For the next several weeks, Urban Faith will be talking about careers, individual calling, entrepreneurship and all things related to connecting your God life with your job life. Be sure to check back regularly for the next Faith and Work Series feature.
In an article on The Gospel Coalition site titled “What if Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected?”, Jackie Knapp reflects on conversations she’s had with old friends looking back on their 20s. Apparently, life after college wasn’t quite what they had envisioned:
From a distance, it seems like everything has fallen into place for these highly educated people, mostly raised in middle-class church families. Much has gone well for them, and many are leaders in their communities. Without knowing their stories, you wouldn’t know their 20s weren’t all they thought they were going to be. Throughout our conversations, a consistent theme has emerged: we didn’t expect these years to be so hard.
The specific tribulations that afflicted some of her friends—“infertility,” “devastating breakups,” “marriage conflicts,” etc.—are not universal experiences. Still, many recent graduates will experience a similar gap between their expectations of life after college and reality, asking, “Where did I go wrong?”
But life after college can be just as good as any other life stage if you know what to reasonably expect.
There are three major spheres of life that are especially germane to a discussion about recent graduates (and soon-to-be-graduates)—work, friendships, and romance. In each of these areas, know that God is not absent even when post-college life isn’t what you hoped it would be. The points I make here are inspired by Erica Young Reitz’s fuller treatment of the subject (including other topics such as family, finances, and more) in her excellent book, After College, with today’s focus being work.
Doubts and Anxiety About Work
The pressure to find a job after graduation is exacerbated by thinking that if you can find work—any work at all—you’ll be satisfied. (Those who have been struggling in their job search are especially likely to believe this.)
As good as it is to have a job, though, work can have its disappointments and frustrations beyond having a demanding boss or catty co-workers. The job opportunity you searched so hard for could turn out to be something mundane that doesn’t draw on your education or unique gifts, or you could have an interim job such as a Starbucks barista or a grocery store cashier.
But even if you get a job in your field, you may begin to have second thoughts about your chosen career path, wondering, “Is this really what I want to spend my life doing?”
In either case, even the blessing of having a job quickly becomes clouded with doubt and despondency.
But those clouds can be dispersed with a proper understanding of both our particular work and God’s broader calling on us.
Seeing Work Through a Biblical Lens
First, to rightly understand the nature of our work and calling, we must be familiar with the biblical story of the world we inhabit. Reitz divides this story into four parts—Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration—and characterizes them as follows:
- Creation: “God created the world and everything in it, including us, his image-bearers.”
- Fall: “Sin entered in, bringing a curse to all of creation.”
- Redemption: “God sent Jesus to die and rise again to save us and the whole world from sin and death to reverse the curse.”
- Restoration: “God is bringing his kingdom (perfect order) to every inch of this world, and we get to be a part of it!”
This is a heavily condensed version of IFWE’s four-chapter gospel, but the points relevant to our discussion can be easily applied.
When God created the world and pronounced everything in it good (Gen.1:31), he did not then retreat into seclusion and leave the world to its own devices. In his great love for what he has made, he continues to sustain (Heb. 1:3) and provide for (Ps. 104) his creation, even at this very moment. Also, when God created Adam and Eve, he tasked them with caring for creation as well (Gen. 1:28).
What this means for you and your work is that you, too, are an agent of God’s loving sustenance and restoration of the world, even if the part you play in it seems small in your eyes. This is why Martin Lutheremphasized the dignity of all work:
The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone.
To return to our earlier examples of seemingly menial work, the espressos and lattes a barista makes help other people stay alert so they can do their jobs well and he or she helps provide an environment where the community can gather. A grocery store cashier empowers people to get home with the food they need to live and feed their families.
These jobs, which on the surface appear to be cogs in a machine, are performed by people who are every bit as valuable to God in these positions as a doctor or a teacher. And the “machine” they are part of would not work without them.
As Reitz says, no matter what our job is, God’s care for his creation through human agents means we get to:
Join Christ daily, wherever we are, in his ongoing work of caring for the whole creation: people, institutions, communities and the earth itself. Our purpose begins the moment we wake up and interact with the world.
Indeed, this “should give us a reason to get up in the morning”—no matter what work God has put before us.
Many of us tend to do two things with our time: work and sleep. While finding a bunch of articles on sleep is just as exciting, the Urban Faith team will be shedding light on Faith and Work. So, for the next several weeks, we’ll be talking about careers, individual calling, entrepreneurship and all things related to connecting your God life with your job life. Be sure to check back regularly for the next Faith and Work Series feature.
When we are introduced to someone, what is one of the first questions we ask?
“What do you do?”
When we ask this question, what we really mean is, “What is your job?”
We define ourselves by our careers. Even most Christians find their identities in their vocations. Our work no longer serves God. It serves us.
In his article “Careerism and the Ethics of Autonomy: A Theological Response,” J.A. Donahue writes,
As a secular perversion of calling, careerism invites people to seek financial success, security, access to power and privilege, and the guarantee of leisure, satisfaction, and prestige.
Avoiding this “secular perversion of calling” is essential to integrating faith and work. Many Christians desire a deeper, more integrated approach to serving God in their work, but they struggle with how to do this. Understanding the difference between work and calling can help.
