The Beginnings of a Vocational Manifesto

Not everyone is called to be a missionary. Not everyone is called to be a pastor. Ordinarily both of these vocations, according to the scriptures and Lutheran confessions, are specifically trained, intensely taught, and accompanied by a regular call and ordination. True, baptism does make all Christians into a royal priesthood, but strictly speaking, it does not make every Christian into a pastor or missionary.

Confessional Lutheran theology has long recognized this distinction, never trying to pit one against the other, or make one more important than the other, but affirming the order and station God has created for both. However, the recent “missional” emphasis would seem to blur these lines, using unhelpful nomenclature that asserts that everyone is indeed a missionary, even if they are not called, ordained, or trained.

Though perhaps well-intentioned, the intent to make everyone into a minister, or into a missionary, ends up devaluing and disordering the vocational roles God has apportioned for the good of society and the good of His Church.

Each person has a distinct vocation, just as valid and just as important as missionary or pastor, but nonetheless uniquely arranged for that believer and their life of service.  As Norman Nagel notes, “The Holy Spirit is alive and at work through his gifts in every Christian, who then ‘offers Spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ Christians are both the temple and the royal priesthood and the sacrifice: all of them, all of their lives, bodily (Romans 12). What follows there, as in 1 Peter 2, is Haustafel—paranesis—which recognizes, indeed rejoices in, the diversity of the way the same gifts, which are given by the Spirit as confessed in the Third Article, work out in the particularity of each Christian life. Here there is no bondage of ‘all men are equal.’ Each is unique.” (“Luther and the Priesthood of All Believers,” Concordia Theological, October 1997, 293.)

Thus, whether parent, postman, pastor, painter, or paralegal, each vocation brings us into contact with others around us, first to serve them according to that vocation, and then, where possible, during the natural course of interactions, to proclaim the good news of Christ as appropriate to the opportunity and situation.

As most of us know, sharing the faith with unbelievers or new believers is very often most effectively done through personal, trusted relationships. No, it won’t happen every time an interaction occurs, but the joy of life in our vocation is that it is God pleasing, independent of our Gospel sharing. “As Luther and the Lutheran Confessions understand vocation, it is not a call of the Spirit out of the world but the calling of the Spirit to live within the mundane estates of congregation, family, and government. Luther spoke of these orders as the most fundamental forms of human existence. In his Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper of 1528, Luther calls them ‘religious institutions’ for they are sanctified by God’s word for the service of the neighbor.”  (John Pless, “Contemporary Spirituality and the Emerging Church” Concordia Theological Quarterly 71, 2007, 363.)

Unfortunately, this profound understanding of vocation is often undermined when the value of the ordinary estates of everyday life are trivialized and dismissed as unimportant by the church in the name of what is claimed to be a more important “missional” way of life—whatever that means.

For example, a mother and her four young children go to the grocery store and meet a fellow shopper, but because she needs to tend to her children and the grocery shopping for her family she does not evangelize to the fellow shopper. Does this mean that she is not a “missional” person, or worse, that she is sinning? What about the college student who is tending to his studies instead of formally evangelizing the students on campus? Does he lack a “missional” attitude? Is he sinning? Or is he simply living his vocation as a student?

Demands to be “missional” can often evoke guilt or the illegitimate abandonment of a God given vocation. As Gustaf Wingren has demonstrated, the mission of God encompasses the greater whole of life. Therefore, perhaps the church should consider if “missional” pressure to abandon one’s vocation is not the greater disservice to the church.

Yet, to be clear, this is not saying that ordinary Christians cannot witness to others. Rather, when the priesthood of the baptized assemble around Word and Sacrament, they do so to be forgiven and freed, renewed and refreshed, discipled and dispersed out into the vocations of their daily lives. And, the more God-centered (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) they are in life, the more active they become in faith. Being regularly discipled, makes regular disciples, where they become more and more cognizant that through baptism and the Holy Spirit they are Christ-bearers and Kingdom-bringers to those around them in their vocation.

