A Conversation About Vocation
On this episode, Ryan, Josiah and Brian discuss the term vocation and what it means for pastoral ministry at large. We also hear from a new pastor named Regina who breaks the “one-size-fits-all” in every possible way. Additionally, stats on age of clergy and ethnic make-up are discussed as well. Those studies can be found here and here. Thank you for listening to the Guerrilla Pastor’s Podcast!
 To Come Alive – A Conversation About Vocation – Guerrilla Pastors
Josiah (Narration): Welcome to the Guerrilla Pastor’s podcast, I’m Josiah. On our last episode, you might remember being asked to picture a pastor in your mind. Taking a stab in the dark, I guessed that you pictured a middle-aged white man whose main job was fulfilled on Sunday mornings behind a pulpit. There is a reason for this guest, but we’ll get into that later.
This collective picture in our minds of what it is a pastor is or does will be the focus of this episode. We’ll share stories of how our understanding of the job has changed from when we first entered it in. And… you will have the privilege of hearing a new voice on the show. A feminine voice. They too will speak to what it is to be a pastor knowing full well, all the stereotypes and assumptions that come with that title in our discussion, we take a closer look at the pastorate.
More specifically, we’re talking about the word vocation, join us as we dream about what ministry might look like. And thank you for joining us on the gorilla pastors podcast.
The Introductory Hook (features numerous voices):
“What I noticed was that Christian’s could not have conversation with each other if they disagreed with one another.”
“It’s all about entering in to the textured presence of lived lives. The sanitation of it just broke for me. Like, church can’t be sanitized.”
“I always feel like I’m not what people think of when they think of a pastor.”
“I went to school for youth ministry and have now figured out how to do Construction work. It’s good stuff!”
“The Church is struggling and declining in ways that we’ve never experienced in the United States and Canada right now.”
“We have to like allow ourselves to embrace new way of being in a place.”
“Insurgent revolutions, i.e. guerrilla warfare, is 20% bullets, and 80% blessing the people.”
“How do we be eternally faithful? Like, literally, how do we be faithful in a way today that in 20 years people aren’t going, ‘He was evil!’”
“Why are we so afraid? We believe that God is at work in all places, in all people at all times, and that is amazing. That should give us hope!”
We are the gorilla pastors join us as we explore a world of ministry founded on subversive presence!
Josiah (Narration): In our collective experiences, the three of us have held just about every pastoral position offered within our denomination. From youth to worship, associate to lead, we have seen and done it all. We also thought we had it all figured out, but with age comes humility. Without exception, we did our best to fit into this mold of pastor that we have talked about repeatedly, but it seemed like none of us were up to the task.
This moment that we often speak of is the very mold that I assumed you had in your mind when I asked you to picture a pastor, but what exactly is it? What is this one size fits all pastoral model we seem so adverse to? In short, for us, it is the Sunday morning only model of pastoral ministry. This model says that a pastor’s most important contribution to the church is preaching on a Sunday morning in a building called the church in a space designated the sanctuary.
And while there’s nothing wrong with this model of ministry on its own, our issue is that, vocationally speaking, this is the only option if you would like an institution such as a denomination to see you as an actual pastor. This is why we use the term one size fits all, which means pastors can only do this.
They can only look like this, talk like this, and act like this. To better articulate the “this” that we are speaking of, here is just a snippet of what the Sunday morning preacher looks like in the United States of America.
In 2019, based on census data, 74% of clergy in America were white in 1992. Their average age was 44, but according to Barna in 2017, that average had gone up to 50.
And since we don’t have data on this, we have to speculate that almost all of them served in traditional Sunday morning, founded church ministries across this country. This is why I felt confident in guessing what you pictured in your mind when you pictured a pastor. It’s also why I would love to introduce you to.
Who fits none of these stereotypes, all, let her make her own introductions.
Regina: Hi, I’m Regina and, um, I am married to Ryan, (Not one of the cohosts for the record) and we have two kids, Thea who’s four and Joe who’s two. I am a pastor and I serve in a community called Beacon Hill. Currently, I live in Wallingford, which is a different neighborhood in the city of Seattle, And this is the city that I was born and raised in.
Josiah (Narration): Now, if you caught it, she laughed when she said that she was a pastor. So I couldn’t help but ask her why, I may have known the answer, but I would love to share it with you because it’s really important.
Regina: Oh, I just, it’s always such a funny thing too. When I… the people I am… if I’m in a coffee shop and I’m telling people what I do vocationally, um, I always feel like I’m not what people think of when they think of a pastor.
