by Peter D. Spychalla, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of New Testament & Spiritual Formation
I have many questions about vocation and everyday callings – I wonder if you do too. What is a vocation? What is a calling? Does each believer have one? Or many? Is it the monk, priest, or nun who has a vocation, but not the ordinary person with a secular job? Or, in certain Protestant circles, is it the cross-cultural missionary or pastor who has a calling, but maybe ordinary people do not?
Do I have merely one vocation? Or, perhaps, many callings across various areas of life? How might I wisely discern vocation in my own spiritual journey? What if I am befuddled about vocation and callings? How might wisdom from church history and insight from contemporary voices contribute to my practical understanding of these issues? How does calling move beyond work life and bear on family life, relationships, church life, civic engagement, hobbies, and all aspects of what it is to be human?
What are biblical principles, and theological insights, that inform and shape concepts of vocation? Who is calling? What is that Person calling me to be and do? Is it about relationship? Is it about character and virtue and godliness? Is it about specific ways of serving God and serving others in this world? Are there various types of calling, or multiple aspects of vocation, that can be fruitfully reflected upon?
It is common for theologians to distinguish the “general calling” of all Christians to faith in Christ and a life of holiness from the “individual calling” of each believer. The individual calling refers to the particular way the general calling is most wisely and faithfully lived out in each person’s life, considering their specific context, with their unique relationships, opportunities, constraints, talents, gifts, and passions. Some distinguish “missional calling,” “particular calling,” “direct calling,” “specific calling,” and “everyday calling” when referring to various types and situation-specific manifestations of serving God and neighbor.
Some vocational reflections highlight the practical and the applied: How do we prayerfully discern vocation in community? How do we cooperate with God in living as the unique person He made each of us to be? How do we find congruence between our outer engagements and the inner realities of who we are? In my unique situation, how do I live wisely and faithfully for God’s purposes in the world? How do my passions, interests, burdens, talents, gifts, strengths, and history contribute to discerning vocation? How does one listen to their own life to hear the voice of vocation? How is calling different from merely a job or career? How does calling reflect and engage the distinctive contours of one’s life? How does a vision of calling help me view my ordinary and mundane responsibilities in new, fresh, purposeful ways?
Other vocational reflections involve mystery and profundity: How do the distinct actions and interrelationships of the Persons of the Trinity inform vocation? How does Jesus’ pursuit of His vocation shape our pursuit of vocation? How does diversity in the body of Christ, and diversity throughout humanity, contribute to a theology of callings? How does suffering, denying self, and taking up one’s cross daily bear on vocation? Does a newborn child or aged person have at that time a vocation? How does God use this distinctive calling to illumine truth about Himself and shape others in mercy and compassion? How does God love the world and provide for the world through each believer faithfully living out their calling? How does the imago dei, the cultural mandate, the great commandment, and the great commission all bear on a theology of vocation?
The Spring 2017 course, “Vocation and Everyday Callings,” offered by Urbana Theological Seminary in a modular format across four Saturdays (Jan 21, Feb 18, April 1, April 29), explores answers to these questions. We examine how Scripture, theology, the long Christian tradition–Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant (especially Lutheran and Reformed traditions)–and contemporary voices bear on shaping faithful, empowering answers to these questions. Investigate your vocation with us. Learn to appreciate and embrace your everyday callings.