At church this week our pastor related a story from Max Lucado. You can read Max's post here but this is the gist of the story: his daughter wanted him to stop being a pastor and instead sell snow cones because she thought the happiest people in the world were snow cone vendors. He didn't listen to her request because he "knew more about life than she did."
The moral behind this story is that God doesn't always answer our requests because He knows more than we do and has better plans for us. While this is very true and any parent would agree that saying no to a child's request is sometimes the most loving thing to do, the story hit me in a slightly different way.
If I had an opportunity to sit down with Max, I would ask him what exactly he meant by knowing more about life. What exactly does he have against the idea of selling snow cones as an occupation? Is it because he probably wouldn't make a lot of money? Is it because he already had a occupation that suited him better? Or perhaps listening to "Turkey in the Straw" hour upon hour would just drive him batty.
I'm going to venture a small guess. I think Max holds the office of pastor in higher esteem than the office of snow cone vendor. To put a sharper edge on the point I think he thinks pastors are more important to God and impact God's kingdom more than snow cone vendors. I'm exaggerating a bit and speaking in hyperbole but I do so to draw out something I think is very real today.
I grew up going to church my whole life. I attended Sunday school, Sunday night service and Wednesday night youth group every week. I attended summer and winter retreats. And it seemed that every time there was a powerfully emotional worship service it would inevitably lead to asking for the highest possible calling on one's life: full time vocational ministry.
"Where are my future pastors? My future evangelists? Where are my next missionaries? Who will answer the call?" I have friends who answered, attended Bible college and went on to become pastors. And great for them. Congratulations. But all the while I felt like a complete outcast. I liked math and science and wanted to go into engineering. I wanted to work on technology that would make the world a better place. And I felt ashamed of this. Why, oh Lord, do you not love me as much as my friends? Why can't my life be as important to you? Why didn't you call me to earn my living in the church?
As I've gotten older and (hopefully) wiser I see how wrong-headed this thinking is. But I also see where it comes from. I see the structure of our corporate church gatherings and understand exactly why I thought the way I did. We only hear from a select group of people when we gather together. We hire professionals to run our services. We only allow properly trained people to speak from the pulpit and exegete the Holy Scriptures. Only the choicest musicians are allowed to perform on stage. We never hear from the snow cone vendors. Apparently for God to use you in His church, you need to attend Bible college, have a signed record deal and only earn holy money from God's approved organizations. Heaven forbid a lay person even think to get involved. Leave it to the pros, son.
Again, I'm speaking in hyperbole but this is something very dear to my heart. I've spent the better part of 30 years living under the assumption that working in a church is the highest and holiest calling one could ever have. And it just is not true. The church is not a physical organization or building. It is not a corporate structure headed by a pastor or board of deacons. The church is the living body of Christ. And if you trust that Jesus meant it when he said, "Father forgive them" you're a part of it. You are a citizen of heaven, a holy priest, a child of the Most High God. He has created you with unique desires and talents. Follow what you're passionate about, regardless of the name of the organization from which you collect money. There is no higher calling or vocation.
So to my pastor friends, a word of caution. Be careful about how you present what you do. It may not be as important or holy in God's eyes as you think. And to my snow cone vendor friends, keep it up. Nothing gives God more pleasure than seeing His kids bring sweet-tasting joy to the world.