The leaders of The Reformation changed and promoted the idea of vocation so much that it generally is now thought of as theirs. Originally, if one said one felt he or she had a “vocation,” this meant that one was called to religious life, that is, being a priest, monk, or nun. Luther and Calvin and their bunch changed all that with a doctrine called “the Priesthood of all Believers.” The reasoning went that since there was only 1 mediator between God and humans (Christ, not some sacerdotal class) then everyone had a vocation. A vocation is a calling. This calling could be to any occupation, as a ministry. So whether one was had a profession (an occupation where there were strict entrance requirements) or one was a simple mother and homemaker, one might feel divinely called. Everyone could have a vocation.
Over time, however, the distinctions dimmed and the definitions blurred. People used the word “vocation” to mean any sort of occupation. They used “profession” whenever they wish to dignify any occupation. “Occupation”” began to sound like either “biding time” or being over-run by a military. Mothers said “I am just a mother” or “I don’t work” to mean “I am not employed.” More importantly, ministry and having “a calling” once again meant “service to the church” – specifically religious employment.
Now there is a new sprout of reformanda of thinking about vocation. This VOCATION 2.0 encourages people to think of God as sending them (everyone) out into whatever sphere of influence they may have to demonstrate Divine Love. They encourage us all to discover our talents and see these as gifts to others. Workers are encouraged to discover what sector of society where they are to serve / lead /occupy. This is done by classifying all of society into 7 sectors or “mountains” (which may vary); but the root idea is the Reformation idea of vocation.
Eyebrows are raised over the use of the word “occupy,” as if this were some malevolent takeover of theocratic tyranny. This is, in fact, fantasy. In the first place, nothing is new about this; it is the same vocation thinking from the Reformation: rebellion against the clergy domination of the idea of “calling.” Secondly, there is no junta of tyranny. If there is, then the shoe is on the other foot; the fear is a projection of today’s socialist hegemony of education, government, and media. In the third place, it was specifically the Judeo-Christian tradition that brought us rational science (e.g. “lights in the sky” in Genesis one in contradistinction to heavenly orbs being gods of astrological rulership over human choice). It was specifically European Christendom that questioned the ubiquitous Greco-Roman slavery and became the foundation for capitalism and democracy. It was precisely the Protestant Reformation that founded, birthed, and to this day supports pluralism. So the heretic hunters and the fear mongers will go out and discover that the enemy is them.
Christians who are concerned by the criticism might be comforted by knowing that in Luke where Jesus is recorded as saying “occupy till I come” the word occupy means “to busy one self with trade.” From Luke’s Greek, translated to today’s English the word we might get “to go do business.” Since, after all, we must be about our daily tasks as mother, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, it would be perverse to think that our deepest values have to be unconnected. How pleasant it is that God, Creator and Redeemer, is interested in, and might fill up with meaning, our daily chores.
That we might aspire to leadership (motivated by the allegory of 80 year old Caleb wanting to occupy his mountain) is certainly comforting to someone like me, nearing retirement age but not yet satisfied with contributing in the wider world. Should we limit ourselves to arranging flowers at church since we are old? Should we be forced to resign ourselves to depression simply because to date we have not made enough mark on the world to satisfy ourselves? Should we roll over in economic crisis and tell ourselves to lower our sights to living on welfare? I don’t think so! So fear mongers and aspiration suppressors, be gone!
Similarly, in a day when so very few indeed can devote themselves to careers that won’t make money, should young people of sensitive hearts, who want to serve others, be shamed for not being able to be missionaries, pastors, artists, and teachers? Notice, if you haven’t, that even the majority professors, “doctors of the church” Calvin called them, are adjuncts? They must either feed their family with another career or else shuffle between campuses and colleges. The wider economic situation is forcing many into whatever situation they can get to make money. Should the more religious of our society, the pentecostals and conservative evangelicals and the spiritually talented be forever locked into poverty because they wish to be holy? Forever eschew college and career training as man’s learning? Forever be suppressed in any kind of aspiration of making a difference in this world other than in relation to church affairs? I don’t think so! Enforcers of stifling secularization, keeping down working classes, be gone!
Jesus’s words “occupy till I come” introduced the story of the 10 talents. The master having come back from a long trip evaluates how well his employees had invested his money. This investing is the same as the occupying in the story. Contrary to my friends who wish to see Jesus as a socialist, the master commends the servant who made more and takes away from the one who merely preserved the master’s money. However, what happens is also not like today’s capitalism. The one who made the most did not thereby live on his earnings. Rather, for his diligence, he is given the rulership of ten cities. A talent is a lot of money, but the connection to a city? Jesus’ economy seem to be more like an analogy to agrarianism: multiplication. If you plant a corn seed you might get 100 back. So this is a great deal more than the simple message of “please use your talents like painting, web design, and hospitality for our congregation.” Jesus is talking about something much larger, like a dramatically different moral vision.
All vocation is ministry and ministry is, by definition, service. Today we see it as service at the cost of oneself. Vocation 2.0 thinking is, by definition, also servant leadership. If one sees one’s occupation, profession, career, series of daily duties, as inspired by a heavenly kingdom, lead by a King who poured Himself for us, buying our well-being, then how could we not in our aspirations hope to lead in a servant leadership? Others think to win by counting amount of toys at the end of the game. Some others want to win by intimidation. Some others plan to rule through violence and fear. But what would winning in Jesus’ Kingdom be like? Answer: Serving the most!
So if with this talk of vocation, Luther, Calvin and company shut the door on the monastery, then Schaeffer, Bright, Cunningham, Wallnau, Chavda and 7 Mountain company are opening the doors to aspirationally, inspirationally filled enterprise to many others. It is VOCATION 2.0. -Sharon
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