Posts tagged with: vocation

The winter issue of Leadership Journal is on vocation and callings. In the lead editorial, managing editor Drew Dyck reminds us that while it’s important to affirm the calling of lawyers, journalists, and plumbers, we need to remember that being a pastor is a calling too:

I applaud this move toward a more holistic understanding of vocation. I’ve seen numerous books on the topic published in the past few years. Conferences are springing up. What’s most heartening is to see some churches, like Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, launching programs to help parishioners think theologically about their vocations. We still have a long way to go, but things are changing. And I’m thankful. Yet amid the excitement to affirm all vocations, I want to offer this caveat. Let’s not forget to also honor the call to full-time ministry.

Since graduating from seminary six years ago, I can’t think of one former classmate who is now a pastor. For many young Christians today, going into missions or the pastorate is now the second-class option. Doing social work, starting a charity, or working for an NGO—those are the cool vocations. Next to such endeavors the ancient, plodding work of shepherding a congregation seems passé to many. That worries me. If the Christians of yesteryear exalted ministry vocations to unhealthy heights, I fear the pendulum may now be swinging too far in the opposite direction.

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Don’t believe the vocational lie, says Paul Rude, for God has imbued your mundane work with immense dignity and significance:

The interview playing over my car radio was standard fare. The host of a Christian program was interviewing a wildly popular contemporary Christian music star—little more than background noise as I drove down the highway. But then the discussion landed on the topic of serving the Lord in ministry. The musician told the listening world how his brother was once a truck driver but gave up trucking in order to serve the Lord as an assistant pastor. This drew hearty affirmation from the host, who was actually laughing at the comparative insignificance of truck driving. The music star then recounted his congratulatory words to his brother: “I always thought you had more in you than being a trucker.”

There are 3.2 million truck drivers in the United States.

I turned the interview off and silently drove down the highway, wondering, What are the truck drivers who heard this feeling right now? A superstar Christian just implied that 3.2 million truck drivers are less significant than assistant pastors.

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Writing for the Harvard Business Review, my friend (and coauthor) John Coleman argues that business professionals can benefit from reading poetry. While his article is not directed at people of faith, I think his claims are particularly relevant to Christians in the business world:

Poetry can also help users develop a more acute sense of empathy. In the poem “Celestial Music,” for example, Louise Glück explores her feelings on heaven and mortality by seeing the issue through the eyes of a friend, and many poets focus intensely on understanding the people around them. In January of 2006, the Poetry Foundation released a landmark study, “Poetry in America,” outlining trends in reading poetry and characteristics of poetry readers. The number one thematic benefit poetry users cited was “understanding” — of the world, the self, and others. They were even found to be more sociable than their non-poetry-using counterparts. And bevies of new research show that reading fiction and poetry more broadly develops empathy. Raymond Mar, for example, has conducted studies showing fiction reading is essential to developing empathy in young children (PDF) and empathy and theory of mind in adults (PDF). The program in Medical Humanities & Arts (PDF) even included poetry in their curriculum as a way of enhancing empathy and compassion in doctors, and the intense empathy developed by so many poets is a skill essential to those who occupy executive suites and regularly need to understand the feelings and motivations of board members, colleagues, customers, suppliers, community members, and employees.

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Reject Apathy, RELEVANT Magazine, Tim Hoiland, Is Justice EnoughIn the recent issue of Reject Apathy, an off-shoot publication of RELEVANT Magazine, Tim Hoiland explores what he believes to be a tension between “serving justice” and “saving souls”:

This [young] generation’s passion for justice is, without doubt, something to celebrate. It’s a breathtaking sign that the Spirit is at work, leading young men and women into lives marked by the reigning belief that all of life matters to God, not just the parts we might call “spiritual.”

But in this sincere step toward activism, have other essential aspects of the Christian calling been neglected? As Christians respond to the cries of the oppressed, have they failed to share the life-giving message that is truly good news to the poor?

