Introductory Note:

“Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry,” writes A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God. “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.”

Tozer is right, of course, but it’s still tempting to think of some jobs as holier than others, especially if our vision of the Gospel is smaller than it should be. My thanks to Faith Today for inviting me to explore my own theology of vocation, and for allowing me to share my reflections here.

Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

I was sched­uled to speak in a prairie town at a Chris­t­ian con­fer­ence. One of my dear­est friends from uni­ver­si­ty teach­es col­lege in the area. We’d lost con­tact, so I googled her. I dis­cov­ered her pro­file on RateY​our​Pro​fes​sors​.com.”

I hes­i­tat­ed to look at my friend’s scores. I knew dis­grun­tled stu­dents are typ­i­cal­ly more moti­vat­ed than hap­py ones to rate” their pro­fes­sors. Still, I clicked on Sally’s name.

I read the post­ed com­ments through tears of pride. She makes learn­ing fun,” wrote one stu­dent. Eng­lish was my most hat­ed sub­ject. After hav­ing Sal­ly, it’s one of my favorites,” pro­fessed anoth­er. Best teacher I ever had!” exclaimed a third, sum­ming up the appar­ent sen­ti­ments of count­less oth­ers. It was thrilling to get a bird’s eye view of a friend mak­ing a difference.

I even­tu­al­ly tracked Sal­ly down. We con­nect­ed over piz­za. After a while, she sighed.

I read your con­fer­ence bio online,” she said. I’m so proud of you. But I won­der about my life. You’re out there doing things for God, and I’m just here teach­ing English.”

I was shocked. How could my friend be teach­ing col­lege kids to love lan­guage, ideas, and them­selves, and not think she was doing things for God?

I assured Sal­ly that God was obvi­ous­ly doing things through her. We found our­selves unpack­ing how we’d been raised to think about vocation. 

As kids, Sal and I learned that the point of life is to tell peo­ple about Jesus. When we con­tem­plat­ed our future voca­tions, there were three faith­ful options: home­mak­ing, jobs that allowed us to explic­it­ly share the Gospel, or employ­ment that earned mon­ey to sup­port min­istries. We had been taught to pri­or­i­tize the sal­va­tion of indi­vid­ual souls. But I don’t recall hear­ing much about par­tic­i­pat­ing in the redemp­tion of culture.

We had what author and speak­er Gabe Lyons calls a half-sto­ry” gospel. Lyons and oth­ers argue the Bible reveals a sweep­ing dra­ma unfold­ing in four acts — cre­ation, fall, redemp­tion, and restora­tion. Our child­hood church­es had zeroed in on Acts 2 and 3 — the prob­lem of sin and the solu­tion of the cross. The fer­vor for those mid­dle acts was good. But our under­stand­ing of Acts 1 and 4 was impoverished.

It’s in Act 1 that God cre­ates a world teem­ing with pos­si­bil­i­ty. When he asks Adam to name the ani­mals, the Cre­ator is invit­ing human beings to join him in gov­ern­ing cre­ation. If we take Act 1 seri­ous­ly, we begin to see that every time we par­tic­i­pate in good gov­er­nance, cre­ative endeav­or, the cul­ti­va­tion of beau­ty, or the nur­ture and pro­tec­tion of cre­at­ed things, we par­tic­i­pate in the gospel — in the sto­ry of God’s good plans for all He’s made.

Bet­ter yet, we see in Act 4 that God intends not to anni­hi­late his cre­ation but to restore it — to make every­thing new” (Rev­e­la­tion 21:5).

If we won­der what a restored cre­ation might be like, the prophets reveal that what God has planned is shalom—a peace that Andy Crouch calls, the com­pre­hen­sive flour­ish­ing of all things.” Isaiah’s vision of shalom includes the turn­ing of swords into ploughshares (Isa­iah 2:4), and wolves liv­ing peace­ful­ly with lambs (Isa­iah 11:6). Jesus promis­es it involves free­dom for pris­on­ers, recov­ery of sight for the blind, and release for the oppressed (Luke 4:18 – 19). Paul envi­sions a real­i­ty that oblit­er­ates racial, socio-eco­nom­ic or gen­der hier­ar­chy (Gala­tians 3:28).

If Acts 2 and 3 show us it’s impor­tant to tell peo­ple about Jesus, Acts 1 and 4 tell us it’s impor­tant to coop­er­ate with Him in His plans for the world. We are to be what pas­tor and author Jonathan Mar­tin calls peo­ple from the future” — peo­ple who, because Christ lives with­in us, car­ry His com­ing shalom into our cur­rent contexts. 

There’s no job in which we are not called to be a sign of the good­ness God intends for his creation.

Author Kai Nilsen asks what would hap­pen if our church­es had com­mis­sion­ing ser­vices for accoun­tants every April. If Sally’s church com­mis­sioned teach­ers each fall, would she see her offer­ings of syn­tax and sto­ry as in-break­ing shalom? What if we com­mis­sioned our jan­i­tors, CEOs, and new moth­ers? Would we start to see that God’s inter­ests and plot twists are more var­ied than we can imagine?

Ever since our piz­za night, Sal­ly and I have begun to envi­sion a less-abridged ver­sion of God’s sto­ry. We wor­ry less about doing things for God.” We’re far too busy delight­ing in the things that God is doing for His cre­ation … even through us.

First pub­lished in the March/​April 2016 issue of Faith Today, and used grate­ful­ly with their permission.

Text First Published March 2016

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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