So, um, for instance, uh, both of my kids are in a co-op preschool. And so I’ve had the opportunity this year to kind of connect with different families as I’ve worked alongside of their parents. And of course the conversation always comes around for like, “Hey, what do you do?” besides being a mom.
I always tell them I’m a pastor and people have different ideas… I think, that’s my assumption… is that people have different ideas about what that means and what that looks like. Um, so yeah, I always laugh kind of a little bit because it’s kind of a funny thing because there’s a preconceived idea of what a past that’s exactly it.
And I don’t think I am that preconceived idea at all. I am the wrong gender. I am, uh, the wrong, well, I wouldn’t say wrong color. It’s just like primarily it’s being female. So that always is, um, that makes people stop for a minute. And then yeah, like then they asked me like, oh, what church? And then I always feel weird.
Not weird. Yeah. Weird
Explaining because not a lot of people know the church of the Nazarene in the city of Seattle. I think if it was like, oh, Presbyterian church or Lutheran or Methodist, those are a little bit more familiar to some people, um, who have no background in church. But when I say Church of the Nazarene, I always get kind of the… “yeah…..”
They don’t know what that is. You know, people want to understand what you’re talking about and they don’t always, when you use words that aren’t…. Yeah…. I have to translate those things for people. Which is more work, you know, if I were to like, oh, I’m an accountant and I worked for, you know, whatever financial institution that would be.
Josiah (Narration): We’ll get to Regina story more later, but I hope you noticed that she brought up the term vocation. Later on in our episode, she defines more fully how she discerned what her own unique vocation was for where she pastors. Now, in another round table discussion, I asked my fellow Guerrilla Pastors to define this term as well.
Without further ado, here is me, Fasani and Wardlaw discussing vocation… And yes, I’m going to go by their last names because their first names are just too similar for a podcast.
Josiah: I grew up understanding vocation to be synonymous with calling. And so calling, I guess I would go to, I think it was, I think it was Aristotle that said: “Where your giftings and the needs of the world cross there lies your calling.” So I always just associated that word with vocation, but as I entered into the ministry, vocation took on some new meanings because suddenly I had to pay for my food and I had to pay rent.
And, and that came with, some job duties and responsibilities that were always interesting, depending on where I was doing ministry, but I started to use the word vocation often to describe why my ministry was a little bit abnormal. Almost without exception, I think I had one six month period, uh, where I was actually paid full-time as a pastor.
And so pay, job responsibility, hours worked, those always seem to have some sort of bearing on my understanding of vocation, but at some point I had to become bi-vocational, and I didn’t even like that word bi-vocational very much, but I’ll get to that in a second. I had to be bi-vocational because we had kids and I had student debt and I just wasn’t being paid.
I was part time. I had to take on other jobs in the community. But what I did early on as a youth pastor was I chose to find places where I could continue to be around the teenagers, At that time I was a youth pastor, I was ministering to. So one of the early on things I did was I got a CDL to be a bus driver.
And then, as a bus driver, I was able to, in the morning and in the afternoon, see my teenagers. Right. Then I also took on some coaching responsibilities. I became a football coach and a track coach in this small little town. I was able to do all this stuff and I saw that as bi-vocational.
But then vocation, if I go back to sort of Aristotle’s explanation, if it’s, if it’s about this “where your gifting and the needs of the world cross,” which I think is this beautiful definition, then it started to change from, bi-vocation to co-vocation… because suddenly I was taking on more responsibilities as a parent. When I was doing this bus driving football thing on top of being a youth pastor worship pastor, I was also parenting
Being married to a nurse, I took on a lot or parenting responsibilities. I have since day one. So I started to shift my language to co-vocation and I started to see calling and convictions for what it is I’m supposed to do in pastoring as my co-vocation, whether or not I was paid for it in the first place. So I’m still, probably in the camp of seeing what it is I was called or gifted or talented at doing As being my vocation.
I have separated that from pay. It doesn’t mean that my vocation can’t be paid, but I also think that when we assign vocation a monetary value, we de-value it when it’s not paid. And that’s a problem for me because I think parenting is probably more important than preaching a sermon on a Sunday morning.
So that’s for me, where vocation started, where I used to define it and how I would define it today… would still be pretty closely associated with this understanding of maybe spiritual gifting, calling, um, talents… What it is, you know, I was made for, I guess, like, what’s my, what’s my purpose.
