At Work & Theology 101

A Crisis In Calling

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Ed. Note: This post has been adapted from its original form. Read the full paper here.

My greatest fear is that my life will not make a difference.

A woman confessed this to me over the course of a vocational profile we were walking through together. Have you ever felt this way?

Over the past twenty-five years I have interviewed hundreds of people in the process of conducting these profiles. This fear, sadly, is a common thread running through most of them.

Rest assured:

  • You have been created by God in His image.
  • You have great worth.
  • You have been given gifts, gifts meant to contribute something to your family, your community, and the world.

In spite of these truths, we still fear living lives of insignificance. Why?

The problem is that many people don’t see themselves as significant. They do not have a vision for how God wants them to make a difference in the world through their unique gifts.

In other words, we have a crisis in calling.

Crisis in Calling: No One to Call

There are numerous books on the topics of vocation and calling. Yet many of these viewpoints have a problem of perspective:

  • From the atheist perspective, there is no God to call you to a higher life.
  • From the New Age perspective, there are no real distinctions in the world – including between you and God. Again, there is no one to call you to a higher life.
  • In contrast, the Biblical worldview teaches you are responsible to an audience of One.

The Bible teaches that you are called out of your own selfishness to love and serve God and others in specific ways. However, even many believers fail to know this is true.

Failure of the Church

The evangelical church has largely failed to address this need. It tends to focus on salvation, evangelism, or basic discipleship – all of which are important.

But there is little or no specific teaching on the work most people do forty, sixty, or eighty hours a week. When I read the following quote from William Diehl’s book Christianity and Real Life, it jumped off the page at me:

I am now a sales manager for a major steel company. In the almost thirty years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others…In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I minister in my daily work.

Although I have been a part of a number of excellent evangelical churches, I would have to sadly agree with Diehl’s comment. I have never seen a church address:

  • Ethical issues at work.
  • Public affirmation of ministry in and through a career.
  • Discernment of the gifts of all church members, and how to use those gifts wisely in the church and on the job.

People are being equipped for personal faith, but not public life.

Loss of the Work Ethic

Another illustration of the crisis in calling is the loss of the work ethic. Work is often seen as a necessary evil. Consider the following:

  • All the songs about working nine to five.
  • The restaurant T.G.I.F. (Thank God It’s Friday!).
  • The saying, “Happy Friday!”

When was the last time you heard someone say “Thank God it’s Monday!” or “Happy Monday!”?

I also see many idealistic young people with unrealistic expectations about work and success in a future career. You’re familiar with the phenomenon of the “mid-life crisis.” Now that crisis is coming earlier. People are starting to discuss the “quarter-life crisis.”

Students who have been the best and brightest all their lives are feeling bogged down and unfulfilled in their careers. Their high expectations are dashed. Success has not come as quickly as they had hoped.

I think that the central reason for these various problems is a failure to develop a thorough Biblical theology of work. I’ll be laying out this theology in the coming weeks, and also looking at its implications for discerning God’s call on our lives.

What do you think? Where do you see the crisis in calling in our culture? Leave your comments here.


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Further readings on At Work & Theology 101

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