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Is Your Job Your Calling?

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)

Hikers survey mountains

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?

  1. The vocational discovery process is Holy Spirit governed at all times (Galatians 5:25).
  2. In the vocational discovery process ask the question: What is moral? In other words, what does the Bible say (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?
  3. In the vocational discovery process ask the question: What is wise (James 1:2-8)?

In this search for wisdom:

  • Pray
  • 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.

8 thoughts on “Is Your Job Your Calling?

  1. Can I get you to clarify or maybe put a finer point on this? What do you think is the particular hazard or potential problem or missed opportunity when we confuse “job / vocation” with “calling” ?
    What real world, real life consequences have you seen from the conflation of these concepts?

    1. Here are some of the implications that I see, John:

      1. People can believe they were called to something but never live it out. Therefore they feel guilty. These are people, for example, who felt called as a youth to go to missions but didn’t ever go out. You know that I’ve encouraged people to cross culture boundaries with the gospel but I’ve tried to be vigilant to monitor the journeys of such people.
      2. Christians should be able to feel confident that they are doing exactly what God wants them to do for the moment in the work he has given them to do and then shift to something else. To view one’s work as a calling would require another calling to move on. Why not just talk about the Lord’s leading?
      3. We should be concerned about obeying what God has already told us to do in His Word over searching for or waiting for a calling. We should be motivated by the purposes of God and the needs of people to live out our divine design for the moment we are in.
      4. Sometimes our work is not as “noble” as calling language suggests. We have to work to eat to provide for our family and ourselves. OK to have meaning and purpose but sometimes that is found in providing basic provisions. Miliions of Christians around the world are not as concerned about calling as they are about survival. I hope my construct speaks to Christians across cultural boundaries while recognizing that our culture demands we choose from a lot of vocational choices.

  2. great thoughts to consider as we move further in becoming more like Christ.

    “The first and second commandments taught by Jesus—to love God and our neighbor –are our calling.” do we consider commandments like this (which is THE epic life goal, mission statement…in my opinion) to be calling? Meaning, is commandment synonymous with calling in this case?

    Does the book (or do you) see various “types” of callings for a believer? Call to salvation, follow Jesus, to ministry, etc?
    blessings on the journey.

    1. Great questions, Mike. I’m trying in my own mind to distinguish between commands and calling. We are told to disciple people by teaching them to obey . . . Therefore I should be clear in my discipleship to point people to an obedient life where the commands of God are clearly articulated in Scripture. We walk in a manner worthy of the calling which we have been called by being obedient. That command is Eph. 4 is followed in Eph. 4-6 by the discussion of the basic/critical areas of life: the Church, work, marriage, parenting, being a child, and more.

      I’m personally reserving “calling” to those contexts that are clear to me that God is summoning someone to something. Paul was called as an apostle. I was not. The call found in Acts 13 was actually given to a group of people who were praying and fasting. God clearly called people throughout the OT and NT to specific tasks and roles. That cannot be denied. He call call/summon people today and I believe that happens. But I don’t believe that most people are “called” to ministry in the typical sense that evangelicals use the word. A study of the word “kaleo/ calling” does not yield evidence that we are called to ministry.

      My conclusion: the language of calling should be reserved primarily to our call to salvation which includes a calling to holy living and obedient living.

  3. Good thoughts Ron. I like the emphasis on our position in Christ and the life choices that flow from that realization. Embracing and living out our kingdom values and priorities is important for all believers regardless of vocation.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” It seems there is a slippery slope from this verse to think there ARE specific tasks, i.e., vocations, God has in mind for us. If so, is it a Christian’s duty to discover those works, believing it is what God is specifically asking them to do? If true, what is a good word to summarize this journey to discover those works prepared beforehand?

    1. Ben,

      Great question about Eph. 2:10. I was just reading James 1 and 2 earlier this morning. Famous passage on faith and works at the end of chapter 2. The Greek word used in James 2:14-16 for works/deeds (depends on the translation) is “ergos”and is the same word used consistently in the NT (and its derivatives) to describe work in various dimensions: “work in the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:1, 15:58), “work for a living” (1 Cor. 9:6), “if you don’t work you don’t eat”. I would argue that Eph. 2:10 is not about work as in work for pay in order to eat, but the good works that should come forth as we love people. It seems similar to James 2 in that the focus is on deeds of love and care that reveal we are people of faith who are God’s workmanship.

  4. Ron, as always, thank you for allowing us a glimpse into your mind and your heart. Probably a good thing to continue to point out the difference between “calling” and “vocation”. Never good to let the masses acceptance or denial of a truth dictate our message. I believe the point is most evident when applied to those in pastoral roles. Often we hear, “God called me to this church,” or “God is calling me to another church.” Although this might occasionally be true (I don’t want to say God never does this), I do not see this “call” to be biblical, nor grounded in real experience. When I have met with any church board that wants to consider me as their pastor, each time I have grown excited about their church, their ministry, their people, and what God might want to do with them. I have never received a clear cut “call” from God to go pastor a church. What I have received a clear call from God to do is to walk in His ways, continue His mission, and to be (not do) a pastor/teacher (Eph. 4:1-13) Because God has called me to preach and teach, he has given me the grace-gifts to do so, and at this time I have chosen to pastor at Sandy Nazarene Church. I believe I could go to any church, or follow other ministries as long as I continue to minister in the ways God has called and gifted me to do. I do not burden the people I pastor with telling them that “God called me here to pastor this church.” I tell them God called me to follow Jesus, to preach and to teach, and right now I choose to obey him by being your pastor. God has trusted me to do so.

  5. Amen. And I appreciate your commitment to your calling and gifting, Pastor Jamie. Thanks for weighing in.


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