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Thinking About Vocation


  • Vocation

    Volume 2, Issue 2 - May 2011

    Thinking About...

    The teaching faculty of Ministry, Theology, and Culture at Tabor Adelaide are committed to serving the church by thinking about the gospel. We believe that individuals and the church can be transformed by the renewing of our/ their minds. Too often college lecturers are characterized as living in an ivory tower and being too theoretical. This stereotype doesnt apply at Tabor; we are part of the church, and we want to see it grow in faithfulness to Jesus. This is why we have committed ourselves to producing this themed magazine for free distribution to the churches of South Australia. We trust you will find this semi-annual magazine helpful. We will value your feedback and your contributions; please email me at

    Rev Dr Stephen SpenceHead of Ministry, Theology, and Culture

    How ridiculous is that! Jesus is Lord of all aspects of life. We serve as his servant in all that we do. God wants us to understand that what we do in life is part of our response to following Jesus. Whether we are tinkers, tailors, soldiers, or sailors; whether we work in offices or factories, at home or in homes, we do so as servants of Jesus.

    Each one needs a sense of vocation, a sense that our job (paid or unpaid) is not just something that fills in our time but something to which we have been called. We need to Think About Vocation with Aaron Chalmers, Bruce Hulme, David McGregor, David Turnbull, Graham Buxton, Matthew Gray, and Stephen Spence.

    In the 1970s it was fashionable for churches to change their noticeboards from Minister: Rev John Smith to Minister: All Gods People. Church ministry was not just the job of a single person but the task of the whole congregation. Ministry was being democratized; only 400 years after the Reformation rediscovered the priesthood of all believers!

    However, ministry was still located within the church and its programs. A person might work 50 hours a week at a production line, but it was only the 3 hours they spent leading the youth group that counted as ministry. And there was a hierarchy of church ministry: programs of outreach or preaching counted more than programs of ground maintenance or

    transportation. (And it didnt really count as ministry if your ground maintenance or transportation was done for a non-Christian community group instead of for the church.) Sermons would be preached on serving God, but the preachers point was usually about joining a church roster.

    For these reasons, Christian vocation is almost always associated with serving the church (or para-church ministries). Possible exceptions are those involved in helping-jobs such as doctors or nurses or teachers. But that is about it. Christian vocation was limited to what 5% of Christians might do. [Disclaimer: I just made that statistic up.] The remaining 95% were being told that they had no Christian vocation even if they maybe had a ministry from time to time.

    Thinking About...Vocation

  • A persons vocation often defines them. What do you do? is often the first question we ask when meeting someone. Is this because we think that once we know what a person does, then we will know where they fit into life or into the Christian community? Is there a hierarchy of oc-cupations?

    Yvonne Smith* identifies this as one of three myths about work within the evangelical com-munity. She calls it there is good and not-so-good work myth.

    According to this myth Christian ministry, especially word-based forms, takes precedence over secular occupations, especially those that are profit driven.

    The basis of this myth is the western dualism that impacts so many areas of our lives and which cause those of us in secular occupations to keep their work and their ministry lives separate.

    Why should Gods people bust this myth? So we dont limit God. God uses occupational

    diversity for his purposes. Numerous examples are provided in the Scriptures. Jesus was a carpenter, and some of the disciples were fishermen. Paul was a tentmaker, as well as being an evangelist and church planter.

    How should Gods people bust this myth? The efforts of a local church to disciple must in-clude a healthy and holistic theology of work. It is vital for Gods people to see work as an act of wor-ship and significant for evangelism and outreach. Areas to cover include the use of apologetics to answer the questions being asked about life in the workplaces, the development of valuable commu-nication skills that aid relationship building and aid the use of empowering people to seek Jesus further, and how to cope with the cultural differ-ences that confront them. For more information google, Lausanne + Marketplace Ministry.


    David Turnbull, Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Studies. He is enrolled in the PhD program at Flinders University.

