also be preoccupied with creating additional programs to do public ministry?  Or should it focus on how worship and the sacraments enable its members to serve outside of the church’s structure in public ministry throughout the rest of the week?  What would it look like if church existed for the purpose of “equipping the saints” for the service of God in their respective vocations?  What if pastors worked to call to light the ways in which the vocations of our members are a part of the public ministry of the Kingdom of God?  What would church and ministry look like? 
  • Perhaps more “church” time and energy could be given to spiritual formation.
  • Church members would be commissioned regularly in worship to serve God through their vocations, thus highlighting and recognizing the missional value of their vocations.  This could be done for people with virtually any job description (provided the job is not inherently sinful). 
  • More “mission” takes place because it’s not bracketed off from the rest of life for church members. Instead they’re encouraged to see everything they do as mission.
  • There might be less burnout among church members. Their ministries would be their vocations, rather a pile of church programming which they feel pressured to heap on top of their supposedly “secular” day job.

 

Of course there’s still room for service in the name of a particular congregation, but it would not be the focal point of the church.  Rather, church members could point to the day-to-day work of others in the congregation and say confidently “that’s what our church does to serve God in the world.”  I’m thinking out loud a bit here – I don’t know if this is really possible and I’m not necessarily saying that this is the philosophy we’ll use in the new congregation we hope to begin in the coming year – but I think there’s something to this.  

Is this realistic?  What does this mean for the role of the pastor?  For the church-member/attendee – how would you feel about this vision for a vocationally missional congregation?

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1 comment
  1. Brian said:

    I think you hit it right on the head.

    The only other piece I would add is that partnerships are so critical to any vibrant church. I know especially in my setting we’ve got people who are so scattered profession wise and busy with their kids we’ve had to focus on helping people see their mission field as the normal day to day places where they are (school, work, etc.).

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