This week’s Vocation Interview features local Nampa pastor Sharad Yadav. I met Sharad through my friends Pastor Rick and Eric. The first time we hung out he was wearing a Radiohead shirt and we were chowing down on Chinese food – good times. Anyway, turns out Sharad and I have a similar heart for the way we should operate as the church, and rather than hearing a load more from me, I wanted to give room for this articulate dude to share his heart. Sharad is pastor of Nampa Bible Church.
What’s your perspective on the idea of vocation in the life of the Christian?
Vocation is an interesting topic because it’s so widely associated with a person’s “job”, which is colored by all sorts of cultural connotations that are completely foreign to the world of the Bible. Either one is lucky enough to do something she enjoys or one is employed for the sole purpose of financial sustenance. In either case, it is quite a different thing for those whose eyes have been opened to the kingdom of God. For a Christian, the concept of vocation is neither a vehicle for personal satisfaction nor is it a compartmentalized slice of life – in fact it’s very much the opposite. It is a radically cosmic concern that encompasses the entirety of a person’s life.
Genesis 1-2 highlights the way in which all human beings were intended to work out their relationship with God on the earth: God put our first parents in an uncultivated garden. This was not a paradise of perfection in the sense that meddling with it would defile it – it was an untamed, wild and, very much like the surface of the earth before God began his creative work; it was in its own way “formless and void”. That is, it required shaping, cultivating, enriching and active stewardship in order to bring out its full potential for the glory of God – what the text means by that misleadingly oppressive sounding word, “dominion”. This became much, much more difficult after the creation was plunged into futility because of sin – but the fundamental need for the shaping of creation to shine forth the glory of God continues. It’s the purpose of our lives.
The implications of this are huge, because it means that work is not about eking out a livable income for ourselves: it’s about manifesting goodness, beauty and truth of the Creator. The biblical vision of human vocation, then, is functioning in harmony with God and cooperation with man to use one’s life to mirror the goodness of God to the world – whether you’re an artist, a business owner, a janitor or an insurance salesman. The story of Babel’s tower shows how this enduring impulse was bent through sin – the attempt to reflect our own glory independently of God. This is the same sin that prevented Adam from fulfilling his vocation, and it’s the one that prevents us still. But this is why God sent another Man, Who stood in another garden – to take on the consequences of that sin and futility on the cross and to begin to make the world anew in His resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of God’s renewal of the universe and the end of the legacy of futility left by Adam. By His death and resurrection we are restored to God, given the Spirit that restores us to one another and to our vocation – to witness to Jesus’ renewal of creation by our own work of restoration, redemption, and working out the goodness of God in our home, work and play.
As a pastor of a local church, you probably run into people who think you do ministry and they do other stuff. Do you see two types of vocation (e.g. general and specific) or is it more helpful to think in terms of one vocation for all, as you described above, to avoid that false dichotomy?
I think you’re right to call it a false dichotomy – it’s an unnatural division cleft not only between ministry and “other stuff”, but between clergy and laity, sacred and secular, church activity and the rest of my life. The way that the notion of Christian vocation breaks these down is to say that, for the Christian, all of life is ministry (we are blessed in order to be a blessing), every believer is ordained to full time ministry (God just sends our checks from different sources), all of life is sacred (from praying to peeing) and church isn’t a meeting or a place we go but a calling and a kind of people we are (saying “we’re going to church” is literally an incoherent thing to say).
But the way that articulating Christian vocation does that is precisely by making a SPECIFIC point about every individual’s calling. In other words, vocation is never generic – it is always specific. You were created, gifted and placed in particular places and times with particular experiences and capacities in order to cultivate God’s glory in your environment. Pursuing that calling always involves coming to the realization that, like Adam, it’s not something you could ever do alone. It must be done together with the gifts and calling of others who complete what’s lacking in you. Living in community with those who God has called to help you live out your vocation tends to help clarify and sharpen your understanding of what it means to be an agent for the kingdom in your context.
OK, so let’s sidestep here a little onto the community track. What are you doing at Nampa Bible Church to facilitate this living in community that results in people living out their vocation?
It’s more about what we WANT to do at NBC than what we’re actually doing. We’re sort of in a transitional phase right now, trying to figure out how to live out what we believe with greater consistency and intention. Vocation is really at the heart of that for us. We’re trying to understand what it would mean to stop thinking of church as a meeting or location and to think of it instead as an identity that we purposefully carry into our relationships and activities during the week. We are asking questions like, “If we stopped meeting on Sundays for a year, would we still be a church? Why not? If we were failing to love our spouses and children, who would call and admonish us? What is the difference between my group of friends and my non-Christian-but-religious neighbors?” We’re realizing that what people need in order to live that way boils down to three things:
1) Each of us needs to repent of the idolatry (finding our significance in other things besides Jesus, even good things) that determines our lifestyles – our schedule, relationships, our struggles and pursuits. This is a matter not so much of locking ourselves in a room and praying all day as much as realizing how all of life is supposed to be about Jesus.
