At Work & Theology 101

Vocation: Your Distinct Sphere of Responsibility

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Early in our ministry we discovered a pent-up demand for Christians in specific industries to gather and discuss the unique struggles and questions arising within their industry. Christians in the diverse fields of finance, theater, medicine, and media encounter spiritual, economic, and cultural challenges unique to their field. Workers in various lines of work desire time and space to gather, pray, encourage, and support one another.

“Work,” we realized, is not a uniform human experience: it is a profoundly diverse and complex activity. Yes, all Christian workers are universally called to love their neighbors and glorify their God, but this universal love command takes on distinct forms in diverse fields and industries.

John Calvin and his fellow reformers understood God’s desire “that human beings should live in a society bound together by common needs and mutual service, . . . [with] each member contributing according to his specific talents and receiving according to his need.” According to Calvin, the diversity of vocations is, in one sense, extremely practical. In order to survive, Calvin’s Geneva needed butchers and bakers, teachers and builders, soldiers and merchants. Martin Luther wrote that these diverse vocations were the diverse “masks” that God wears to bless cities with the food, shelter, and beauty they need to flourish.

Moreover, this vocational diversity not only serves humanity, it also actually delights God. Just as God delights in the diversity of flowers and fish, God delights in diverse workers with a complex and pluriform array of gifts, talents, and insights. When workers develop these diverse talents into the unique vocations of architecture and fashion, cooking and policing, singing and preaching, the Creator takes delight in that complexity.

Two Reformed Doctrines

Reformed theology conceives of creation as a seed that is filled with growth potential or as a flower whose petals are slowly unfolding. God embedded in creation diverse patterns and potencies that human beings are always discovering, exploring, and developing. At the Center for Faith and Work, in our many different vocational groups, workers seek to explore the diverse unfolding goodness that God might be revealing for their specific industry.

Two Reformed doctrines have proved to be extremely helpful in these efforts: “the priesthood of all believers” and “sphere sovereignty.” According to the priesthood of all believers, Christian workers are holy priests, each one offering life and labor as sacrifices of holy worship to God. These priests have direct access to God, to God’s Word, and to God’s world. In Christ’s priesthood, they are priests. No mediator is needed. Worker priests are called to discern the direction of God’s calling in their career, in free submission to the Word of God and Christian community.

According to the Reformed doctrine of sphere sovereignty, God has a unique and diverse set of purposes and designs for human work. Art, law, commerce, science, education, and government are unique spaces of Christian service, with their own unique patterns and practices. These unique spheres of human work and responsibility all engage each other in society, like cogwheels, to enable a rich, multifaceted, flourishing of human life. In the light of sphere sovereignty, diverse workers are called to investigate their specific spheres and their callings within them.

How Does Your Doctrine Inform Your Work?

In light of these two doctrines, each vocational group at CFW looks carefully at their own industry or sphere and asks three questions:

  • How are things in this sphere supposed to be (as created by God)?
  • How are things in this sphere going wrong (because of systemic evil)?
  • How might God be calling me/us to join him in the redemption and renewal of this particular sphere?

Lawyers need to wrestle with God’s purposes for law, what God’s justice is calling them to do in this specific time and place, and how they should pursue it. Artists, doctors, and pastors cannot answer these questions for lawyers. They are priests. They need to wrestle together with the unique purposes and responsibilities God has for them.

As the global financial industry collapsed all around them in 2008, our finance fellowship group could see quite clearly the unique importance of their work and their unique responsibility for the welfare of their neighbors. Together in community, this priesthood of believers began examining what was broken in their industry. As a body of believers, they began to reenvision how finance is supposed to function within the economy of God. Quite a few of them discerned that God was calling them to engage in redemptive and transformative action deep within the heart of their industries.

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Reformed Public Theology edited by Matthew Kaemingk, ©2021. Used by permission of Baker Academic.

 

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