Disentangling Christian Vocation from Occupation
The Rev. James T. Lehmann sts
NALS Regent, NALC Pastor
Most often, vocation, one’s “calling,” is associated with a young person beginning to consider a field of study leading to an occupation. The questions can go something like this: What do I enjoy doing? What do I like to study? Can I earn a living doing this activity? What opportunities are available at the beginning of my career? Are there prospects for advancement? These questions are worthy of reflection. But while vocation and occupation are related, they are not synonymous.
Vocation has more to do with how a person lives out the Christian faith. In Baptism, a person is adopted into the family of God, and called to serve in His name. In the Affirmation of Baptism, the question is asked: “Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy Baptism: … to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?” In moving from occupation to vocation, the focus shifts from self to others, and that is precisely where the excitement begins.
To serve God and others through our lives adds a whole new level of meaning. Mundane activities take on new purposes. Pulling weeds in the garden to feed your family; changing diapers for the health of your daughter; grading papers for your students’ learning; laying sewer lines for the sake of the city can amount to more than doing a job. These activities represent the different ways we are called to care for people and for the world in which we live for the sake of Christ.
Some people have been called to serve Christ and His Church in ordained ministry. God calls, a person discerns, and the Church ratifies. It sounds so simple. It rarely is. There is usually a long period of saying “yes,” then “no,” then “yes.” Sometimes the discernment process persists while a person is pursuing an entirely different career. However long it takes, the Office of Holy Ministry offers unique opportunities to fulfill the Christian vocation to care for God’s people. To be invited into people’s lives at their times of greatest joy or deepest sorrow is a privilege and an honor. To lead a congregation in worship of the Triune God and to encourage them to care for people in need around the world is part of this divine calling. I am thankful that God called me to ministry.
What about when pastors reach the time of retirement from full-time parish ministry? Is this the end of God’s call? Filling in from time to time with pulpit supply or for interim ministry is not the same as ministering full-time. Some pastors are specially trained for interim ministry. It is a calling in itself. Nevertheless, serving our Lord has no end. The vocation may broaden or even end up mirroring that of the laity. Inasmuch as the ministry of the laity and that of the clergy are both vitally important, such a transition can itself be a gift. Each of these Christian vocations reinforces and coordinates with the other.
Wherever you are in your life, give serious consideration to this question: “How is God calling you into ministry?”