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Finding Your Calling: What Is Vocation?

Christian college students have a lot going on. In addition to taking classes, many of you have internships and many of you work part-time or full-time jobs. All of you are looking forward to graduation, while contemplating the options of graduate school and the necessary test prep that goes with it. You know that you need to put together or update your resume, gain some job interview skills, and start networking.

In the midst of all of this, people keep asking you what you want to do when you graduate. Or, if they are particularly sanctimonious, they ask you what you have discovered about your vocation.

How would you answer that question? How does anyone even begin to understand what their God-given vocation is?

First, you are not alone. Take a deep breath. Next, let’s unpack this idea of vocation a little bit.

Vocation is not just a fancy Christian-ese word for “career.” It comes from the same root word for “vocal” or “advocacy,” which makes sense, as we often use the word “calling” interchangeably. God is calling us to do something.

In the book “How Then Should We Work?,” Hugh Whelchel, the executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics explains that we actually have several callings. First are our primary callings:

  • Our call to faith in Christ (Romans 8:28-30; 1 Corinthians 1:9)
  • To the Kingdom of God (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12)
  • To eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 9:15)
  • To holy living (1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Peter 1:15)

Then is our secondary callings:

  • To our family (Genesis 1)
  • To the church (Ephesians 4:13)
  • To our community (Mark 12:31)
  • To our work (Ephesians 2:10)

Whelchel explains the relationships between these callings, writing: “our obedience to our primary calling to Christ can be seen working itself out in these four secondary callings….” As you can see, we are called to do quite a few things, and our work is only one of them! Of course our work is important, as we have discussed many times, but it’s not the totality of our vocation.

This semester I’ve been in the classroom for the first time as an instructor with the American Studies Program in Washington, DC. Our students have great internships in the nation’s capital and are learning about living out our vocations in active community.

We had a conversation earlier this semester about success—specifically, what does success look like in my career? Whelchel answers this question in his e-book “Monday Morning Success”: “Success is born from faithful stewardship of what God has given us. This definition of success is both challenging and freeing. We are called to greater heights of stewardship than we ever realized. Yet, we are only called to faithfully use our own talents and opportunities”—not those allotted to anyone else.

We’ll tackle the question of how do you actually understand what your gifts and talents are in other conversations, but now you have a working definition to continue talking about vocation.

How will you answer the next time someone asks you what you will do after graduation?