So what about you?
Ryan Fasani: As a teenager, the only understanding I had of vocation was one that I learned in the church and it was specifically associated with ones that were called, because vocation in the Latin means to call… Ones that were called into ministry. So because ministry and vocation were always sort of bedfellows my sense of vocation was this very limited kind of directional kind of orientation.
It was for a select number of people with these particular skill sets, which were namely preaching and teaching. And they were oriented towards the ministry of the local church. As I’ve gotten older, um, I’ve realized a whole host of problems, I think, but that definition, not the least of which is from home or from where that call comes from.
So vocation, I still believe is critically defined as that to which one is called. I no longer think it’s necessarily for those entering the ministry, per se, I think all of us have a call, but from where it comes, has drastically changed from me.
So early in life, you know, I got the sense that to be called was of course, to be called by God, and that necessarily was to church ministry. Now I’m realizing, and I am liking what the Quakers have, have done with this idea of vocation, which is the calling is not so much from without, but from within. And it’s not less from God, it’s more than a conviction that God speaks uniquely into the created person and that created person is oriented towards a particular life.
So the calling is for everyone at all times, but it’s that which is uniquely, um, resonant with how you are created. Parker Palmer has this beautiful book, Let your life speak and he massages out this concept of vocation. He removes it from this call from afar and instead the ongoing discerning process of knowing one’s true self.
Now that is not as easy as it sort of rolls off the tongue right, because there’s a whole set of false selves that we sort of try to live into and in time, should we sort of, through due diligence and prayerful consideration and community of discernment… what emerges is not, you know, some ideal person that we’re trying to achieve or some lofty goals or some principals are trying to embody, but it’s the sort of humble sense of self that is true to our unique calling or to our unique creativeness.
And in there is a sense of our calling and that’s radically different than what I originally thought “to be called” meant. But to me, you know, as one who’s lived through burnout who has lived through significant trauma pursuing, um, calling realizing part of that was simply the consequences of deviating from the orientation that I was divinely given in the first place. Right. Like I sort of was my, I was my own worst enemy. I set myself up for injury because I was sort of fulfilling somebody else’s unique call.
Brain Wardlaw: So vocation to me has been really what it is in my gut and my soul at my core, what I’m called to do, but also what I was created to do.
So that was always my understanding as I went on in ministry and started in ministry, coming out of seminary and my spiritual life was going deeper and I was doing my own inner work of how that interacted with my soul. And when I say that, I mean, how it interacted with my anger, how it interacted with my competitiveness, with how I love and those things started to come together.
Then I felt like I was called to ministry, obviously in the midst of that… So there was turmoil with that because I, as I went through spiritual strife, I guess, spiritual questioning, um, whatever the dark hole of the soul, the whatever it’s called and by many different authors, you know, those kinds of times, uh, I had to ask the question of what, uh, what did that have to do with my calling, my vocation and things like that.
Over time, it’s changed.
Uh, I think because, partly is at the beginning for the first 10 years, I was employed full-time as a pastor and understood that was the living out of that calling of my vocation of my, of who I was. And I, and I thought that was together and so if I coached or if I painted on the side or did those kinds of things those were just money-making things or just habits or, or hobbies or side gigs or whatever.
They, they really just, they were something different than my vocation. As the last 12 years, I think, as moving in to Seattle and neighborhood ministry, and what we’re talking about all throughout this Guerrilla Pastoring podcast, um, there has been a journey over 12 years of a loss of identity to then, uh, a more robust understanding of vocation.
So that the marrying of the two, where there is nothing I do, that’s not my vocation in ministry. As a pastor of the gospel holistically, as a reflection of the kingdom, but also someone… I think we reflect kingdom also when we fail… Uh, so there, there’s not a blissfulness of being a kingdom pastor.
When I, when I talk about it that way, uh, I see failing as a part of my ministry because in relationship I’ve always said, one of the best things I can do in my relationships is apologize when I don’t live up to the person that I believe for myself, but also what I believe I’m called to be and created to be. So all of a sudden, everything, parenting, coaching, running a business, running a ministry preaching at times, all of that became vocation.
In fact, uh, about five years ago, I was working in a group setting and one of the other pastors asked us all to start clocking our time on an app. We were supposed to start in the stop when we did ministry stuff. I started doing it because to be honest, when I was in full-time ministry, during the times we were in between pastors, especially as an associate, um, and you didn’t know what your future held, you, you, uh, I was encouraged to start clocking my time, just so when a new pastor Kim came in, if he started asking questions, he or she started asking questions, I could basically give that, give that to them.
