Monday, August 15, 2016


I've heard it said that your vocation is where your passions and gifts meet what the world needs. Or at least, that's my own iteration of similar statements.

We often speak of "vocation" in ministerial circles, intertwined with or substituted for "calling." I suppose that it depends who you talk to and the point that someone is trying to make whether they use one or the other. But for me they're interchangeable. If nothing else, a vocation could be a longer-term thing; what you end up discerning, discovering, and living into over a lifetime, while a calling could be the more specific position in which you live it for a season.

Or maybe it's the other way around. Or maybe both.

Anyway, we ministry types usually would rather talk about "vocation" or "calling" than "job." We give what we do a more heavenly spin that way: it isn't just work and isn't just for the money (given the average pastor's salary, it's definitely not for the money). We've been called into this, after all, with lots of prayer, discernment, spiritual development, and communal blessing along the way.

So we speak of vocation, not job. Calling, not career. But when we do so, we risk several things.

First, we risk using the language of vocation to rationalize any and all kinds of boundary-violating, people-pleasing, burnout-verging behavior. It's my vocation to drop everything to meet the needy personality on my day off. It's my vocation to be at the church four evenings a week at the expense of family time. It's my vocation to rush back from vacation for a funeral. Don't you see? This is my calling. It's more than a job. And it doesn't take long before you have no space for anything or anyone else.

These are lessons I've learned the hard way. There are healthier ways to think about and live your vocation; that will help you be effective at what you're called to do for the long haul.

The other risk is considering only ministry-related professions as vocations. Maybe I just hang around other pastors too much, but I worry that we're trying to monopolize this language. All vocation is ministry, but ministry is not just church work.

Think about that definition: "where your passions and gifts meet what the world needs." What are you passionate about? What are your gifts? How can those things combined meet a need from where you're sitting?

Maybe you're a phenomenal cook who loves feeding others and there are a lot of hungry people around your neighborhood.

Maybe you're a brilliant carpenter whose soul sings when you're holding a hammer, and you know of people who need repair work.

Maybe you're a good conversationalist, and the local assisted living facility is looking for people to just hang out with its residents.

Notice that your vocation might not be the same as your job. Oh sure, it's wonderful if you can get those things to line up that way. But apart from what you need to pay the mortgage and support your loved ones, there may be something else that really causes the divine light in you to shine brightly, illuminating the fire in others. That's your vocation.

Now, a word of caution. Just as there's a difference between vocation and job, there's also a difference between vocation and hobby.

I play guitar. I dabble in songwriting and play nearly every Sunday in worship. I've even performed in nursing homes and as amateur in-home therapy. I love doing it, but I am spectacularly mediocre at it. I'm much better at other things. I've found ways to use it as part of my vocation as a pastor, but as a standalone activity, it's not meant to be my focus. It's not what drives my sense of calling. It's a hobby.

Maybe there are things you love to do, but they're more for you or you're not as passionate about them or they don't drive you the way other things do. That's okay. You still need those. And actually, the world needs those, too. They help you make space for vocation by giving you time for renewal.

Vocation is important, because it helps us find our identity and purpose in a world that needs it.

Jobs are important, because they help us meet basic life requirements.

Hobbies are important, because they provide margins. And sometimes they might even complement the other two.

And figuring out which is which is most important of all.