As someone who seeks to help people discover their vocations, I’ve been asked this on more than one occasion: What’s the difference between a “Job” and a “Vocation?”
We want more than a “job;” we want something bigger, something more meaningful, something that makes us want to get up in the morning.
What makes our work a “vocation?”
Here are some helpful contrasts:
Job – The etymology of the word “job” is from the late 1500s, a “jobbe of worke” was a “piece of work,” a small menial task as opposed to something that is continuous work. In a 1650 dictionary, “job” was defined as “Petty, piddling work; a piece of chance work.”
Vocation – The etymology of the word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocatio (summons), from vocare (to call). It is the same word from which we get “vocal,” as in “vocal cords.” So, a vocation presumes that God has spoken into our lives, and we are therefore supposed to respond to this as our “calling.”
Job – Today, we commonly define a “job” as the thing we do to get a paycheck.
Vocation – A vocation is that set of things that I am uniquely called and equipped to do by God (whether in the place where I get a paycheck or not) that glorifies God by my serving others—loving them as my neighbors, seeking the flourishing of everyone in my community, and inviting them into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Job – I choose my job, or my life situation chooses it for me. A job is an “occupation,” a temporary place that I occupy.
Vocation – No matter what my occupation currently is, I am able to do the things that God has uniquely called and equipped me to do to glorify God, serve people, bring flourishing to my community, and tell people the good news of Jesus Christ and his kingdom. My vocation is a much larger framework, the way God has formed me (and continues to form me) to do the work that he has prepared in advance for me to do.
Job – The scope of my job’s mission is often limited to what practically needs to be done that has been mandated by my superiors. It is proper to want to do a good job as I seek to be excellent and ethical in what I do.
Vocation – The scope of my vocation is my participation in a mission larger than myself, in which God is bringing people into his family and redeeming all aspects of life on earth. No matter what I’m doing daily in my job, there are ways to attach these things to this larger mission rather than just to the smaller mission. I am not only working for my earthly boss, but ultimately for the Lord Jesus.
Job – The end-goal of my job can be a paycheck, a benefits package, a vacation, or status. My aspirations are often a promotion, a more prestigious job, or a more prosperous life for me and my family.
Vocation – The end-goal of my vocation is to be conformed to the image of my Lord Jesus Christ. My aspiration is to glorify God as I do the things a redeemed human does to serve people and see them flourish. This means doing things that are often unnoticed (and seemingly small) but can, in the long-run, have a significant impact in the lives of people.
Job – The only Christian significance in a job is usually found in trying to be a good witness so as to invite someone to meet Jesus or come to church with me, or to give a portion of my paycheck to my church and to other ministries.
Vocation – My vocation is my mission. I am not a second-class Christian doing menial work to support the pastors and missionaries who are “really” serving God and people. God has uniquely given me gifts, skills, and education and has put me in particular contexts at work, in my neighborhood, and in my community, where he has called me to do ministry. The work I do is the means by which I can obey Jesus Christ’s commandment to love my neighbors, which is the foundation of all missional work. I may actually be in a better position to impact the lives of people than a pastor or missionary because I am there on the front-lines of mission. God has given me work to do that can daily impact the lives of people, both in my workplace and in my community.