Josiah: When you clock time, does that simply mean you clocked when you were in the church office and when you weren’t?
Brian Wardlaw: Yeah, Or doing youth activities? I was a youth pastor. So youth activities, you know, those kinds of things. Yeah. And then the big question was, should I clock my time when sitting at a basketball game of one of the teens, you know, is that ministry?
Josiah: Billable hours are these billable hours?
Brian Wardlaw: Exactly. Yeah. And so, but I started, I started doing this exercise, um, with this app and I couldn’t do it.
Josiah: I had a similar moment where the board was asking me why I wasn’t tracking my mileage. As a lead pastor, a brand new lead pastor, like “You haven’t been turning in mileage receipts” and I said, “well, let me just tell you why.” If I drive to the grocery store to buy myself groceries for my family and myself, but I run into somebody and we have like a 10 minute conversation… That’s very clearly like pastoral care & counseling adjacent.
Or, you know, we could, we could call it that. This is an impromptu pastor-congregate conversation. Do I need to count those miles now? And the board member, the treasury in particular, said: “Maybe we can just get you a monthly mileage stipend.”
I think that’s better. Let’s do that, right?
It was just this challenge to say “Hey, I don’t know that this is robust enough and it makes every relationship I have or every moment I have with another person, something that I have to decide whether to monetize or not” and that felt so dirty.
Josiah (Narration): I’m sure you can tell how much our vocational understanding has changed over the years of doing.
We each have our own anecdotal experiences to lean on as we unpack our understanding of what vocation is and how it has changed. But Fasani had something absolutely beautiful to share about his understanding of vocation now, which feels so much more faithful and robust compared to our understanding of vocation when each of us started off in ministry. Here he is sharing the specifics of his understanding of vocation today.
Ryan Fasani: The first one that comes to mind is something Howard Thurman said, and it was many years ago I read and only recently have understood. And he says something to the effect that “what the world needs is people that have come alive.” So find that which makes you come alive and do that.
The implication here of course, is that there are, you know, unheard, untold numbers of people that are walking through lives, numb to what they ought to do that are, um, bedraggled, old and worn out and tired. Trying to do what other people are supposed to do and, you know, uh, pursuing goals that aren’t their own.
But seldom do you meet… but when you do you notice… someone that is consistently working towards that which they ought to be doing because… not it’s some conviction that they’ve always had and it drives them every morning… but because it truly gives them life. And when we’re around people that have oriented their lives in such a way that they wake up and they are filled it’s infectious.
So there’s a, there’s a part of calling that is just, an honest take on whether what you do fills you or empties you, and, you know, to refer back to Parker Palmer, again, he, in that book and book, Let your life speak makes a claim that there is no such thing as burnout for those that are faithfully calling, you know, adhering to them, their true selves and following their call.
Because burnout is a consequence of doing that which we don’t have the resources to do anyways. Right. So it’s not working too hard at the things we’re supposed to do. Burnout is instead doing anything or doing too much of what we’re not supposed to do. Right. For if we’re doing what we ought to do or what we’re truly called to do, there’s an infinite well from which to draw. It’s when we do the things that are the work for somebody else that there’s a finite amount of energy.
There’s only so long you can carry, wave, carry your banner and wave your flag for somebody else’s March of justice. Right. But when something’s embedded into your soul from birth, there, isn’t an infinite well of resource and energy and inspiration. Right. And it doesn’t run dry.
Josiah (Narration): From here on out, I will forever define vocation as finding that which makes me come alive. This idea that God embed something in each of us from birth is profound and it brings us back to Regina. Her story is far more unique than mine or Fasani or Wardlaw’s in that she is currently pastoring where she grew up.
Now, if our understanding of vocation or calling is that which makes us come alive. And what’s more, if it’s this thing that God has embedded on our souls from birth, then I can only imagine what it must be like to pastor in the church that I grew up in. Stereotypes, assumptions and the understanding of what a good pastor is or does all culminate into this story of Regina honoring the past, but looking to the future.
It’s the burden she takes on as she discerns what her vocation is in Beacon Hill.
Regina: The church in Beacon Hill is a church that I grew up going to. It closed in, I think, early 2018. And then we when, uh, several leaders in the Seattle area were trying to reimagine what ministry could look like in that neighborhood. Cause we have a building their, property, and we, you know, we have a legacy of people, community members that have been connected to that space in place.
