Work as a Calling, Vocation and Ministry
John E. Shaffett
Work as a Calling, Vocation, and a Ministry
Eugene Peterson asserts that the phrase, ‘full-time Christian work’ is “one of the most offensive and soul damaging phrases in the Christian community.” R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung notes that this idea “drives a wedge of misunderstanding between the way we pray and the way we work, between the way we worship and the way we make a living” ( Taking your Soul to Work, viii.). Do all Christians have a calling, vocation, and ministry? Some Christians believe that only church-work is ministry; others, however, think that all Christians have a calling, a vocation, and a ministry. This idea has fallen on hard times. Is it time to resurrect this important concept? This paper explores the idea of calling, vocation, and ministry through the thinking of three authors: C.S. Lewis, Ben Witherington, and Leland Ryken.
During world War II, C.S. Lewis delivered a sermon on the duties of the scholar. One of the issues it addresses is how can students pursue their studies at a time of war. Lewis responded to this question with another question: How can students pursue learning when people are dying daily and going to hell? This is a question I asked myself as a beginning college student. Lewis answers the earlier question by answering his own question. Lewis answers that “human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun” (Learning in Wartime 49).
In addition, Lewis told his audience that learning does not stop because of war. He had served in World War I. He remembered how the closer he got to the front line, the more people discussed great ideas and literature. He says the same thing occurs in Tolstoy’s great war novel, War and Peace. Lewis notes that we cannot “suspend” our “whole intellectual and aesthetic activity.” All we end up doing is “substituting a worse cultural life for a better.” Lewis makes the observation we are not “going to read nothing,” either in peace-time or war-time. In addition, Lewis observes, if we do not read good books, we will read bad ones instead. Lewis further observes that if we do not think “rationally,” we “will think irrationally (Learning 52).”
You might ask what does this have to do with work as a calling. Lewis was speaking to students who were pursuing studies at a time of war. He tells these students that pursuing the life of a scholar is a calling. He agrees with Luther’s idea that everyone has a vocation or a calling from God. He also stands against the idea of clergy having a higher calling than non-clergy. There is one body of Christ and God distributes to this one body different gifts and ministries. One gift is not better than another gift. Lewis asserts that “the work of Beethoven and the work of a charwoman becomes spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly to the Lord…. A man must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation” (Learning 55-56).
Lewis even gave his audience the reason why they must pursue their studies as a calling: “A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, is usually a tolerable index of his vocation.” Lewis told his audience that since they had been sent to Oxford University by their parents, and their country allowed them to stay there in a time of war, was good evidence that the life they should live is the “learned life” for the glory of God” (56).