Blogs (Faith), Life, Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

When Your Job Sucks: The Doctrine of Vocation, Pt 1

(Read part two of this series here.)

For many (or most) of us, Sunday nights are often dampened by a feeling of dread, more or less. Tomorrow is Monday and it’s back to the grind. We feel that our work carries very little meaning and that everything actually requires work – even raising a family is work. It’s work, work, work all the way.

Is this sheer negativity? Or honesty? Well, perhaps a little bit of both. All of us are somewhere on the job satisfaction scale. But I think it’s true that we all do seem to look for some kind of meaning in our work – we want to know that what we do matters. We want our work to have impact in some positive way, but for most of us we feel that it’s either only the rich, company owners, presidents, CEO’s or pastors that seem like they can have any real impact.

The trouble here is that all five of those people get those jobs and – if they’ve managed to keep themselves from being influenced by corruption – find they are just as frustrated as the next person. Presidents can’t do whatever they want, they have layers of politics to sort out first. Business owners have to answer to shareholders. CEO’s have to walk a thin line to keep themselves from being fired. Pastors are frustrated with a lack of finances or may find that most of their job is just tied up in administrative work.

Most days are filled with menial tasks, regardless of your kind of job. Regardless of the PR surrounding people like Steve Jobs, I’m not convinced that he was always 100 percent happy with his impact.

In comes the Doctrine of Vocation, Reformed Christianity’s solution to the problem of work. It’s this doctrine that helped shape a prosperous Europe. The American Puritans were influenced heavily by this doctrine, forming their own out of it (the Puritan work ethic) that helped shape what America is today. Of course, in both cases secularisation has come in and tainted the original thinking – a focus on individual gifting in the doctrine is warped by secularised culture where the individual is the centre of the universe. A focus on hard work has led to abuse by secularised culture. And so it goes on.

But the doctrine is incredibly important yet extremely neglected in our modern day churches. Gene Edward Veith, a college dean, believes that the Doctrine of Vocation is second to the doctrine of ‘faith alone’. This is the doctrine that allows Christians to impact the world regardless of what they do.

Martin Luther is a forerunner in the forming of this doctrine. Back in Catholic / Monastic Europe, the only ‘holy office’ that God approved of (ie. the only work God saw as holy and important) was the work of the clergy. In many instances, ‘good works’ were relegated to prayer and spiritual disciplines rather than, well, feeding the hungry or doing a good job. This is because farmers and milkmaids and whatever else were not seen to be doing anything that God actually cared about. The Doctrine of Vocation put that thought right and set people free to approach their work with vigour, joy, and a great deal of meaning. Regardless of what they did. Because even the most menial jobs actually carry meaning.

The unfortunate neglect of this doctrine, particularly in evangelicalism, has led to a kind-of return to the old Catholic Monastic teaching above. Many Christians have no idea how their daily work can have any impact – they’re not content with their work – so they think the only impact they do have that’s meaningful is what they do in church – their contribution to the programs and activities of their church. Not that their contributions are not important or should end, but when life is only ever about our ‘ministry’ then we feel it’s only ‘ministry’ that has impact, rather than the ordinary, every day work that most of us do.

I’m on a journey of discovery here as I study this doctrine. I’ll be putting more posts up as I go. I’m currently working through Veith’s book called God at Work (link to the Kindle version below) and am convinced he is right – this doctrine needs a much more central space in our church life and teaching. Join me as a I post my findings and thoughts on this line of thought, which I have already found quite liberating, in the next couple of weeks.

Read part two of this series here.


12 thoughts on “When Your Job Sucks: The Doctrine of Vocation, Pt 1

  1. So many things to discuss here, wd on writing abt it. I’ve been thinking abt this for many years, then I reach a conclusion, only to revisit and change it again. I settled on the ‘my job has meaning ‘caus it has an impact’ for a long time (before that I had to find out which jobs would have an impact, as you so rightly describe :P). For the last year or so even that reason was not able to stand. I simply do that which I love doing. That is all. If it has an impact good, if not, so be it. If we are unable to connect to that which brings us joy and live that out then we will end in dead works sooner or later. Looking forward to read more abt your personal journey Ryan.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks Han 🙂 I think you might find my post tomorrow particularly interesting. It may help if I share my personal work journey as well to give things more context. Eager to hear what you think of tomorrow’s post 🙂

  2. Lloyd Martin says:

    I’d be very interested in your views of the concept of ‘rest’ – a key factor in the theology of salvation through grace and specifically the ‘inheritance’ offered to ‘sons of the King’
    … was not ‘labour’ (work) part of the initial curse for disobedience? … and is there redemption offered specifically to this in the gospel narrative?

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow, stoked to see you here at my blog Lloyd 🙂

      I think this will definitely come out. Will keep it in mind. I might even get to it in tomorrow’s post, would be keen to hear your thoughts after.

  3. Yolanda says:

    I find that some answers are more simple than people image it to be.

    Why do I do my job? Well because I love it. I’m building a career, I’m motivated to do it, I draw satisfaction and accomplishment from it and it helps me grow as a person.

    In my opinion, every one knows the true answer to that question whether they are willing to admit it or not. (Either to themselves or to others.) Deep down you know exactly where you stand with it, you just have to be completely honest with yourself.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yolanda I hear you but I’m also thinking a lot about the poor guy who needs to clean the toilets or pick up the garbage. He can’t afford an education and so forth. What motivates him? What could possibly motivate him? That’s when it gets difficult.

      • Yolanda says:

        🙂 unfortunately, some one’s gotta do it right?

        If you don’t like to do it and don’t want to do it, change it. We often do things because we feel as if we have no choice. We always have a choice, we can always change things like this. It might take some incredibly hard times and incredible sadness but it’s not impossible.

        If you choose your current situation let’s say for instance being a toilet cleaner above the hardship of changing your life, then well obviously you are just a little ‘comfortable’ with where you are and not that unhappy. Maybe then you are satisfied with where you are because it doesn’t require more from you.


        Maybe the person cleaning the toilet is undergoing tremendous personal growth and character building at that space in time. Maybe they are exactly where they need to be whether they like it or not.

        Possibly the meaning in this person’s job, is the knowing of providing for a family, a child, and that is motivation enough.

        Meaning can be so many different things, impacting the lives of others positively, personal growth etc.

        If your job is just a daily routine, you have no reason to do it, not even money, then maybe it’s meaning is to fill in your days or just there for the sake of having routine.

        Some ‘hate’ their jobs, but would be lost without it.

        Each individual will have a different reason or meaning, with so many people inhabiting this planet how can we possibly summarise or catagorise it?

        Finding answers lies within ourselves, our inner most being and mind.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hey Yolanda,

        That’s a pretty existentialist view. I’d have to spend some time explaining why I don’t agree but I can’t right now. Will do some time later this week though 🙂

  4. Pingback: Ryan Peter. Writer. » When Your Job Sucks: The Doctrine of Vocation pt 2 – No Day is a Waste

  5. Pingback: Matthew and Money: It’s Not Always a Sin to Worry « Ryan Peter. Writer.

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