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Why “Vocation”? Reclaiming a Lost Vision of Faith at Work

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As you’ve likely seen from recent emails, the Practice has embarked on a three week journey to explore a “Theology of Vocation”. Let me be the first to say, that it is entirely fair at this point upon hearing the title of this journey, to say to yourself, “Huh?” Vocation, though not a four letter word, might feel like the last thing you’d expect to explore in the contemplative, spiritual, practice oriented gatherings of Sunday night. For many of us, vocation makes us think of “work” and work makes us think of anything but church. Work is the place we get paid. Work is that thing we have to do from nine to five. Work if anything, is simply that means to an end that allows us to live out the lives of our faith outside of the secular vocations in which we are employed. The early church father that said, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” might as well have said for most of us, “What does faith have to do with my job?”

If this disconnect between our work and our faith resonates with you, it’s important to know you’re not alone. Eusebius, the historian of Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, taught us this trajectory of thought when he described the work of clergy as “the perfect life” (though you’d probably make any pastor laugh if you were to tell them such a thing). Clergy, according to Eusebius, had vocations that were allowed to be solely focused on “ministry” while the rest of us, the butchers, bakers, the candlestick makers, had what Eusebius called “permitted lives”. Non-clergy vocations were simply, “work that had to be done,” permitted though not necessarily important to what God was doing in the world.

Thankfully, and profoundly important for the journey we’ll be embarking on this month, the Protestant Reformers (such as Martin Luther and John Calvin), through a careful study of Scripture, became convinced that it was not only the clergy who did the work of the priesthood but that all vocations mattered to the mission of God. If we truly are a kingdom of priests, then every job, whether it be that of a janitor, a teacher, a yoga instructor, a barista, a mother, a librarian, a receptionist (the list could and should go on and on), every vocation becomes integral to God’s work of restoring and redeeming all things in Jesus Christ. If this is true, then our vocations actually become the very “ministry” we do of God’s kingdom. It’s not that we go to church, and there serve God, while our work is far from Him. Instead, everywhere we go, we are bringing the very presence of Christ through our priesthood. Abraham Kuyper, a man who lived out this Protestant conviction that vocations matter to God, by working as a journalist, a theologian, and eventually as prime minister of the Netherlands once said, “There is not a single inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” If this is true, then not only our tithing, our serving, our evangelizing, but every endeavor we undertake can be done for the glory of God, be it diaper changing, semi-truck driving, standing in the unemployment line or overseeing budget allocations for the upcoming fiscal year; our vocation is integral, not incidental to the mission of God.

For most of us, this kind of perspective might take some getting used to. To start, I wanted to offer what I’ve found to be an immensely helpful definition of vocation that Steven Garber offers in his book Visions of Vocation:

The word Vocation is a rich one, having to address the wholeness of life, the range of relationships and responsibilities. Work, yes, but also families, and neighbors and citizenship, locally and globally- all of this and more is seen as vocation, that to which I am called as a human being, living my life before the face of God. It is never that same word as occupation, just as calling is never the same word as career. Sometimes, by grace, the words and the realities they represent do overlap, even significantly; sometimes, in the incompleteness of life in a fallen world, there is not much overlap at all.

This is why the Practice is taking these first three weeks of the new year to begin a conversation of what vocation each of us might have; to move beyond a sacred/secular divide in which ministry happens “here at church” and vocations take place “out there in the inconsequential mundaneness of our lives.” Sunday simply cannot be the “main event,” neglecting the realities of our Monday’s to Saturdays, instead we gather to practice in order that we might be transformed and live out our faith in all aspects of our life.

Now I realize for many this conversation might be messy. What about the parent who is exhausted, the retiree who is bored, the unemployed who is desperate, or the office worker who is drained? Complex issues, require careful treading, and might take longer than simply three weeks to unpack. That’s alright. If our vocations are integral to what God is doing in the world, than one of the most important journeys we could go on as the body of Christ would be to begin together to discern in both the good and the bad how God is using our vocations to bring his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Whether we be butchers, bakers, candlestick makers or something else entirely, is it possible that the way we contribute meaningfully to the world matters to God’s mission? I am beginning to believe down to my toes that it does, and I can’t wait to hear how these three weeks might help you to explore the way in which God is even now using you, in all aspects of your life. We invite you to join then into this messy glorious adventure, of discovering our vocations as integral, not incidental to the mission of God. We look forward to seeing you!

Grace and Peace,

John and the Practice team

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Mark Mixter says:

    Before last Sunday I would have defined vocation as a job I was called to. A job to be done as Jesus would have done it if he were in my place. Yet not without some latent sense of this job being lower somehow on the ladder than others — say professional ministry. As a Christ follower then my vocation would be expressed by being a “good Christian” – praying for my co-workers and performing my duties “as unto the Lord.” In reflecting this week I see two things. First, vocation speaks to my life, not just the work I’m paid to do. Vocation thus becomes a single word for what it means to follow Jesus — namely seeking each moment to be with Jesus, to learn from Jesus, in order to become like Jesus. Second, vocation does speak to work, but not just to my individual work, but to the enterprise. How it is organized and lead, it’s goals and objectives, how it interacts and behaves towards clients and competitors. Vocation speaks to how I contribute to all of that.

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