What is more, in worship, the priesthood of the baptized regularly pray the Lord’s Prayer, wherein the Second Petition asks, “Thy Kingdom come.” The explanation of this petition in Luther’s Small Catechism brings us deeper into the prayer. “God’s kingdom comes when our Heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

People most regularly lead their lives here, in time, through their daily vocations. Note the profound connection between what the Holy Spirit gives (faith and the Kingdom of God) and where the Holy Spirit places believers (in the world to live a godly, vocational, life). “The same Spirit who calls us to faith through the externality of his word also calls us to life in creation” (Pless, 362). Consequently, the more active believers are in the faith, that is, the more discipled they are through (liturgy), Word, and Sacrament, the more prone (and prepared) they are to share the faith through the vocations of thier life.

It is my claim that if the church would begin to focus more intentionally upon the doctrine of vocation and celebrate the vibrant work of the Holy Spirit in the priesthood of the baptized, amid the mundane and ordinariness of their lives, rather than focusing upon the empty aesthetics of “abstracted Christianity,” and law-oriented demands to be “missional,” there would be a renewed vitality and discipled growth within the church.

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.


Rev. Woodford


10 responses to “The Beginnings of a Vocational Manifesto

  1. It’s easy as well to rely on the pastors and trained clergy to do all our missionary-type activities. The average Joe or Jane member will attract those who are drawn by their life and witness to God more than any direct evangelism outreach that’s canned/planned.

    Balance in all we do, and not shying away from the opportunities to share our faith in reasonable ways is how we best spread the gospel. I’ve found that friends are curious why I converted to Lutheranism and I gladly explain and take the opportunity to point out the salient factors of the general decline you see today in modern Christianity. Nothing major, just did you know this and that. If nothing else, I’ve given the Holy Spirit a foot hold in their lives to work in their hearts and minds.

  2. When I was in college (Missionary Baptist Bible College), there was a revival. There were two formal services, but then the students began meeting informally for prayer and reading the Scripture in the chapel. After the first day, the school announced that anyone not in class would be counted absent even if they were in the chapel. Not being Lutheran and subsequently not having a correct understanding of vocation, I was indignant. After all, we were at a BIBLE college. What could be more important than prayer and reading the BIBLE. It turns out going to class. Now, I can see they were right.

    On a related note, we also tried to get excused from class to go evangelize the state college in town. The professors told us no, and we were once again indignant. How dare they stand in the way of the Spirit?

    I wish I had a better understanding of vocation then. Maybe I would have finished school.

    • Dear Steven,

      A great perspective for us to consider! Could I ask you to share how you went from attending a Baptist college and participating in revivals to following Lutheran theology? I find I learn a lot from people’s various experiences. Thanks!

      • While at college, I read a couple of books by Lutherans. I read Living By Grace by William Hordern and On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde. I also read Forde’s essay in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification.

        After I dropped out of college, I struggled with whether I was truly a Christian. In college, we were taught a threefold test to determine if we truly believed. Do you love God’s Word, do you love God’s people, and do you keep God’s Commandments? This is in addition to the Trinity, Christ’s person and work, etc, but that is all head knowledge.

        As a believer in double predestination this led me to doubt my status as one of God’s elect. In fact, I started becoming convinced that I was reprobate. I remember reading Forde so I picked up a couple more of his books. Where God Meets Man and Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life. This led me to read Luther’s Bondage of the Will.

        A friend of mine who also went to the same Bible college was attending Concordia in St Louis. While visiting him, I picked up a copy of the Book of Concord. I began reading through it. This pretty much sealed the deal for me. I began attending a Lutheran church in town. My wife pretty much agreed with everything Lutheranism teaches except she was not convinced that the Bible taught the bodily presence of Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine until we went through adult confirmation, and she read 1 Cor 10:16. My kids (2 at the time one was 4 the other 5 months) were actually baptized before we began Adult Confirmation. I tell people all the time that we followed our kids into the Lutheran church.

