What is vocation?

Dear Maggie,

What is vocation? 

Questioning Call

Dear Questioning,

There twas a time when Christians thought that vocation was only something for priests and deacons and bishops—it was synonymous with ordination.  By looking at the scriptures and the early church, however, Christians have begun to recover a broader sense of vocation.  We’ve come to recognize that every follower of Christ has a calling that is exercised in the world in different ways.

The word vocation comes from the Latin for “call.” We must say that the first vocation, the first call of every Christian is to respond to Christ’s call to pick up our cross and follow him.  This means that we are meant to join Christ in being a manifestation of God’s reconciliation in the world.  The primary place where we carry out this reconciliation is the Church.  This is the community to which Christ has called us to live into God’s mission in the world.  We are not called first to a job, or a career, or a particular kind of work—our vocation is to be a member of this reconciled and reconciling community of the Church.  This is important to keep in mind because we always want to make sure that our careers and other activities don’t take priority over the community to which we are primarily called.  As the pastor and teacher John Alexander says in his excellent book Being Church: “Our most important work is living in reconciliation with our sisters and brothers in a church and lying awake at night trying to figure out how to help others do the same.  Second, we should take whatever paid or unpaid employment will do most to help our brothers and sisters live in unity.”  

Our call is then not our jobs, but the work we do within this reconciling community of Christ’s Body, the church.  Our jobs may or may not overlap with those things and we should certainly seek to carry that reconciliation into every aspect of our efforts.  The differences between our efforts in the church fall to the various ministries to which we are called in the church.  The Book of Common Prayer has a good summary of the various ministries within the church (found on page 855 of the BCP).  Here are the primary ministries found within a typical parish:
Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his 
Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; 
and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on 
Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take 
their place in the life, worship, and governance of the 
Q. What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?
A. The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his 
Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share 
with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim 
the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and 
declare pardon in the name of God.
Q. What is the ministry of a deacon?
A. The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his 
Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and 
to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the 
Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.
In each of these ministries we see that we are to make Christ manifest in the world.  We do this by joining in the reconciled community of the church and by seeking to live as Christ might live if he were us.  To discern how that might look we need to be accountable within our communities as well as imaginative about how Christ might live our lives if he were us. 

I hope that helps ya, Questioning!  God has called us all to amazing work if only we’d answer the call!