When a person is considering becoming a pastor (minister, priest, vicar, etc.), he or she is asked: do you feel called to the ministry? Many lower paid occupations that serve communities, such as missionaries, social workers and low-income medical workers, are called vocations because these workers serve sacrificially rather than pursuing high-paid salaries. We use words such as work, employment, and occupation to denote secular jobs such as sales, banking, manufacturing, legal and agriculture.
Dr. Os Guinness, an English author, wrote about the “Protestant Distortion” in his book, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (W Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 2003, pages 38-42). Protestants were reacting to the pre-Reformation Catholic belief that placed secular work (the active life) below spiritual work (the contemplative life). “It severs the secular from the spiritual altogether and reduces vocation to an alternative word for work. In so doing, it completely betrays the purpose of calling.” Sometimes this response went too far, which is true for the Protestant work ethic.
John Calvin (1509–1564), the Protestant systematic theologian credited with the Protestant work ethic, did not separate human work and the spiritual life. He supported his belief in the spiritual significance of ordinary work using Paul’s words in 1 Cor 12:4–6 (NRSV): “now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” Over time, Christians work became more secular with spiritual religion relegated to Sundays. Unless you were called to ministry or some sacrificial vocation, Christians just worked at a job.
How do we serve God in all aspects of our life: home, work, community? How do we make a positive difference in our community? How do we work productively using our talents? Dr. Guinness advocates a return to the Caller. Instead of totally concentrating on ourselves (individualism) or searching for the perfect spouse/vocation/location, start by looking at something far greater. “The call of God blocks the path of all such deeply human tendencies. We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself.”
Instead of trying to change the world or have the ‘perfect’ career, concentrate on God’s call to obedience, then go into the secular world in mission, using your God-given competences to uplift your community towards the new creation. Find the right balance by following the Spirit through your daily integration of faith and work.