At Work & Theology 101

New Job, New Calling? Or Same Calling, Different Job?

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What’s the difference between your vocational calling and your career, occupation, or job?

Vocational calling is the call to God and to his service in the vocational sphere of life based on giftedness, desires, affirmations, and human need. Vocational calling is usually stable and permanent over a lifetime. Discovering our vocation is possible because it is based on giftedness, interests, passions, and human need, which are all fairly easy to identify.

Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking described it by saying, “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

A career should be based on the opportunities for service that are presented to a believer enabling him or her to fulfill their vocation. Finding the right occupation at any one time is a matter of God’s specific leadership, guidance, and provision. Solomon wrote,

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (Eccles. 2:24-25).

Vocational Calling As the Common Thread Between Jobs

Vocational calling stays the same as we move in and out of different jobs and careers. Our vocation is directly related to the discovery of our God-given talents. Over time, we develop and hone them into useful competencies for the glory of God and the service of others, often in various jobs and occupations.

Our vocational calling from God to the workplace is something above any given job or even a career.

This can be confusing, especially as we look at the work of our church pastors, whose vocational calling is usually the same as their careers, occupations, or jobs. Yet for the rest of us, that is usually not the case.

It is reported that the typical college graduate today will have not just one career but several during their lifetime. And each career will have numerous occupations and who knows how many jobs. The days of putting in 35 years for the same company and retiring with a gold watch are long gone.

As I look back over the many different jobs (and several different careers) in my own life, I can see the emergence of a pattern, a common thread woven through each and every job. Although I will admit, sometimes it is more visible than at other times.

In nearly every one of my roles, I’ve had the opportunity to use my gifts and passion to be a coach and encourager of others. I was created, designed, and destined to fill this particular vocational calling based on my God-given gifts and talents and the opportunities presented to me by God’s providence. God consistently used me to do very much the same thing in many different settings.

Your Identity in Christ As a Clue to Your Vocational Calling

If you are still confused about your vocational calling, the best advice is to go back and understand your call in Christ.

Professor Jennifer Scott in an article entitled “Our Callings, Our Selves,” writes that calling “…originally meant ‘a call…'” and was associated with “…the biblical calling of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Old Testament and to the New Testament calling of disciples by Christ.”

Thus from a Christian perspective, calling, or vocation, was a chance for followers to “listen to God and understand who they are” before knowing what work to do. Understanding who we are in Christ, individually, helps us to see more clearly our vocational calling, which may be defined as the fulfillment of our divine destiny.

Out of this primary calling to become a disciple of Christ flow secondary calls to action in certain areas of our lives, particularly the workplace. Martin Luther and the other reformers, as author Roland Bainton writes, “extended the concept of divine call, vocation, to all worthy occupations.” They saw our everyday work as an opportunity for service, in God’s providence, to fulfill a believer’s vocational calling.

So, rather than equate vocational calling with a specific occupation or career, we are called to live out our Christian identity in whatever situations we find ourselves. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do,” Paul urged the Corinthians, “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

Paul Stevens, in his book Doing God’s Business, mirrors the Apostle Paul’s statement when he writes: “The New Testament treats work in the context of a larger framework: the call of God to live totally for him and his kingdom.”

So, as you seek to live “totally” for God, don’t get too wrapped up in figuring out if you’re in the “right” job or career, but focus on living out your identity in Christ through your unique calling that will transcend job and careers over your lifetime.


Editor’s Note: Read more about vocational calling in Hugh Whelchel’s How Then Should We Work?


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