2) We are realizing that in order to resist finding our identity in success, sex, sports, romance or whatever, we need other Christians to be in our lives, telling us the truth about ourselves (i.e. our significance comes from being loved by God in the death and resurrection of Jesus). We need to hear that truth in the moments it counts – when we’re angry at our spouses, overwhelmed by work, struggling to be sexually fulfilled, depressed about our finances, etc. Right now we’re in the process of encouraging people to begin meeting with just a few people to begin praying about committing to do ordinary life with another – hearing one another’s stories, listening to God together, celebrating with one another, eating together, blessing one another in practical ways and recreating together. We refuse to make it a program. We want that lifestyle to be what it means to be a member of our church.
3) At the heart of these mini-churches that we’re praying God will assemble among our congregation we’re asking people to consider the fact that living this sort of lifestyle together with people who don’t know Jesus is how God demonstrates that the Gospel is real. Atonement might not make sense – but when they see someone bear some loss to forgive their brother, they begin to understand what it means. The mercy, grace and love of God can be very abstract and inert – but when people experience it in the flesh and blood of our relationships, the Kingship of Jesus comes down from being a doctrine to being a beautiful reality (what Leslie Newbigin calls “the hermeneutic of the Gospel” – we interpret the Gospel for them by the lives we live together). So we’re also asking people who assemble together in this sort of commitment to one another to ask God who He is calling them to bless and bring into their communal life.
In short (holy crap, this answer has been anything but short so far), we’re not a church that’s asking people to plug into a program that happens on Sunday and Wednesday. We’re asking them to follow Jesus in a lifestyle and we want to keep their calendar free of potlucks and men’s breakfasts so that they can do it. Or, as an outside observer holding a bulletin on Sunday might say, “Wow – you guys don’t really do anything!”
Yeah, the death of the church calendar is hard for some people. In fact, I don’t think every church is called to that (my opinion), but for those of us pursuing this way of being the church… We live in a goal orientated society. One of the challenges presented is to know when we are living vocationally, and keeping each other accountable when we are not. Any thoughts on how that could happen, since it is often an internal perspective?
I’m not sure that any church is called to killing their church calendar – but I do think all churches are all unequivocally called to equip people to be the church. For us, that meant taking away the illusion that by chipping an hour a week into a children’s program we were being the church, when in fact “church” was just another item on the schedule next to little league and date night. For us, the only way to begin removing that veil was to let programs die and let people see that what held our body together was our consumer desires for spiritual services rather than strong relationships built around Jesus.
Everyone would have said that “it’s all about relationships” before that point, but when the programs went away so did many of the people. What drove that mindset was a subtle shift that happens to people in church. We start understanding biblical words as euphemisms for our churchy activity rather than what those words actually mean. So “discipleship” isn’t so much pouring your life into another person or helping them to find Jesus in the midst of daily struggles – it’s simply attending a class. Instead of “worship” being an acknowledgement of the supremacy and goodness of Jesus in all things it is translated into singing in an auditorium once a week. “Ministry” is primarily an activity that ensures the organization’s events run smoothly (volunteers to watch the kids, clean the building, organize VBS, etc.) instead of being seen primarily as blessing people in relational contexts in the daily stuff of life. We could go on. But the point is that while churches are not called to kill their calendar, they are called to see church as an identity, not merely an activity – a way of life together that extends beyond a weekly service.
Maintaining that perspective can really only be done in one way – by groups of people covenanting to do life in relationship with one another. As cliché as it sounds, it really is all about relationships. It’s easy enough to keep someone accountable for an activity – but how do you keep someone accountable for a mindset or perspective? Only people who are involved in your life – who call you during the week, who stop by for a chat, who call you from the store to see if you need anything, who share their struggles over coffee, who know your spouse and children like they’re part of the family – can really know how you see yourself and thus be equipped to speak the truth about your identity into your life. Anything churches can do to facilitate those relationships (which happen both inside and outside the church calendar) will go a long way toward our faithfulness to be the church in the world.
Check out the community Sharad pastors at Nampa Bible Church and if you want further reading on the idea of intentional community/home church/missional living or whatever you want to label it, you might consider the following:
Total Church by Steve Timmis & Tim Chester (Re:Lit/Crossway)
The Relational Way by M. Scott Boren (Touch Publications)
Sharad also thinks it would be worthwhile to look at Soma Communities