How many times have you heard a sermon that called you to “preach the gospel” and fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20)?
These kinds of sermons are necessary reminders of an important command given to us by Jesus, but often we are left with the idea that this is only able to be done in and through work directly connected to the church. Examples from missionaries to Sunday School teachers are often given, reinforcing the belief that this call to evangelism is the most effective in the church realm.
One thing I would love to see is for pastors to offer a fuller description of all the areas in our lives where we fulfill our calling to be faithful to the Great Commission. I have found Os Guinness’ excellent book, The Call, very helpful in this regard.
“The primary calling of all Christians is to become disciples of Christ,” Guinness writes. This means our first call is to follow Jesus out of darkness into light, out of death into life. It also includes a call to faith in Christ (Rom. 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 1:9), a call to the kingdom of God (1 Thess. 2:10-12), a call to eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12; Heb. 9:15), and a call to holy living (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:15). Guinness goes on to say that out of this primary calling flow four secondary callings: our call to the family, church, community, and vocation. All the work God calls us to do resides in these four areas.
It is in the work we do in these four secondary callings, paid and unpaid, that we have the opportunity to bring about flourishing and positively impact the communities around us for God’s Kingdom. Our obedience to our primary calling to Christ can be seen working itself out in our secondary callings in these four distinct ways.
Our Call to Family
The first aspect of our secondary calling is to be a part of our human family: brother, sister, son, daughter, father, and/or mother. God established marriage in the Garden of Eden and told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, which implies families. The family is one of the ways we are to fill the world with the image of God and thus fulfill Genesis 1:28.
Our Call to the Church
All members of the church possess spiritual gifts, natural gifts, and abilities. We are called to use our gifts to build up the body of Christ, to strengthen the body, and to carry out its purpose within the world. The diversity of gifts, each supporting the other, strengthens the whole church “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
Our Call to Community
The call to community was described by the Puritan author William Perkins as “a certain kind of life ordained and imposed on man by God for the common good.” The gospel commands us to serve God’s purposes in the world through civic, social, political, domestic, and ecclesiastical roles. We are to love God and to love our neighbor in the larger community beyond the church by engaging in justice and mercy as God leads us.
Tim Keller, in his book Ministries of Mercy, insists, “To say that evangelism can be done without also doing social concern is to forget that our goal is not individual ‘decisions,’ but the bringing of all life and creation under the lordship of Christ, the kingdom of God.”
Our Call to Vocation
Alister McGrath writes about our fourth and final secondary calling, the call to vocation:
The work of believers is thus seen to possess a significance that goes far beyond the visible results of that work. It is the person working, as much as the resulting work, that is significant to God. There is no distinction between spiritual and temporal, sacred and secular work. All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God. Work is, quite simply, an act of praise—a potentially productive act of praise. Work glorifies God, it serves the common good, and it is something through which human creativity can express itself.
We use the term “vocational calling” in the same way as the Protestant Reformers. A Christian’s work is not a specific type of occupation but rather an attitude that sees work, in Dorothy Sayers’ words:
…not, primarily as a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. [Work] is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s gifts, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.
Different Life Stages, Same Call
While the time we spend in these four areas changes as we go through different stages of our lives, we should never ignore any one area. We would never rightly say, “I’m busy raising a family now, so I won’t go to church.”
For some people, two of these callings may overlap. For example, a pastor’s call to the church overlaps his vocational call. For the stay-at-home-mother, her call to vocation overlaps her calling to the family. But for all of us, our work falls into these categories to one degree or another throughout the entirety of lives.
We are called to preach the gospel and fulfill the Great Commission in all these areas, not just the church. As Pastor John Mark Comer writes in his book Garden City, “The cosmic, gargantuan 24/7 Kingdom of God cannot be shrunk down to a few hundred people singing songs in a nice building for an hour every weekend.”
It is incumbent for pastors, and the rest of us, to correct this great misunderstanding.