By Rhody Mastin
As someone who has worked with youth in the middle of determining next steps —college, trade school, the job market—I’ve been asked, as one youth put it, “How does ‘calling’ work?” I answered him honestly: I’m not sure. I was the first to admit that I did not always have a sufficient idiomatic infrastructure for talking about “calling” or “vocation”. I shared that when I felt called into ministry as a teenager, it was an isolating experience—I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t know how to talk about it.
In today’s session “Calling and Vocation… Beyond a Pulpit”, Brian Foreman, the director of the Campbell University Youth Theological Institute, identified that this feeling is not unique to me or my youth. Data from over 700 of Campbell University’s undergraduates confirms that when it comes to talking about our vocations, we’re unable to identify the integration of our faith into those decisions. In particular, in fields that are less ministry-specific (healthcare, engineering, teaching, or the service industry, for example), language of vocation or calling is almost completely absent. When explaining how they chose their careers, some even described actively trying to choose an occupation without letting their faith hinder them.
Discussion then centered on how we, as ministers, might be able to supply better theologies of vocation and calling, whether that be in a call to ministry or sports medicine.
“Are we training people in service of the church, or in service of the kingdom?” Foreman asked. A good calling, he reminded us, is not just a call to ministry.
He proposed that we understand vocation in terms of Amy L. Sherman’s definition from Kingdom Calling: vocation is “the intentional and strategic deployment of our vocational power-knowledge, platform, networks, positions, influence, skills and reputations—to advance the foretaste of God’s kingdom.” If vocation is how we choose to deploy our skills, calling, then, is a command. It is, as Brian McLaren discussed last night, the Matthew 22 of it all: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The job of the Christian, then, — in any field — is to interpret the 80,000 hours of work we will do considering God’s call to love our neighbors.
This is not as easy as it sounds. In a society that asks us to compartmentalize ourselves, becoming a people who integrates faith into the nooks and crannies of everyday life is unintuitive. It is incarnational, certainly, but unintuitive. We tend to teach youth “good values” instead of missional values — what Foreman distinguished as the conflict between moral therapeutic deism and Missio Dei.
Instead of simply saying to youth and young people as they head into the workforce that one ought to be a kind colleague, we might do better to teach them about the “incarnated… witness of a community,” as David Bosch called it. We might do well to help youth work through their callings in a community — like when CBFVA held a Call Weekend Retreat — so that calling is not experienced as isolating event, like mine was. And we would all be better if we remembered that all the paths of the Lord are hesed, as the pastor at my home church once preached; or that we make the road by walking, as McLaren reminded us. There is nowhere we can go that operates outside God’s good intention for the world. There is no calling that is incorrect.
Rhody Mastin is a third-year M.Div. student at Duke Divinity School. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, she is a labor and postpartum doula in Durham, North Carolina and a CBF Leadership Scholar. She currently works for Emmaus Way.