So in 2019, the opportunity came up for me to join the Seattle team re-imagine what ministry could be in that neighborhood. I wasn’t, you know, like I think some of the language we have to do that would be like church planting, come and plant a church or restart a church. Um, but I always had, I, I always have a hard time embracing that language.
No, there’s nothing really wrong with it. I just, um, I want to learn from people who have done things like this, but also I want to live into something that is just different than what’s been done. I don’t, you know, whatever, um, formula there was, there is, for trying to do something like this, there are, there may be some things to like learn and glean from, but also, um, I really was just trying to listen to the people in the neighborhood and then be really attentive to the spirit of God who I think is there even without like church leadership there.
So I came, I started ministry in that neighborhood in the middle of 2019. I, before 2019, I was a part of a collective gathering, called the Seattle city project, which, uh, included different leaders across the city. Um, Brian Wardlaw, Mark Woodward, Sean Mattson, and at that time, Paul Johnson. We, and, and me, we regularly, we got together. Weekly, almost weekly to talk about what it meant to administer in a city like Seattle.
Uh, And so when the church at Beacon Hill closed in 2018, the responsibility for that property, that neighborhood parish came under the Seattle city project of which I was already part of, even though I was the co-lead pastor at Normandy Park Living Hope.
And so when we were dreaming about that, the opportunity to come into beacon hill, um, we could, I mean, we were talking and engaging with the potential of having missionaries come into the city. Um, but it was both a collective idea, you know, as it wasn’t just me, it was like us talking together around a table about like, “oh, you have this long-term connection to this neighborhood.”
So, my husband, Ryan and I had to do some discernment and we had to kind of like, think about what would that mean? Um, yeah, so we… It wasn’t just my idea… It was, I think the blending of both, it’s like, you’re just having conversations with, with people.
I don’t ever think like, oh, “I have this great idea” maybe I should come into Beacon Hill. Actually my relationship with beacon hill has changed over the years. Right? Like even in the process of knowing that the church was probably going to close, I had to do my own grieving, even though I wasn’t, hadn’t been a part of that congregation or that local church for over 10 years.
I hadn’t been the idea that they were going to close the church. Maybe there wouldn’t be a true to the Nazarene in that neighborhood. I don’t know. Like what would we do? Would that property be sold? I think, um, because for me in my youth, my childhood, like that place had impacted my life.
I came to faith because of the community in that church. Um, and you know, um, often I’m like, oh, well it’s just a building and it is just a building, but space matters and space has significance. Right? So. Even in the midst of not knowing its future, like in, in the years between like 2015 and 2018, um, I was on the district, but like removed from that community, um, and serving a different community and giving myself away in that, to that, to those people in that place.
There was a part of me that had to kind of detach and then also grieve what that local congregation was going through. And then, when I had the opportunity to come back, I had to figure out how to engage with people that I was connected to in that neighborhood. But also realize that like, what I had growing up was probably not what I was going to embrace moving forward.
Not that they, anything, like, not like that was not because it wasn’t good or, um, Impactful, right? Like, it’s not a, there’s no judgment in that. It’s just in a new day, we have to like allow ourselves to embrace new ways of being in a place.
Josiah (Narration): Embracing new ways of being in a place by finding that, which gives us life might create the most wonderfully robust understanding of what vocation is all about. With it, we might have ministries able to adapt and pastor’s able to address real needs as life changes like we’ve seen throughout the pandemic. Having nuanced vocations and ears to listen could open up a world of possibility.
Stay tuned. As we hear from pastors like Regina seeking to discover what ministry might look like tomorrow. It may not look like it did yesterday, but that’s all right, because God has called us to reimagine being in a space in the most life giving way. As we close, if you take anything away from this episode, I hope it’s this, that if I ask you yet again, to picture a pastor in your mind, that picture might’ve changed ever so slightly.
Perhaps understanding vocation as that which gives you life will help you to see the pastors around you in a new light. To find one’s vocation is to find why God has placed you on this planet, and this is not exclusively for the pastorate.
Seeking to define that which gives us life has led us here, and we invite you along the journey with. Stay tuned for our next episode, as we continue to expand on this idea of gorilla ministry founded on subversive. Journey with us as we cultivate a broad kingdom imagination, striving to be known by a benevolent orthodoxy while celebrating a diverse praxis.
This is the Guerrilla Pastors podcast. Thanks for listening.