This charge to first-century readers gathered in Corinth is in the wake of one of the most pivotal moments in history, i.e. the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It would have been easy to cower in fear in light of the incarnation of this already-but-not-yet kingdom, only to ponder, "who am I..how can I...what would happen if I actually lived into this Jesus story?"This is a charge to each one of us in the twenty-first century, "consider your own calling, brothers and sister!"
I have written much about vocation and calling of late in preparation for a spiritual formation exercise with high school students, "College. Career. Calling." The hope has been to reclaim the sacred and sending imaginations of young people as they move beyond the walls of our youth room and into the next phase of their lives. Even more, the intent is to recapture vocation and calling as more than professional and ecclesial buzzwords and shed the limitations that have distorted both. Here is a modest attempt at a few working definitions:
Vocation: To love God and love neighbor as we follow Jesus in this world in anticipation of the new world yet to come. Vocation is a broad and communal term that can easily be paired with Jesus' invitation to discipleship. In other words, Christians locally and globally share this common vocation. Moreover, when pressed with the question, "what's your vocation?," the above paraphrase of Jesus' greatest command may be the most faithful response.
Calling: A community's or individual disciple's unique incarnation of their Christian vocation within a given context. Said differently, God calls each of us as individuals and communities to live into our vocation with creativity and risk for the sake of our neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable. God may call you to love God and love neighbor in your concern for the local homeless, high school drop-outs, the uninsured, veterans and victims of war, bullied middle school students, or the elderly in need of a constant companion. Where a disciple chooses to exercise this call, as an outpouring of their Christian vocation, is limitless. When we tune our hearts and minds, through prayer and the reading of Scripture, to God's calling God may whisper to us where we may be sent to live into our vocation.
Career: What we do to earn a living so to afford a community or individual disciple's ability to live into their calling and Christian vocation. The placement of career as the third layer is intentional; it reminds us that our first obligation is not to our career, rather to our vocation. We are not what we do; our careers do not define us. Instead, our vocation identifies us as God's image bearers, filled with the Holy Spirit, who follow a crucified and resurrected Jesus in and for the whole world. Nonetheless, careers are important and jobs are essential. Yet they serve a greater goal than to pad bank accounts and sustain retirement funds. Careers serve our callings and vocations. Furthermore, Christians can practice their vocation and unique calling in and through their careers- many do!
Recently, I sat down with a couple friends of mine who serve alongside me in the Imago Dei Youth Ministry and discussed their vocation, calling, and career. I am grateful for their faithful dialogue and their witness to the gospel as practiced within their 9 to 5 places of work! Enjoy...and consider your own call, too!