… If Christians are to bridge the artificial divide between evangelism and social action, they must immerse themselves in the Bible’s story of redemption. They must learn from those who have gone before them. And they must see the strength of the diversity of the Church—a company of uniquely called individuals in God’s cosmic mission.

As Hoiland goes on to remind us, pointing to the work of sociologist Rodney Stark, the church has successfully fused evangelism and social action throughout its history, from the selling and sharing of possessions in the Book of Acts to the church’s widespread establishment of schools, orphanages, and hospitals in more recent centuries (a feature highlighted at length in Rev. Sirico’s recent book).

But in the early 20th century, Hoiland believes, something changed: (more…)

J.Q. Tomanek of Ignitum Today interviewed Rev. Sirico about life, work, human flourishing, and his new book, Defending the Free Market:

JQ Tomanek: Back in the day, holiness was misinterpreted as a cleric or religious life thing. How can a lay Catholic practice their faith? What are some ways to sanctify our work as lay Catholics? Is “ora et labora” just a monk thing?

Reverend Sirico: Yes, religious people are often tempted to become so “heavenly minded they are no earthly good” – as someone once said.

Ora et labora—prayer and work—should be a motto for all Christians, and the monks intended that to be the case. We need to respect the concrete reality of the world in which people spend most of their time: the “mundane” existence whereby people earn sufficient resources to support their families and fulfill their vocation to steward the earth. It is important that as Catholics we clearly communicate that work has great dignity and eternal significance. The Incarnation of the Lord was not so much Christ coming to earth as though he were an alien of some kind, but that he came through human agency (of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and worked in a carpenter’s shop.

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Trailer at Overton Farm, Cranham - geograph.org.uk - 670364In today’s Acton Commentary, “Mike Rowe and Manual Labor,” I examine the real contribution from a star of the small screen to today’s political conversation. Mike Rowe, featured on shows like The Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs, has written letters to both President Obama and Mitt Romney focusing attention on the skills gap and our nation’s dysfunctional attitudes towards work, particularly hard labor, like skilled trades and services.

In his letter to Romney, Rowe writes that “Pig farmers, electricians, plumbers, bridge painters, jam makers, blacksmiths, brewers, coal miners, carpenters, crab fisherman, oil drillers…they all tell me the same thing over and over, again and again – our country has become emotionally disconnected from an essential part of our workforce.”
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The idea that being a monastic is godly while being a businessperson is worldly reflects a widely held belief among Christians, says James R. Rodgers. But the pursuit of a vocation in business doesn’t necessarily means the embrace of a lesser form of the Christian life:

While I would be loath to argue that the pursuit of business is superior to the pursuit of monasticism, I nonetheless would insist that business vocations do not necessarily entail a lesser form of Christian life. Indeed, Christian discipleship can be quite meaningfully pursued through vocations in business.

Providing a needy person with a job not only eliminates want for that person, it also creates the opportunity to multiply charity through the hands of others. Paul encouraged Christians to do “honest work” with their own hands, so that they “may have something to share with those in need.” This is of course not unique to business firms, many monastic orders do work to pursue charity as well. My point is not that business is superior to monasticism (whether of the new or the old sort), but only that it need not represent an inferior form of spiritual life, especially for those particularly concerned with helping the needy.

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The key-card was required to get into the building and to operate the elevator, a security precaution added years earlier when protestors chained themselves together in the lobby. But when I forgot my key—and I was always forgetting my key—he never complained. He never uttered a sarcastic remark or had a passive-aggressive sigh to remind me of my absent-mindedness. He’d just leave the guard-desk and quietly help me out.

I suspect Leo Johnson exhibited the same stoic friendliness today, when a young man in his late 20s—who said he was an intern at Family Research Council—asked to be let in the building. Once inside, the man pulled a gun and fired several shots, hitting Leo in the arm. According to news reports, Leo and others wrestled the man to the ground, disarmed him, and waited for police.

