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Understanding Our Vocation
Understanding our vocation changes the way we lead and serve.
One of the most celebrated modern definitions of vocation comes from theologian Frederick Buechner, who wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Throughout church history, Christianity has preserved the idea that our lives count for something because God has a divine, supernatural plan in mind for us. We hold fast to teachings that profess God calls us so decisively, so deliberately that all we are, all we do and all we have is meant for purposes beyond ourselves. We have a holy, innate desire to be affirmed that our mission in the world matters in the larger narrative of life.
Vocation is hardly an avant-garde or modern concept. In fact, understanding our vocation — God’s divine plan to use our strengths and talents for his glory — is as old as Christianity itself. Still, most Christians have not been given the opportunity to reflect on what it is they’re actually called to do.
Often when Christians engage in conversations about our work, we reduce discussions exclusively to our professions, specifically how best to bring our faith into professional spheres. Though those conversations have significance, they are also quite limiting, as they do not speak to a deeper purpose for why we work.
Any perspective that does not consider our work — in all its various forms — an extension of a more encompassing vocational call on our lives is an incomplete understanding of God’s original design for our work. When teaching an undergraduate course titled Vocational Leadership, a book I have found particularly helpful is Os Guinness’s The Call (Thomas Nelson, 2003), which presents two types of vocational callings.
First, there is the “general call.” This is our invitation to follow Jesus, to be transformed by his love. Our general call reconciles us to Christ and establishes our identity in him. It gives purpose to our lives. As Guinness puts it, our general call helps us rightly understand that, “Everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism.”
Understanding our second calling is contingent upon understanding out first.
Our second vocational call, the “specific call,” is an invitation to co-labor with Christ by using our unique, individual strengths, talents and gifts.
At Baylor University, where I teach, every incoming student is asked to take the StrengthsFinder test. This test serves as a catalyst for conversations in a multitude of academic and spiritual life environments. We also encourage students to take advantage of other assessments such as Myers-Briggs, etc. And of course, we offer services such as career counseling, peer leadership program, mission trips and spiritual mentorship. These services and assessments help students discover what makes them unique. It helps them select majors, internships and careers. Ultimately, they are discovering their “specific call” to work toward the common good for kingdom purposes.
In another book I use to teach, Courage and Calling (IVP Books, 2011), author Gordon Smith adds a third calling: “the call to immediate responsibilities,” which is our stewardship of daily tasks. This third vocational call asks this of us: “What does God have for me today?”
As a Christian, my general call is to Christ as co-laborer with Christ. My specific call is to education as a professor, wife, mother and community servant. My immediate call is to grade papers, return e-mails, cook dinner and help kids with homework.
The call to immediate responsibility requires that we see our vocational influence not just in terms of the macro (big picture) but also in light of the micro (daily accountabilities).
Applying a vocational perspective to our leadership and work provides greater purpose, meaning and context to our various spheres of influence. It shifts our perspective and postures our hearts to do all things as if we are working unto the Lord rather than for man, as we’re encouraged to do in Colossians 3:23.
When we think vocationally, we realize the God of the universe made us in his image and with divine purpose. Then all aspects of our work cease to be random and begin to have meaning. Vocational theology expands our thinking about work and faith to consider how God uses our general, specific and immediate vocational calls to bring redemption and restoration to the world.
Dr. Christina Crenshaw is a Lecturer at Baylor University, where she teaches English and Education courses, including Vocational Leadership. Additionally, Dr. Crenshaw works with anti-human-trafficking organizations such as The A21 Campaign and UnBound Now to help combat modern day slavery through prevention education. Learn more at www.drchristinacrenshaw.com.