Navigation key

The Article Archives

Disconnected from Your Calling

May 23, 2011
tweet this  share this on facebook  

When pastors and theologians speak of calling, most people think of some loftier spiritual work rather than trudging off to a business office, construction site, or retail store to labor. The same could be said for every mother who trudges off to the kitchen or laundry room each day to work for her family. This tendency reveals a bias among many Christians and clergy to think of full-time ministry as spiritual work while diminishing other forms of work under the rubric of secular.

Under this paradigm, the essential activity that consumes the other 98 percent of Christians’ time and energy is, in essence, of little or no spiritual value. As such, Christians in the marketplace are expected to carve out time above and beyond their secular work to do spiritual work, serving on weekends and evenings at the church or taking short-term mission trips.

No doubt, Christians should serve their local churches and participate in other mission-related activities whenever they can and are led to do so. However, they shouldn’t do so because they are told and subsequently believe that their daily work—the thing they do to earn a living—is not their spiritual calling and has less value!

I submit this is a wholly unbiblical conception that emanates from a dichotomous view of the world, in which some erroneously regard areas of God’s creation as being beyond his authority, care, and concern. Think about the folly of this notion for just a moment. The diminution of human work as a spiritual good and calling is further reinforced by an all-too-often shallow theology of missions and work. A remedy is needed!

Perhaps one the most profound treatise ever penned on the subject of work and its role in the Christian mission is Lester DeKoster’s little book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life-A Christian Perspective. So significant is this small work that when leaders at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 2010 took up the question, “How do Christians live the gospel in their daily work?” DeKoster’s booklet was chosen as a primary resource. I give this booklet to every member who joins Truth@Work.

At the heart of DeKoster’s thesis is the simple premise that “work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others” and that by being useful to others, work “flowers into civilization.” DeKoster stresses that this “usefulness to others” encompasses the vast assortment of human occupations and in so doing is the essential activity involved in creating civilization and culture. Work, according to Dr. DeKoster “multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand” of God. DeKoster explains that the difference between life in the African bush and the West is work. He points out that while bush people indeed work, their work occurs at a primitive level, namely they have to do everything for themselves. This naturally limits the fruit of their labor to the most basic level, meeting only their personal needs.

By contrast, civilization grows from the capacity to share in and benefit from the work of others. For example, consider the car you drive. Did you design it? Did you mine and gather the raw materials from which it’s made? Did you manufacture the thousands of parts required or assemble them? You get the point: your car—like almost everything else you own or interact with—is the product of shared work. It literally took thousands of other people to make the car you drive a reality. You could not make it on your own. You likely neither have the ability, time, or the resources.

The possession of that car enhances your life greatly; it improves your ability to travel, work, and serve others more effectively in the ongoing cycle of shared work and creating civilization, allowing millions to flourish. Work is, in another sense, the means for joining humanity together in shared productivity and fulfilling God’s original mandate to “be fruitful.” Therefore work is an absolute and essential good in the economy of God.

As to the spiritual good, Jesus issued the two Great Commandments, which summarized the whole duty of man in two directions: love God and love others.

DeKoster argues that our daily work is the medium by which we actually follow Jesus’ commandments. From the beginning, God called us to work and originally man worked in partnership with God (see Genesis 2:19) to bring the fullness of God’s creation into being. Being reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, this partnership is restored and Christians work—producing “fruit” that is beneficial and good—as a way of loving others. Therefore work cannot be reduced to a “necessary evil,” but is in fact a spiritual good possessing intrinsic value.

When viewed through the lens of loving God and loving others, then, we can begin to see that work is our predominant form of service to God and to others. The sacred-secular dichotomy that denigrates “non–church work” is dismantled and all work in which we make ourselves useful to others becomes worthy of the Christian.

If we approach work in the way that God intends, we will work to serve others in whatever business we find ourselves. Does it serve others when you work to produce food or stock the grocery store shelves? Does it serve others when you work as an auto mechanic, maintain telecommunication services, or sell software that better organizes people’s activity? Of course it does, otherwise you and I would have to grow our own food, suffer diminished travel and communication capabilities and countless inefficiencies hindering our ability to do the most good in our daily work. We, like the bushman, would be reduced to working for our own subsistence and not the benefit of others.