From the latest reports I’ve heard, Leo is in the hospital and in stable condition. While he has been grievously harmed, had he not acted swiftly and courageously, some of my friends at FRC might have lost their lives. “The security guard here is a hero, as far as I’m concerned,” said Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, “He did his job. The person never made it past the front.” Leo is indeed a hero—because he did much more than his job.

When I worked at FRC (2006-2008) I would have happily swapped jobs with almost any other employee—except for Leo. Having manned many a guard post while in the military, I couldn’t imagine having to do such a boring, repetitive, often-thankless job. Leo never complained, though, and never became a clock-punching rent-a-cop. He was frequently awarded for being a loyal and dedicated employee and was admired by everyone. Yet the certificates and “Employee of the Month” plaques were modest tributes to his true character, which few people fully recognized until today.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality.” Today, at the point of highest reality, when a dull desk job called for the vocation of a hero, Leo showed he had the form of every virtue. He was willing to lay down his life to protect those he served.

God willing, few of us will ever be called to exhibit such courage at work. But we should pray that God would grant us the courage to be like Leo if we’re ever called to step beyond our normal work routine and into the costly realm of sacrificial love.

Cranach, autoritrattoDaniel Siedell, Director of Cultural and Theological Practice at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has a fine review of Steven Ozment’s The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation in the latest issue of Books & Culture.

As Siedell observes, “Ozment liberates Cranach from the confines of art history by offering a broader cultural framework within which to evaluate Cranach’s historical significance.”

One of the merits of Ozment’s study is that he thus situates Cranach in the context of his position in the royal court of Frederick the Wise:

His duties included decorating the Elector’s castles, designing and painting festival tents and uniforms, documenting hunting trips and his extensive relic collection, as well as making cake molds for birthday parties. This kind of workshop production has struck art historians as unbecoming of a fine artist.

Indeed, there is much in the modern approach to art that disdains such worldly and workaday considerations. As Siedell writes, noting a piece on the entrepreneurial aspects of early modern art, “most artists, especially those working at the highest echelons of culture, are obsessed with getting paid, in part, because at those levels, payment is much more sporadic and asking for it much less becoming.”

Indeed, “Art does not exist without some kind of market. The task of any artist is to find—or create—it, yet art historians have been slow to accept the market as a defining feature of artistic practice.”

As for the theological and religious aspects of his life and work,

Ozment’s Cranach embodies a proto-Lutheran approach to culture and vocation. Apparently unconcerned with the burden of demonstrating or achieving his salvation through his work, Cranach was freed to use and enjoy his God-given talents as a painter, politician, businessman, and advisor. He is also a historical example of what James Davison Hunter has called, in To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), “faithful presence.” The Serpent and the Lamb makes the convincing case that without Cranach’s faithful presence, the Lutheran Reformation would not have possessed the scope that it had.

For more on Ozment’s book on Cranach as well as more generally on the Lutheran doctrine of vocation and its relevance for today, check out the eponymous blog of Gene Edward Veith.

And for more on art, culture, and the Christian calling, check out Abraham Kuyper’s newly-translated work on common grace in science and art, Wisdom & Wonder (also reviewed in the latest issue of Books & Culture).

This week, 40 pastors and church leaders are gathered to discuss important ideas of integrating faith, work, and vocation into our daily lives. Vocation is integral, not incidental to the missio Dei, the work that God has called us to do each day. The pastors and church leaders represent a diversity of evangelical traditions and geographic locations in the US.

Over the next year, this group will meet for face-to-face retreats, field trips and a few webinars with the goal of each pastor and church developing an infusion plan to infuse these important ideas into the DNA of each church. The churches represented here are on different places on this journey and it is our hope this community will truly be a learning community where pastors and leaders can learn from each other and immediately incorporate those ideas into their congregations and use them in their infusion plans.

Joining me on the community’s leadership team are Amy Sherman, Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute, Steve Garber, director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, and Stephen Grabill, Director of Programs and International. We are looking forward to thoughtful discussions and infusion plans to integrate these ideas and concepts throughout this next year.