I meet for an hour each Wednesday evening with a dozen or so primarily retired men who all attended an Emmaus walk at some point in their lives. The walk to Emmaus is an experience of Christian spiritual renewal and formation that begins with a three-day short course in Christianity. My Emmaus meetings are free-format and discussions flow without any pre-planning. When conversations dwell on secular subjects, a participant will usually try to steer the group back to theological topics. Depending on the mood, the steer is either ignored or accepted. We are friends who like our casual fellowship.
Before the pandemic when we met weekly at our church, I put a question to each person: did God call you to your profession? Each person around the table answered this question individually. Some told stories about how they decided to pursue their course of study that led to their occupation. For others, it was a childhood experience that found an instant connection or a trial-and-error process that led into a particular passion. A few realized early that they were gifted while others developed their giftedness over time. To my surprise, none believed that God called them to an occupation except for a retired Methodist minister. His call came after he was in seminary.
My career choice was similar to most of my Emmaus friends; it matched my God-given gifts and was not an undeniable encounter with God. There wasn’t an experience like the burning bush or being struck down on the road to Damascus. To be honest, for most of my life I did not believe that God really cared about my career choices. My parents, pastor, and friends never steered me to listen to God’s direction before deciding on my occupation. I speculate that most Americans would agree with me.
In Dr. Gary D. Badcock’s book The Way of Life: A Theology of Christian Vocation, published in Leading Lives that Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass, Editors, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2006, pages 101–107), he believed that God calls us to a way of life. It “is a paradoxical ‘way’ that involves self-denial and often leads through suffering. There is no other ‘way,’ in this sense, to our goal. Nevertheless, within this one ‘way’ are a multiplicity of individual paths that we tread. But we navigate by means of the same signs, following the same rules, living one life of love and discipleship.” Badcock is the Peache Chair of Divinity at Huron University College in Ontario, Canada.
From my study of vocation, I have learned that it is much broader than just a job, career, or profession. Badcock follows Martin Luther’s expanded views. “Christian vocation is not reducible to the acquisition of a career goal or to its realization in time. It is, rather, something relating to the great issues of the spiritual life. It has to do with what one lives ‘for’ rather than with what one does. … The human vocation is to do the will of God and so to live life ‘abundantly’ (John 10:10), but the will of God does not extend down to the details of career choice.”
I don’t question those who believe God told them to become a musician, medical doctor, or gardener. Their personal relationship with God is not for me to question. Yet, my reading of Scripture and my own experiences steer me towards Badcock’s views. So many people are stressed about their choices. Have I chosen the right career path? Should I stay home with my children or work? What does God call me do? Badcock removes this burden and moves it to a higher level: we are called to a Christian lifestyle that reflects whose we are. “It becomes possible for us to live more adventurously, more freely, breathing in an atmosphere of love rather than law, looking for our own way to share the good news of the gospel in daily life, whether in career choices or in business or in the ordinary transactions of the daily round. Here, new possibilities open for the creating of Christian lifestyle and modes of spirituality that reflect the generosity of God in Christ. For this, at heart, is the Christian’s vocation.”