February 2022

February 2022

What Do We Mean By “Vocation”?

Have you heard much about “vocation” in the Lutheran Church? I myself haven’t spoken much about “vocation” in my sermons or Bible classes, partly because I’m just not inclined to adopt ways of speaking that have only recently come into vogue. Talk of “vocation” did not really become common in the Lutheran Church until about 20 years ago, when Gene Edward Veith popularized the ideas of Swedish theologian Gustaf Wingren, who was in turn attempting to resurrect a theme that he saw in Luther’s writings. The term may be relatively new among us, but it certainly conveys some valuable ideas that are worth reflecting upon.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin for “calling.” We all have a calling. In fact, we all have many callings. But before we delve into our various callings, we need to make some distinctions.

When we’re talking about vocation, we can distinguish, first, the general call of all Christians to faith in Jesus Christ; second, the special call of pastors and church workers to labor in the Word of God; and third, the various callings that pertain to everyone, whether believers or unbelievers. St. Paul mentions the first two kinds of vocation in the opening of his Epistle to the Romans: he refers to himself as a “called Apostle” (Romans 1:1), i.e., someone who has the unique spiritual calling to preach the Gospel with authority, and he refers to the Roman believers as “called saints” (Romans 1:7), i.e., those who are called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to faith in Jesus Christ. The third kind of “calling” or “vocation,” as in the various callings that all people possess, is what we usually mean when we talk about “vocation” in the Lutheran Church.

You have as many vocations as you have neighbors to serve, beginning with the home. Has God blessed you with children? You have the vocation of father or mother. Are your parents still living? You have the vocation of child. Has God blessed you with a spouse? You have the vocation of husband or wife. Do you have siblings? You have the vocation of brother or sister. 

This applies outside the home as well. Do you own a business? You have the vocation of employer. Are you working for someone else? You have the vocation of employee, and employers and employees together share the vocation of serving your community through the goods and services your business provides. Are you retired? You have the vocation of exercising responsible stewardship over the time and money entrusted to you for the benefit of your community. Students and teachers, citizens and government officials, congregation members and their pastors—all have their vocations relative to one another.

Why call these relationships “vocations” rather than “rolls” or “jobs”? Because a calling implies a caller. Who has called us to these vocations? God has! That’s why Martin Luther calls these vocations “masks of God,” by which he means that God works through these vocations to provide for all of our needs of body and soul.

Think about your own needs that God meets day after day. Your food is provided by a vast array of farmers, truckers, and grocery store owners and employees. Your clothing comes from fiber producers and processors, factory workers, truckers, and department store owner and employees. Your shelter is maintained by miners who tap into energy resources and repairmen who keep your building and furnace in good working order. Healthcare workers help to protect your body from the effects of illness and injury. Government officials maintain a peaceful society for you to live in, schoolteachers prepare the next generation of vocation-holders, and your pastor and congregational officers maintain the ministry of the Word for your eternal benefit.

When you’ve seen how God uses the vocations of others to care for you, you can start to see more clearly how He uses your vocations to care for others. This applies no matter how seemingly lowly in the world’s eyes your vocations might be. Garbage collectors, for instance, may not be seen by the world as holding the loftiest social position, but they engage in holy, essential work that is well pleasing in God’s sight and extremely beneficial for their neighbors. And we’re all getting to see how impactful the vocation of trucker is!

Whatever your various vocations, if you are fulfilling them faithfully, know that God is using you to bless others. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf