Tag Archives: vocation

Is everyday work spiritually second-class? Not according to these Christian thinkers


Refocused Vocation

Thanks to Leadership Journal for asking me to write the following. It’s now up at http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2013/
winter/refocused-vocation.html
.

Refocused Vocation

Over the centuries, it’s been distorted, but history also sharpens our view of every Christian’s calling.

Chris R. Armstrong

In the first history class of each new year at Bethel Seminary, I have my students talk about their sense of calling. Many of them tell a similar story: “I quit my job to go into the ministry.” What drove them to this decision was a sense of frustration and meaninglessness in their daily work. They didn’t see their workas pleasing to God or useful in the kingdom. The frequent assumption is that ordained ministry is where people are really working for God.

If that’s true, where does that leave the vast majority of Christians, who by the end of their lives will each have spent an average of 100,000 hours in non-church work? Can they see secular jobs as a holy vocation? Can non-church work be a means to serve others, giving cups of water to the thirsty, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked (Mt. 25)—which (for example) parents do every month, whether through a paycheck or in the work they do in the home? Those in secular work often feel like only those doing things of significance in ministry positions will get to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This sense that ordinary work is spiritually second-class isn’t so much taught as caught. Continue reading

Have you ever thought of what a truck driver goes through to get your Amazon package (etc.) to you?


DRIVER_IN_THE_CAB_OF_A_LARGE_CATTLE_TRUCK_IN_COTTONWOOD_FALLS,_KANSAS,_NEAR_EMPORIA._SUCH_VEHICLES_AND_HORSES_ARE_THE..._-_NARA_-_557044.tifI’d like to share part of a fascinating article (thanks to Drew Cleveland of the Kern Family Foundation for bringing this to my attention) on the special “body knowledge” and skills required of the long-haul truck driver. It’s called “Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification” and is by Benjamin H. Snyder. I find it eye-opening, compelling, even moving. It is an excellent specimen of the journalistic species of the “creative nonfiction” genus.

The article sure made me stop and think of the ease with which I hit that “order” button in Amazon.com. I sure don’t think about what the truck driver will quite possibly go through to get that package to me, or indeed the indignities he will suffer as he does so. Here’s a taste of the article, which is from UVA‘s Hedgehog Review. For the whole thing, go here.

3:32 a.m. Over the last hour and a half, we have stopped at three more truck stops and one rest area. They have all been completely full. We pull into another truck stop—a fifth attempt at parking tonight. Yet again, it is full. Alvaro tries to remain optimistic. He turns to me with a wry smile and says, “looks like we’re going to Little Rock, man!” Continue reading

Business as Mission (BAM) – 12 key facets


Business as Mission Global Think Tank logo

If you’re interested in the new global movement of “Business as Mission,” Mats Tunehag is your guy. He is Senior Associate on Business as Mission for both the Lausanne Movement and for the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission, and founder and co-leader of the first global think tank on Business as Mission (now in its second multi-year session). Recently on his blog, and re-posted on the Bam Think Tank blog, Mats gave us a pithy but penetrating run-down of 12 dimensions of BAM.

In case you haven’t run across the term before, before I share a summary of Tunehag’s piece, here is how BAM is defined at http://www.businessasmission.com: Continue reading

Tim Keller on how faith matters to our work


every-good-endeavor-picRedeemer Presbyterian NYC’s famous pastor, Tim Keller, has blogged a reflection on his new co-authored volume (with Redeemer Pres’s Faith and Work Center’s founder and former Silicon Valley executive Katherine Leary Alsdorf), Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. People have been glancing at the book’s subtitle, says Keller, and asking: “OK, so, in a nutshell, how does God’s work connect to our work?” He answers in four pithy points, which I summarize as a list here. To see what Keller does with each point, check out the full post here.

Here are Keller’s four ways God connects with our work: Continue reading

Pietism, Calvinism, and vocation – reflections from Bethel’s Chris Gehrz


Chris GehrzPlease, talk among yourselves as we at Bethel University engage in a little love-fest.

