At Work & Theology 101

Should Your Passion Determine Your Profession?

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Should you follow your passion in choosing a profession? According to conventional wisdom, this is the right approach. But Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, surprisingly argues that this is bad advice:

Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?  Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end?

More importantly, you can be passionate about something that doesn’t meet a real need in society. This possibility should carry weight for all believers who are committed to the ideal of seeking the common good, which involves, as Dr. Steven Garber has put it, knowing the world and still loving it.

Not only that, when we perform our professional duties with excellence, God is glorified because our actions enable us to serve as agents of grace in the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike. To the degree that people are made aware of this supernatural component, it provides the occasion for them to express gratitude for God’s providential care for his creation.

The Usual Advice

Although I’m still happy with my decision to pursue a career in higher education, and I’m very satisfied with my current position, I also recognize that I luckily stumbled upon a career that complimented my personality, and, in the midst of an ongoing economic recession, that I’m extremely fortunate to be gainfully employed.

But more to the point: during a pivotal time in my life, while trying to discover my career path, I was given virtually no guidance for making this momentous decision.

As an undergraduate studying at a large state university, I was involved in a dynamic campus ministry, staffed by leaders who taught me how to read the Bible effectively, share the gospel with unbelievers, and live a holy life. And for all of that, I will always be grateful.

But the career advice I received from these individuals was, unfortunately, myopic at best.

During my sophomore year, in particular, I felt God was calling me to professional ministry. At no point, upon announcing this decision, did a single person take me aside and ask me to justify this calling.

If anything, the implicit message was: “If you’re passionate about the things of God, then become a pastor or a missionary.”  But as Rowe explains, albeit in a different context:

When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society – I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose.

There are probably lots of explanations for this phenomenon, such as the simple fact that our passions change over time, but also because sometimes our passions, though laudable, are just not very practical, given the state of the world.

Young people are continually encouraged to follow their passions, as if doing so will necessarily enable them to achieve all their dreams.

It’s my conviction that this message, though obviously well intended, has proven harmful to generations of people who have been encouraged to pursue career paths out of sync with their actual gifts and the current needs of society.

Although it’s true that God is sovereign and can work in the midst of sub-optimal circumstances, we still have a responsibility, especially as Christians, to be good stewards of our resources.

Prayer Is Key to Calling

As such, every Christian should prayerfully discover his or her calling (or vocation), whether it ends up being selling life insurance, teaching inner city youth, or designing web sites.

  • Above all, pray that God would give you the wisdom to realize the unique temperament, skills, and gifts that he’s blessed you with. Notice that I’m not promising that God will reveal these qualities to you. It might actually take effort on your part, through a process of reflection, dialogue, and discernment, to figure out how God has wired you.
  • Then ask God for clarity in discovering the path that will most effectively allow you to employ those qualities, in light of current societal trends, and with a view to serving others. This will require both vision and creativity on your part.
  • Next, pray for courage and perseverance as you seek to be faithful to God’s calling in your life. It might not be easy, as it might require great sacrifice and hardship.
  • Finally, however he’s designed you and to whatever station he’s called you, pray that you would receive God’s blessing with gratitude, knowing that it’s for your joy and his glory. In other words, although in one sense it’s about you, insofar as God wants you to be fulfilled, in another sense it most certainly isn’t about you, since God’s ultimate goal is to achieve his purposes.

The reality is that not everyone is called to be a pastor or missionary. I eventually learned this lesson. But everyone still has a vocation.

Whether you’re a full-time student or a stay-at-home parent, God has called you to use your vocation to serve others, to promote the common good, thereby acting as a vessel of his grace in a fallen world. That is certainly an ideal that we can all be passionate about, regardless of its practical outworking.

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