Co-vocational church planting: Rethinking vocation

By Brad Brisco

The idea of rethinking vocation must start with considering the sacred/secular divide, or what some people refer to as the problem of dualism. Dualism, simply put, is wrongly dividing something that should not be divided. The Greco-Roman thought was that the world is divided into two competing domains: the sacred (spiritual) and the secular (material). Such a worldview tends to assume that the spiritual is the higher realm, and the secular, or material world, is lacking of deep meaning. Dualism leads to multiple divisions in thinking; including the division between the clergy (spiritual) and the laity (secular), the church (spiritual) and the world (secular), and between so-called religious practices (Bible study, prayer, worship) and so-called secular practices (work, art, eating).

Where this form of dualism happens often, and actually becomes harmful to our understanding of bi-vocational ministry, is in our understanding of vocation. The word vocation comes from the Latin vocatio, meaning a call or summons. It is normally used to refer to a calling or occupation that a person is drawn to or is particularly suited for. The problem of work dualism goes back to the fourth century when Augustine compartmentalized the way people lived when he spoke of the contemplative life and the active life. For Augustine, the contemplative life was given to sacred things and was seen as a higher calling, while the active life was given to secular things and regarded as a lower calling. This kind of thinking helped to create a distorted view of work that continues today.

For example, the language of “full-time Christian work” or “full-time ministry” is commonly used to describe those whose vocational calling is to be a pastor, missionary or parachurch worker. However, a proper and biblical understanding is that all Christians are called to “full-time ministry,” doing good work well for the glory of God, regardless of their specific vocation. If God reigns over all things, and He does, then all things are sacred. But too often people leave their homes on Monday morning and somehow think they leave God behind. Instead, the church needs to help people recognize that regardless of what God has called them to do, they are contributing to, and participating in, God’s redemptive mission.

Rethinking vocation is particularly important today when considering bi-vocational ministry. Often the language of bi-vocational invokes the thought of two distinct vocations. We bifurcate, (divide into two) or compartmentalize, seeing little, if any, overlap between what a leader does to earn a living and his or her full-time ministry.

To overcome this disconnection, at the Send Network, we have started using the language of “co-vocation.” The prefix “co” is the reduced form of the Latin com which means “together” or “in common.” English words like co-founder, copilot or companion are examples of words that denote partnership and equality. Co-vocation embodies the reality that if a person is called to be a dentist, a teacher or a plumber; and at the same time are called to start a church, the different callings are not isolated from one another, instead they are actually interlinked and equal. The language of co-vocation pushes against the temptation to compartmentalize different aspects of our lives. When we begin to understand that each of our callings are legitimate and necessary aspects of God’s mission; they can be leveraged together for His purposes.

Published September 20, 2017

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Brad Brisco

Brad is currently the Director of Bivocational Church Planting for the North American Mission Board. He holds a doctorate in the area of missional ecclesiology; his doctoral thesis was on assisting existing congregations in transitioning in a missional direction. Brad is the co-author of Missional Essentials, a twelve-week small group study guide, The Missional Quest: Becoming a Church of the Long Run, and Next Door As It Is In Heaven. He and his wife have three children and have been foster parents to more than fifty other kids.