My colleague in the College of Arts and Sciences, historian Chris Gehrz, always provides lively insights on his Pietist Schoolman blog. Today, triggered by my post here on the divine value of secular vocation, Chris said some nice things about me on that blog. Then he mused a bit on Pietist (lack of?) contribution to thought about vocation, and some of his favorite sources on the same topic, which happen to be Reformed.

I’m skipping the encomiums (but thanks, Chris!) and moving to the latter part of his post:

Where I talk with students about vocation, I have to admit that I’m drawing chiefly on the Reformed tradition: from the section of John Calvin’s Institutes (on being faithful to one’s divine calling) that is my favorite thing to teach to the first-year students in our Christianity and Western Culture course to theFrederick Buechner sermon on calling that I discuss with our department’s seniors at the end of their capstone seminar. It’s no surprise that, when I started talking about vocation in my initial tenure interview, our then-provost (now-president) chuckled, “For a Pietist, you sure sound like a Calvinist.” Continue reading

What if secular workplaces ARE an arena of God’s purpose?


This group of folks working together reminds me of the many working people surrounding Jesus–and he didn’t ask all of them to leave their work . . .

Since over a year ago, when a group of us began dreaming and scheming for what has now become the fully-funded “Work with Purpose initiative” at Bethel Seminary, I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of work. Or, I should say, meanings. Work often creates economic value. It usually serves other people. It can be an arena of fullest self-expression and self-realization as we exercise our particular gifts and personalities. It can be a place of sanctification, of discipleship, as we struggle through the mundane challenges and difficult relationships that mark most workplaces.

But does it have divine meaning, our work? Is such ultimate meaning of our work reserved for pastors, priests, or monastics? Does God ordain and care for our particular work, even if we don’t wear a collar, alb, or habit?

Related to this question, I’m busy right now writing an article on Christians’ understandings of the concept of vocation or calling through the ages. Here’s some reflection that may or may not make it into the final draft:

These days I’m asking pastors this question: “Do you see it as part of your calling to affirm the divine significance your people’s work in their jobs, in all economic spheres—business, non-profit, home?” Few answer affirmatively, and that’s worrisome. Especially in these recessionary times, much tempts American workers to discouragement: we work more hours, for less pay, with less security, less loyalty to our employers, less sense of our work truly mattering. Most of us want to find meaning in our work. But the church has at times behaved as if full-time ordained ministry is the only arena in which people are really working for God.

Many sincere Christians conclude that the only legitimate arena of vocational meaning is the church. In their first history class of each new year at Bethel Seminary, when I have my students share about their sense of calling, many tell the same story. It boils down to: “I quit my job to go into the ministry.” Continue reading

C S Lewis and Boethius – a deeper look


Boethius imprisoned (from 1385 manuscript of t...

Boethius imprisoned (from 1385 manuscript of the Consolation) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while back I gave, at the Madison, Wisconsin C S Lewis Society’s conference, sponsored by the Bradshaw-Knight Foundation, a much fuller version of the take on Lewis’s “Boethianism” than the one I had originally tried out on the Medieval Congress CSL crowd at Kalamazoo. Here’s the Madison paper.

There’s more here on Boethius’s philosophical influence on Lewis, as well as a refinement on the ways in which Boethius seems to have influenced Lewis vocationally. I did, however, truncate the end from what I had prepared to give.  I’ll add my original pre-conclusion ending, which reflects on fortune and eudaimonism using Lewis’s last published essay, “We have no ‘right to happiness,'” after the paper proper.

Probably the author who influenced me most in my expansion of the Kzoo paper was Adam Barkman. Serendipitously, I discovered a few days before the conference that he was to give the paper right after me. It was an honor to get to know him and hang out with him at the conference. Everyone interested in Lewis and philosophy, or really, everyone seriously interested in Lewis from any perspective, needs to buy Adam’s book, C. S. Lewis and Philosophy as a Way of Life.

“Lewis the Boethian,” paper for Bradshaw-Knight CSL conference Oct. 2012, Madison, Wisconsin

Copyright 2012 by Chris R. Armstrong. THIS PAPER IS DISTRIBUTED WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT THOSE READING IT WILL NOT CITE OR QUOTE IT WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR.

Introduction

He was a philosopher first, and then a master of literature, with his Christianity informing both. Continue reading