The Barna Research Group, in conjunction with Abilene Christian University, has published a study entitled Christians at Work. It demonstrates that Christians’ awareness of the doctrine of vocation seems to have grown considerably over the past few years. But I’m not sure the researchers or the subjects fully “get” the concept.
According to a summary, 50% of Millennials, 39% of Generation X-ers, and 37% of Baby Boomers say that “I feel ‘made for’ or ‘called’ to the work I currently do.” It may seem odd that people at the end of their careers feel less “called” than those at the beginning–especially since many Millennial young adults are not yet settled in the professions they have prepared for–but I suspect that the data is showing that younger Christians are more aware of the concept than the older generations.
But though the report keeps using the word “vocation,” the term has reference only to “work,” which of course is the emphasis of the study, but, properly speaking, our “callings” also have to do with family, citizenship, and church. In fact, what we do for a living is subordinate to our vocations in the earthly estates that God has ordained, so that whatever we are doing to support ourselves and our family–whether or not it corresponds to “my unique strengths, talents, and capabilities” (as one survey question puts it)–is fulfilling our primary callings as husband, father, and citizen. In fact, the report seems to play work and church involvement off against our work, as if they were not all facets of God’s calling.
More problematic is that much of the survey focuses on “satisfaction,” perpetuating the misconception that our vocations from God have to do with our self-fulfillment. Some do, and some don’t. Some vocations give us a sense of fulfillment some times, but not other times. But “self” is not the point.
The purpose of every vocation is to love and serve the neighbors that the vocation brings into our lives (spouse; children; fellow church members; fellow citizens; clients; customers; etc.). In the course of that service, we sacrifice ourselves for others, experience trials and tribulations, fall into sin and repent and receive Christ’s forgiveness, and so grow in our faith and our sanctification.
But there was one question that related to serving our neighbor: “I want to use my gifts and talents for the good of others.” Among Millennials, 67% agreed; among Generation X-ers, 60%; among Baby Boomers, 57%.
The oft-criticized Millennial generation of Christians seems to have more of a sense of vocation than us Baby Boomers. That bodes well, though we all have more to learn.