    In second semester, David is teaching Theology in an Intercultural Context, History of the World Christian Movement, and Youth Work in Multicultural Settings.


    Myth Busting: good work/not-so-good work

    Understanding and experiencing calling can bring a deep joy to everyday life. Paraphrasing Os Guinness, I note several fruits of living vocationally rather than simply yielding to careerism, occupationalism or professionalism.

    First, calling enables us to put work in its proper perspective - neither a curse nor an idol but taken up into Gods grand purpose.

    Second, it contributes to a deep sense of identity that is formed by whose we are rather than what we do.

    Third, it balances personal with public discipleship by keeping our Christian life from becoming either privatized or politicized.

    Fourth, it deals constructively with ambition by creating boundaries for human initiative so that we can offer sacrificial service without becoming fanatical or addicted.

    Fifth, it equips us to live with single-mindedness in the face of multiple needs, competing claims and diversions - the need is not the call.

    Sixth, it gives us a deep sense of integrity when living under secular pressures by inviting us to live in a counterculture and a countercommunity-the people of God - so we can never become company people.

    Seventh, it helps us make sense of the brevity of our lives, realizing that just as David had served Gods purpose in his own generation, [and] fell asleep (Acts 13:36), we can live a meaningful life even if our vision cannot be fully realized in one short lifetime.

    Eighth, the biblical approach to calling assures us that every believer is called into full-time ministry - there are no higher and lower forms of Christian discipleship.

    Living as Called PeopleAn extract by R. Paul Stevens from Calling/Vocation, in Complete Book of Everyday Christianity (1997).

    Available online at

  • Opportunity is our blessing, but it is also our curse. Hauerwas describes us today as a quivering mass of availability, almost paralysed by the occupational choices available. Bewildered Year 12 students stare blankly at hundreds of courses in their handbook. For the Christian, this is even more complicated, because of our inherent sense of vocation.

    When the Church started, vocation was simple it meant becoming a Christian. Christians were those called (Latin vocati) according to His purpose. That changed with the arrival of Christendom; since everybody was now a Christian the call was no longer necessary.

    Calling came to have a much more specialised definition, that of monastic or clerical ministry.

    In the Reformation, Luther passionately emphasised that all people are called by God into their ordinary professions, whether a carpenter or a blacksmith. Calvin further intensified this with his emphasis on election contrary to popular caricature, Calvins election was not primarily about salvation, but about


    Vocation has changed its meaningvocation. Calvin was convinced he was called by God (reluctantly, I might add) to his work in Geneva, and he was sure God called others into their jobs, too. The English Puritans, so deeply embedded in Calvinism, built this into their Protestant Work Ethic.

    Finally, in the modern period, economic and technological change meant that a whole host of new jobs emerged, creating more choice. Simultaneously, secularism drove God out of occupational choice, and vocation (God calling us) became profession (we calling us).

    Today, we live all these tensions. As Christendom disintegrates, the Early Churchs emphasis on being specifically called to our faith gains renewed dignity. But we also wrestle occasionally with medieval ideas of only pastoral or overseas ministry being a calling, which is only intensified by secularism pushing God out of the workplace. Surely, we must return to the Reformation belief of Luther, Calvin and others, seeing our occupations as Gods calling. Then Year 12 students can focus on discovering what God is calling them into, rather than settling for just a profession.

    Matthew Gray is Lecturer in Church History. He is enrolled in the PhD history program at Adelaide University

    In second semester, Matt will teach The Story of the Church (Tues evenings) and Exploring the Christian Faith (Friday morn-ings).

    Considering your options for study? Apply now for Second Semester

    Tabor Adelaide offers fully accredited courses in:

    Teacher Education Social Science - Youth WorkSocial Science - CounsellingMinistry, Theology, and Intercultural StudiesHumanities: English, Creative WritingHumanities: History, PhilosophyTESOL Certificate IV in Training and Assessment Goodwood Rd Millswo