      • Dear Steven,

        Thanks so much! I appreciate your willingness to share the struggles you went through and the path you took toward Lutheranism. I think it is helpful for others, especially those who may be going through similar struggles, as well as life long Lutherans, to hear about your story. I appreciate your grasp of Lutheranism and encourage you to continue to share it with others. The Lord’s Blessing to you and your family!


        Rev. Woodford

  3. I guess there is a lot of what you write that I agree Pastor. I understand and agree with what you are saying about much of vocation. I just tend to see the problems in a different place.

    Suppose there was a mom, working to raise her children, showing them love, helping them in their school work, taking them to soccer practice and music lessons, etc and etc.

    And suppose this mom didn’t take her baptized kids to church.

    I mean, would we commend her? “She is doing a great job in her vocation! She is caring and loving her kids!” Isn’t that enough?

    Or would we come at her with the Law? Would we say that her vocation — the work she was doing — was NOT really enough. She was not being a part of the vocation that she has been called to—that of being a Christian (or really, a mom).

    Would this be putting too much pressure on her? She is awful busy…she is showing love…she is caring for her kids…Can we really add to her busy life and make more demands upon her? Is that really what a loving Jesus would want to do?

    The answer is yes. Yes we would. This is no different from what most missionals are saying as well. All they are saying is that you would be happy if the mom did all of her vocation…and brought her kids to church. Then you would be satisfied…or wait, maybe she would have to bring her kids to church AND Sunday School. Then you would be satisfied….or wait, maybe she would have to bring her kids to church AND Sunday School EVERY WEEK…then you would be satisfied….or wait…

    Just to clarify: what exactly does the mother need to do that would allow you to say “Ok! Good enough!” Where are you drawing the line? Perhaps the only distinction is that you would draw the line here and say “This is enough” and someone else would draw the line further and say “You have too low expectations; the line should be here.”

    (At this point, once again, I call your attention to “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” — could it be that your expectations for your children/congregation is simply too low? You expect little and receive little in return? She has much to teach about vocation…)

    For me, on another subject, language has a purpose — to communicate. That is why I say that every Christian is a missionary. There are aspects of that word that I want every Christian to hear. And to do.

    This is not the same as saying “Everyone is a pastor.” It is just saying “Vocation makes demands upon you.”

    Those are my thoughts.

    • Pastor Louderback,

      At the heart of things I would say we do share similar views regarding vocation. However, what I think it comes down to is that, while I certainly affirm the need to share the Gospel, I tend to protect the doctrine of vocation from those who would disavow it in the name of being missional, while you, though affirming vocation, want to protect the importance of being missional from those who would disavow it in the name of vocation. I think this type of dialogue can help both respective positions sort out what it is they are trying to get at. Thus, I am grateful for the opportunity.

      Further, perhaps the position I advocate might be described as the more natural or less pressured position of witnessing to others, while your perspective may advocate for what might be described as the more intentional or bold position of witnessing to others. To be sure, both have merit, where one may fit the various personalities of the people in the world better than another. And here I think we can have some fruit dialogue about things.

      What is more, I do agree with you that vocation does make demands upon you. But finding the balance of those demands, and not confusing the order of those demands, is where I think our disagreement may come. In the end, we do all need to struggle with what each various vocation asks of us, while living out our sin-filled, imperfect lives under the cross of Jesus Christ.

      Thanks for your thoughts! I always appreciate your perspective.


      Rev. Woodford

  4. Mark, As a single mom (in the past) I understand all too well the frustration of attempting to raise your children on limited resources. Demanding one should perform up to anothers expectations is foolhardy at best. In those situations, behaving as a Christian by offering help and being there in word as well as deed will leave a much more lasting impression than any sermon or lecture on lifestyle.

    I understand fully the temptation to judge as we think a Christian should live their lives, but we are only called to judge ourselves in the grace and mercy of our Lord.

    The link to the story of the mom who is protesting is a sad commentary on one person’s lack of judgement. There will always be those who act out in damaging ways.

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