As a graduate of a small liberal arts college affiliated with an evangelical denomination, I frequently heard my fellow students talk about their calling.
“Calling” simply meant that God was giving someone a particular desire — presumably something that would glorify Him — and thus directly leading the student in a particular direction. It seemed that God was calling many of us to do particular things either while we were in college or perhaps even with our careers.
It was apparent that there was more than one type of calling. Some of my classmates felt sure that God was calling them to be pastors. Others felt like God was calling them to work with youth or college students. Some felt like God was calling them to be “music ministers” or, if the student had a particular penchant toward contemporary music, a “worship leader.” Many of these students felt like God was calling them to eventually attend seminary to prepare for these various vocations.
Several students had no idea what God was calling them to do post-graduation, but they felt sure God was calling them to specific tasks while in college. Such callings included summer missions, part-time youth or children positions in churches, or maybe even starting a dorm Bible study.
The campus was abuzz with talk about God’s calling.
Though the college itself was evangelical-affiliated, this discussion was largely limited to one or two subgroups on campus: Those who were in the Christianity department or those who were involved in a campus ministry. Most of the Christianity students thought they were called to something in terms of career, and the ones involved in campus ministry were called to things more short-term, like summer missions. Rarely did someone feel called to something that was not explicitly related to ministry.
It’s wonderful that these collegians experienced a real sense of God’s direction in their lives. We certainly need more summer missionaries, pastors and youth leaders. Still, I wonder if there’s an entire aspect of God’s calling that many of us are missing out on.
Following the Reformation, many Protestants advocated an idea of the Christian life called vocatio, the Latin word which is the source of “vocation.” Vocatio is the belief that God calls every Christian to the occupation he is in, whether or not it’s related to full-time ministry.
Martin Luther was perhaps the ablest exponent of this concept. To Luther, vocatio meant that each of us has a unique place in the structure of our family, society and occupation whereby we exercise our personal gifts and talents for the glory of God and the benefit of our fellow humanity.
Note that this isn’t only about a paying career. Let’s say Mary is a college student. Assuming she is still a dependent, her first calling is to her family: to be a daughter, glorifying God and honoring her parents with the way she conducts herself. Her second calling is to be a student, doing the very best she can in her schoolwork and extracurricular activities for the glory of God and the honor of her parents and teachers. If she works part-time in the campus bookstore, a third calling is to be the hardest worker she can be for God’s glory and the honor of her employer.
Mary has numerous vocatio, each of which is part of her service to others (parents, teachers, employers) and her personal devotion to God.
Vocatio not only encompasses your life now, but it also includes your life years from now. The last time I heard, the average American changed careers five times. So for the Christian, the shape of his vocatio might be different at different seasons in life. (The concept doesn’t mean you should never change careers — though of course, when Luther wrote, changing careers was seldom an option for most people.)
In a very real sense, God may be calling a believer to do many things over the course of his life, each of which glorifies Him in a different way. And note, too, that glorifying God can be something very mundane; changing your baby’s diaper glorifies God. (That doesn’t mean you have to say you have a “diaper-changing ministry.”)
This ever-evolving nature of vocatio is especially important to evangelical collegians. Most don’t want to remain college students forever (much as some parents may think otherwise). Eventually, the point is to finish school and enter the workforce, to say nothing of starting a family. It’s crucial that collegians who feel no calling to vocational ministry understand that if they are believers in Jesus Christ, then God is calling them to some type of occupation.
If more students realized this, then it would revolutionize the way Christians approach their work. Think about it: What would our public schools look like if thousands of evangelical collegians decided to teach there, not just because teaching is a noble profession in itself, but because God was actually calling them to model authentic Christianity for the students they come into contact with every day? What would our laws look like if thousands of collegians felt like God was calling them to go to law school, not just so they can make a good living, but so they can remind the world around them that there is a God who has ordered the world in such a way that there are laws to uphold basic social order and peace (1 Timothy 2:2)? What would our nation be like if thousands of collegians felt God’s calling to be a physician, not so they can live at the Country Club, but so they can meet people’s physical needs and model the Great Physician to patients who are created in the very image of God himself?
I think it’s safe to say the world would look much different — and much better.
At least two things need to happen for there to be a rediscovery of vocatio.
Christian parents and certainly Christian churches need to teach students that God calls people to be more than full-time pastors or missionaries to Zimbabwe. He also calls people to be missionaries to public schools, corporate America, social services and the children in their home. Many parents are doing this, especially those who are a part of the homeschool movement. Most churches could do a better job.
Evangelical colleges and campus ministries need to emphasize the importance of the Christian worldview to collegians. Christianity is not something that is compartmentalized when one is singing a worship song, having a quiet time or sharing a Four Spiritual Laws tract with a friend. Christianity is an entire worldview which impacts — and often transforms — every aspect of one’s life.
Collegiate ministries have long recognized the importance of teaching a Christian worldview, and many more colleges and universities are realizing the value of worldview education. Whether it’s a class on New Testament, Greek philosophy, political science or quantum physics, all Christian education can and should be done to the glory of God.
Christians will never win the war for the soul of American culture if most believers think only the “reverends” are called to fight the battles. Few things will impact American culture as much as a rediscovery of vocatio by a whole generation of Christian collegians.
Copyright 2004 Nathan Finn. All rights reserved.