For Carly and me, our call to ministry came long ago. Before marrying, we both sensed that the best hours of our days and weeks would be devoted to introducing people to Jesus and equipping them in their faith. We’ve been doing that in various ways for all of our seven years of marriage.
For the most part, ours has been a shepherding kind of ministry. We’ve led small groups, taught classes, led in youth ministry, and for the past three and a half years, I’ve been a pastor.
Yet we sensed Jesus moving us to shift focus. Last spring, when Carly and I contemplated a change from my current role as a pastor, our greatest desire was to be more engaged with people who were either unreached or unengaged with the gospel. That was perhaps the single greatest reason we became missionaries with Cru. I’ve tried to communicate it this way: we are moving from shepherding work to spreading work.
Now, what does one do when they sense a call from the Lord to a new role in ministry? Google it, of course. I followed suit and searched for “transition from pastor to missionary.” Do you know what I found?
Not a whole lot.
I’m not sure what I was looking for. Perhaps a little encouragement or guidance as to how to navigate these transition waters. But evidently, this is uncommon in our context. Growing up in North America and even while a pastor in a North American context, I was convinced that pastoring was the most distinguished, important part of Christian work. A quick scan of the current Evangelical landscape proves this. How many celebrity pastors can you name? How about celebrity missionaries? Even more, how often are pastors expected to do the work of shepherd and teacher and missionary (and eventually burn out)? Far too often, unfortunately.
Yet when I look at the Scriptures, what I see is that there are leaders in the church who shepherd the flock and there are others who spread the gospel among those outside the flock, in hope that they become a part of the flock. It takes a diversity of gifts and calling, multiple kinds of leaders.
Ephesians 4:11-12 is one passage that speaks to this: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and the teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Not only shepherds and teachers (i.e. pastors), but apostles, prophets, and evangelists. In order for the gospel to go out people need to go out from local congregations to broadly spread the seed of the gospel and bring in a harvest of people whom God is drawing to himself. Then, churches get planted, more shepherds are raised up, and more missionaries are sent out. This is how God has designed his church to function. This is how it must function if we want to reach every tribe, nation, people, and language.
As Carly and I leaned into this clear biblical truth, God calling us to spreading-type work became clear. What a joy it was and has been for us to discover! Personally, it’s been so freeing discover I don’t need to be suck in a “pastor or bust” mentality when it comes to full-time Christian service. Spreading is not better or worse than shepherding. Both are essential. Spreading is simply what we are called to do. I think I speak for both Carly and me when I say that I can’t think of doing anything else with our life together.