As a lay elder who works a full-time job in the corporate world, I have long been intrigued by the role of vocation in the Christian life. Christians throughout church history have worked in all manner of vocations. In the New Testament, we see Jesus call fishermen and a tax collector to be some of His first followers. In the book of Acts, we see the Spirit’s work in saving blue-collar workers, business women, and government officials. In His providence, God has continued His saving work amongst people from all backgrounds and professions. Regardless of your ministry context, having an appreciation for and understanding of the importance of vocation, will serve you well as you seek to make disciples.
The average person in your church likely spends about one quarter of his or her life at work. If you are trying to help someone follow Jesus more faithfully, it is critical that you take an interest in their vocation. This does not mean you need to earn a CPA to disciple your friend Bob, the accountant. It does, however, mean that you ought to strive to understand Bob’s professional life. For those whom you disciple, ask them questions about the work they do. What do they enjoy about their job? What do they find boring or frustrating at work? How are their relationships with their co-workers, customers, and clients? What are their dreams for their career? If we do not seek to understand the opportunities, challenges, and work environment for those we are discipling, we may miss an opportunity to equip them to follow Jesus in the 40+ hours per week they spend at work.
Another reason to be thoughtful about the role of vocation in discipleship has to do with the missionary heart of God. For many, the ripest mission field they have is found in their vocation. Helping our brothers and sisters understand how to communicate the gospel in the context of their workplace is integral to their growth in Christ, and ultimately, to the fulfilment of the Great Commission. Perhaps you are discipling a young man working at a tech start-up, in an environment where he and his colleagues work seemingly endless hours to launch a new product. You have the chance to teach him how to share the good news of Jesus in a way that will be compelling to driven and overworked entrepreneurs. Maybe you’re discipling a woman who works as an attorney at a major law firm. Take the opportunity to instruct her on how to share the gospel with her peers in what can sometimes be an extremely competitive and cutthroat environment. Evangelism is always done best when it is contextualized. If you want to help your brothers and sisters to share the gospel of Jesus in the workplace, you must be willing to enter into their professional world.
On the other hand, while evangelism is an important aspect of the Christian life, it is not the only goal of our work. In His kindness, the Lord allows His people to perform important work to contribute to the flourishing of society. As you disciple those in your care, remind and encourage them that their work is a gracious invitation to worship God with their gifts. A nurse can image God to her patients, as she nurtures and cares for them. A project manager images God as she establishes order and processes, just as the Lord Himself has done in creation. A tax auditor images God by ensuring that individuals and companies are being honest and transparent with their finances. Street sweepers image God by cleaning and beautifying streets, just as the Lord cleans and restores our hearts. Helping those whom you disciple to connect their worship of God to their vocation is a crucial part of caring well for their souls.
Of course, there are many people, both Christians and unbelievers, who do not have a traditional vocation. This can include stay at home-moms, retirees, or those who are unable to work a paid job for any number of reasons. For those in these categories, they too need to understand how their daily work (whether paid or not) connects to their worship and enjoyment of God. A mother who stays at home with her children may not draw a salary, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more challenging daily workload (and all the moms said, amen!). If you are discipling someone who does not hold a traditional job, take time to enter into their world. The better you understand their daily joys and struggles, the more effective a disciple-maker you will be.
In closing, I want to address those in full-time pastoral ministry. Serving as a vocational pastor is not for the faint of heart. Between weekly sermon preparation, administrative responsibilities, counseling sessions, hospital visits, and various crises, pastoral work can be very demanding. Whether you are struggling with a challenging passage of Scripture, catching up on emails, or buried in mundane administrative tasks, embrace the vocation God has provided you, as a means of worship and enjoyment of Him.