At Work & Theology 101

What Is the Vocation of a Student?

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My motivations for going to college were mainly economic. I didn’t know what a vocation was and had never taken the time to figure out how my time as a student would fit into the tapestry of my life.

Getting good grades was driven by my desire to have a good GPA, so I could improve my chances of getting my pick of jobs when I graduated. When I chose my major I was not thinking about my calling, I was thinking about taking courses I enjoyed.

More than a decade after my college graduation, I am a student again. This time, I have a sense of the greater purpose in being a student, beyond just getting grades and making progress toward graduation. I also have a better sense of my other vocations in life.

Here are five lessons I wish I had learned as a younger student.

Being a Student Is a Vocation of Preparation

Every student is in preparation for another vocation. This means that we should view our studies as a temporary, though important, vocation.

As we make choices about how to study, what to study, and what outside activities to participate in, we should remember being a student is a short term vocation with a specific purpose of preparing for another vocation. This means that we should have a general idea of what our calling is and choose our degree programs based on that.

Although most people will likely have multiple jobs in their lives, that should not deter us from being as wise as possible about preparation.

Being a Student Is a Stewardship of Knowledge

Augustine writes in On Christian Doctrine, “Truth belongs to [the] Lord, wherever it is found.” When we learn about sentence structure, the periodic table, or the proper method to determine the center of buoyancy of a ship we are learning something about the world God made.

This knowledge isn’t usually direct knowledge of God, but it points us to the Creator who made all things and sustains them.

Gaining knowledge can be an act of worship if we look for the order and beauty in the created order in the subject matter, though we must be careful to celebrate the Creator and not to become overly fascinated with the created order instead.

Being a Student Is an Opportunity to Serve

When we are good stewards of our academic opportunities, God is glorified. However, a danger for students is to put off worthwhile opportunities for service while in school.

Although students have a vocation of preparation, we should still seek to serve others in our churches, in our jobs, and in the broader community. An engineer benefits the common good by designing products well, but also by serving her family and community. That vocation doesn’t begin at graduation; it should be a part of being a student, too.

Being a Student Provides a Chance to Develop a Work Ethic

I realized after I graduated college that I approached my job in much the same way I approached my school work.

As a student I tended to procrastinate, unless I was intensely interested in the topic. As it turns out, I defaulted to approaching my job the same way.

While in school, my grades suffered and I didn’t learn as much as I could have. Once I was at work, however, other people’s productivity and well-being often depended on how I did my work. I would have been a better worker and a better steward of my opportunity to learn if I had developed a more appropriate work ethic while I was a student. 

Being a Student Provides an Opportunity to Conquer Idolatry

The human heart is an idol factory. Students have a ready-made idol provided for them in the form of grades. Performance reviews, project success, and promotions are analogous idols available for people in the workforce.

People that do not learn to resist making an idol of success when they are students will likely struggle with it when they graduate. A significant challenge, then, is to resist building our identities on grades while still seeking to be a good steward of our opportunity to learn.

If we can have a measure of success in resisting idolatry as a student, there is hope we can have success at it as a worker.

Just like any vocation, being a student is a process of balancing multiple priorities and seeking to improve the time as much as we are able. As we seek to glorify God in every vocation of our lives, students need to understand their calling in light of the bigger picture of God’s plan in creation.

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