Recently I asked a asked a couple of friends if I should give up on my campaign to encourage people to stop using the word “calling” in the sense of “finding one’s calling” in the realm of work. They both said “yes.” They agreed that the idea was too ingrained in both the Christian culture and the popular culture to ever think a change could be made. My endeavor, they think, is an uphill battle that is not worth the time. Then I read Mark Labberton’s new book, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (IVP, 2014), and was confirmed that I am on the right track.
Labberton confirmed for me that the primary sense of the word “calling” in the New Testament is our call to salvation. This sense is seen in passages such the following:
- “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called you to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ– their Lord and ours . . .” (1 Corinthians 1:2, NIV)
- “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
- “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)
Labberton unpacks this sense of calling to salvation in ways that I found captivating and critical for those who want to live their lives in the world of work in a manner worthy of their calling. Here are a few of his ideas:
- “The heart of God’s call is this: that we receive and live the love of God for us and the world.” (p. 14)
- “The weight of God’s faithful pursuit of creation, of Israel and of the world is conveyed through the history of God speaking, promising, pursuing, calling, engaging, revealing, sustaining, comforting and redeeming. These are tales of grace demonstrated and truth performed. And the verbs above should be our guiding cue regarding calling.” (p. 19)
- “The first and second commandments taught by Jesus—to love God and our neighbor –are our calling.” (p. 19)
- “The people of God, by the power of the H.S., are meant to be the hope of the world, the model for all humanity and the apologetic—the living defense of the faith—that God is present and that God’s loving purposes will come to pass.” (p. 19)
- “. . . the real solution is what the Bible declares is our calling: to live out a genuine love that shows up in the face of real need.” (p. 20)
- “This is the glorious promise of our calling—for us and for the world: to live life abundantly. In Jesus’ terms, that means being a people who life in deep, loving communion with the God of the universe, where life has been given away in love so a broken world can flourish.” (p. 22)
These statements highlight the need for people to think about their role in the world of work as an outworking of the call that all of us have received as Christ-followers. I’m more convinced than ever that the vocational search (finding one’s role in the world of work) is not about discovering your calling or waiting for your calling. Determining what you should do in the world of work is about discovering your divine design and living in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
So I’m sticking with my definition of a Christian vocation. A Christian vocation that is characteristic of a Christ-follower is:
- an approach to a particular life role in the realm of work
- discovered through the prayerful examination of one’s passions, gifts, natural talents, and personality through personal reflection and input from the Christian community
- that is oriented toward demonstrating or deriving a sense of purpose or meaningfulness (as one who is beloved by God)
- in the pursuit of the glory of God and the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment (announcing and acting out the gospel of the kingdom of God)
- that holds other-oriented values and goals as primary sources of motivation in obedience to God’s command to love others.
It is a settled alignment between God’s purposes, your design (based on a healthy and realistic view of yourself), and the needs of people. (Amy Sherman calls it your “sweet spot” in Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, IVP, 2011)
What does the discovery process look like?
- The vocational discovery process is Holy Spirit governed at all times (Galatians 5:25).
- In the vocational discovery process ask the question: What is moral? In other words, what does the Bible say (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?
- In the vocational discovery process ask the question: What is wise (James 1:2-8)?
In this search for wisdom:
- Consider your passions, gifts, natural talents, and personality
- Be involved in healthy self-reflection
- Seek counsel from Christians in your community
- Consider the needs of people
So I’ve determined that I will try not to be a nag when people use the word “calling” to distinguish, for example, between a job, a career, and a calling, but I am going to continue to encourage people to live a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called.
About Ron Marrs
Ron Marrs is presently a Professor of Youth and Pastoral Ministry and Chairman of the Center for Ministry and Leadership at Western Seminary, Portland, OR. Ron is the leader of the Portland Youth Workers Network. He served at Westwood Baptist Church, a Converge church, for 24.5 years primarily as the youth pastor and then as executive/worship pastor. He has been married to Becky for 35 years, has three children and three grandsons. He is an elder at Hinson Baptist Church. He recently completed doctoral research in which he interviewed 26 people about their rookie youth pastor experiences along with 24 of their supervisors.