This, of course, is only a beginning point in understanding our work as our calling, but it is important fist step. There are the essential issues of market liberalism, in which workers must be free to exercise their entrepreneurial gifts in order to serve most effectively—but these are economic issues for another time.

Suffice it to say, Christians must—for the sake of the gospel—recover a deeper, more theologically rigorous conception of their work and its essential purpose in the propagation of the Christian faith and witness. This is why I am so committed to our Truth@Work Roundtable program.

If you are a pastor, we offer church-based Roundtable programs to help you equip and commission your people for the marketplace.

If you are a businessman or woman who desires to better live the gospel in your daily work—you can bring the Roundtable program to your church.

If you are a business owner or executive, we have Truth@Work Roundtable Groups specifically tailored to you and your peers.

It is time for Christian businessmen and women to reconnect with their calling—let Truth@Work help you in your rediscovery.

© 2011 by S. Michael Craven

Back to Top

Response from : John H. Armstrong  

May 23, 2011 9:47 AM

This is wonderful, as always. And I am so glad you treasure the DeKoster book. One of the many wonderful things Acton Institute has done is reprint this fantastic little book. I hope readers will secure a copy and pass it along to many others as well. I give it away on a regular basis because there is nothing quite like it.

Your insights on calling are not only biblically sound but profoundly important to the missional-unity of the whole church. Folks must know God calleed them and why.

Response from : James Hutson  

May 23, 2011 2:35 PM

As always, your commentaries and thought provoking articles make us not settle for a 'sedate' Christian life but step into a life that is made more powerful living for Christ and Christ alone. Appreciate your voice, brother, keep it calling out for all to hear.

Response from : KJQ  

May 24, 2011 8:39 AM

Good article Michael. I was a bit disheartened to see that you omitted mentioning that our primary calling (for most of us) is to our spouse, and then our children, and then our 'work'. Church history is littered with stories of pastors and evangelists neglecting their own families for their "calling". Scripture doesn't tell me specifically what I should do to support my family, but it is very clear on what my responsibilities are to my wife and my children - training them up in the Lord.

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

May 24, 2011 8:56 AM

In response to KJQ, while I appreciate the sentiment and agree that there are inviolable duties to spouse and family, this does constitute our calling or "vocatis." Our "calling" speaks to our duties in the world beyond loving God and loving others. Calling is the productive work to which God calls us, the manner and means of loving others. Relationships do not fall into the category of work and productivity as they are not something we do but something we submit too and experience because people are not projects. This may be semantics but our relationships and spiritual productivity remain distinct from one another. Thus when we speak of calling we are speaking of the work in the world to which God has called his church.

Response from : Tiffanie  

June 2, 2011 5:10 AM

I really enjoyed this article! When I was single I dedicated all my time to the church (Praise Team, ministry of helps, chior etc...and held two jobs ). I got married and had a baby and found it extremely hard to balance church,work, and home. I felt guilty because the church leaders made me feel like because I got married and could no longer dedicate all my time to the church that I had left God or was not putting him first. But I new in my heart that I loved God. Just like the Word of God says, when I was single I was about God's business but now that I am married I have to take care of my husband and child, knowing that in doing this I am pleasing God. After all marriage and parenting was my new ministry and I could only be successful in them with God! I also realized that the leaders complaining did not have the same responsibilities that I had!


Return to topics Return to articles
Back to Top

Respond to This Article

Form Authentication: 

Refresh the page if  
image does not appear  

Please enter the form validation code
you see displayed above.

Your Information:
You must include your full name. Submissions that do not include both first and last names will not be posted.



Email Address:


Respond to This Article:

Your comments will be reviewed and either approved or denied publication.


Back to Top

Navigation Key

 Return to topics
 Return to articles 
 Read article with responses 
 Respond to this article