Is Vocation Just for the One Percent?

“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” Genesis 2:15 (CSB)

You may have heard (or even asked) the following question about vocation or calling: “Isn’t the whole vocation conversation just for the ‘one percent’?”

What the questioner means is something like this: We well-resourced Westerners have the privilege of choosing our own path in our working lives — at least to some degree — so therefore we get to think of our work in terms of a personal, customized vocation. But most people in the world must work to survive, so they don’t get to have vocations.

Here’s the problem with this question: It misunderstands what vocation is. It assumes vocation is all about choice and self-actualization. And indeed that is what our culture has taught us, and what we have taught our children, even in the churches. We might call this the Disney narrative of vocation: Follow your heart, find your passion, and you’ll get to live out your own perfectly fitting, fulfilling career path.

But that’s not the way the Bible talks about the call to work. The Christian story includes vocation in the first hours after creation. God called all humans to work. He gave us the job of cultivating and stewarding the good things he has made, thereby serving both himself and each other. That’s vocation.

So when we work, however constrained our choice of it, and however humble or unpleasant our doing of it, we are answering God’s call. By creating goods and services that meet the needs of other people, we are fulfilling God’s first call to “cultivate and keep” his creation, and we are also fulfilling the call to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is the Christian story of vocation. Vocation is not a special privilege for the elite. It is a calling for all people, to do all kinds of work.

Prayer: Lord, help me see that regardless of my work and workplace, I am answering your call to cultivate and keep your creation.

Topics: Common Good, Culture, Issues Facing Workers

About the Author

Chris R. Armstrong is Program Fellow for Faith, Work, and Economics at the Kern Family Foundation and senior editor of Christian History Magazine.