The Difference between Work and Calling
In an interview with Fast Company, Harvard Business School psychologist Timothy Butler offers the following advice about how vocation differs from career or job:
There are three words that tend to be used interchangeably—and shouldn’t be. They are “vocation,” career,” and “job.” Vocation is the most profound of the three, and it has to do with your calling. It’s what you’re doing in life that makes a difference for you, that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made in the world. A calling is something you have to listen for. You don’t hear it once and then immediately recognize it. You’ve got to attune yourself to the message.
Christians today have the same difficulty understanding the differences between vocation, career, and job. We also throw in the word “calling,” which further complicates things. Calling may or may not mean the same thing as vocation.
If we look at the origins of the words career and vocation, we immediately get a feel for the difference between them.
Vocation comes from the Latin verb vocare, which means “to call.” This explains why Butler equates vocation and calling. The definition suggests that a person listens for something which calls out to him. The calling is something that comes to someone and is particular to someone.
In the secular world, career is the term we most often hear regarding work. it originates from the medieval Latin noun carraria, which means “a road for vehicles.” Hence the term career path.
A career is usually associated with an occupation. Becoming a lawyer or a securities analyst is a career choice. It is not usually the same thing as a calling.
The most specific and immediate of the three terms is job. It has to do with current employment and a specific job description.
The Difference between Vocational Calling, Career, and Everyday Work
In order to understand the biblical doctrine of work, we must understand a fourth term, vocational calling, and how it differs from career, occupation, or job.
Vocational calling is the call to God and to his service in the sphere of vocation based on giftedness, desires, affirmations, and human need. It is usually stable and permanent over a lifetime (unlike a job or a career, which can change often).
How are vocational calling and career related? A career should be based on the opportunities for service presented to believers, enabling them to fulfill their vocational callings. Finding the right career at any one time is a matter of God’s specific leadership, guidance, and provision.
Vocational calling from God to the workplace is above a job or a career. Luther and the Reformers saw occupation as timely opportunity for service, in God’s providence, presented to believers to enable them to fulfill their vocational calling through what we would call everyday work.
Rather than equate vocational calling with a specific occupation or career, we are called to be Christians in whatever situation we find ourselves. Vocational calling stays the same as we move in and out of different jobs and careers. It is directly related to the discovery of our God-given talents. We develop and hone these talents into useful competencies for the glory of God and the benefit of others, often in various jobs or occupations.
Thus vocational calling provides a framework for our jobs, careers, and occupations. As R. Paul Stevens describes in Doing God’s Business: “The New Testament treats work in the context of a larger framework: the call of God to live totally for him and his kingdom.”
Recently, a co-worker shared something that enlightened me. They always used a financial counselor to advise them on various decisions that they needed to make regarding their finances and investments. However, they didn’t seem to be satisfied with the outcome of their investments.
They shared with me that, after talking in detail with their spouse, they decided to learn more about investments and the stock market. They signed up for classes and realized they could actually manage their own financial portfolio. They took charge of their investments and began to see a positive turnaround within the first few months of releasing their financial counselor.
They seemed confident about what they had learned and we’re looking forward to managing their financial portfolio in the months and years to come.
The biggest fear that many people have, is the fear of not knowing what you don’t know. That sounds odd but it is true. What you do not know about your finances, or financial health, may seem scary to some to the point of denying its existence or choosing to deal with it when things get really tough.
God desires for us to have balance in everything we do. Having the confidence to handle your finances is a commitment you have to make to yourself. Hosea 4:6 states “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” KJV.
If people are bold enough to admit they do not know, they take the time to educate themselves in the areas that matter to them. So, why not us, children of the faith?
There are so many resources on finances. The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my area of struggle when dealing with money?”
- Is it a saving problem? Most likely you have not established boundaries and self-control, and you may need to set up a budget to stick to it.
- Do you have unrealistic goals and expectations that leave you disheartened each month when you review your finances? Set goals for yourself that will boost your confidence because you are able to achieve them. This will result in becoming a better steward of your money because you have established a level of faith in yourself that you are capable of meeting goals when you set them.
- Are you drowning in debt? Find out the exact amount that you owe so that you can establish a precise plan of tackling it.
When it comes to money, you have to be bold and face the issues head on. If you are tremendously blessed financially and have no issues with money, find ways to educate others to live in that liberty that you have been blessed to experience.
I learned a great lesson from that co-worker. What you don’t know, you can learn, and what you learn can enlighten you to make better and sound decisions that can position you financially to be in a stable place.
Are you ready to face what you don’t know about your finances? Start today. Learn something. It could serve as the trigger of change to a great financial future for you in the years to come.
March, in many ways, has become the month of women. Each year, the month is set aside to pay homage to women who have been world changers throughout history and acknowledge the impact of women on present-day society.
Within Women’s History Month is International Women’s Day, a yearly campaign that encourages solidarity on issues related to women and girls. This year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange: “a call on the masses to help forge a better working world—a more gender-inclusive world,” according to the International Women’s Day website. In the spirit of this year’s theme, women and men across the United States are encouraged to #BeBoldForChange by staying home from work.
On the heels of the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, women, men, and children came out by the millions to protest a man who has been criticized for being misogynistic, sexist, and hostile toward women and immigrants during the Women’s March in January. On February 16, a nationwide Day Without Immigrants was organized to stand in solidarity with those who are often mischaracterized as criminals, “illegals,” and over-consumers of the United States’ economic resources. This year’s “A Day Without A Woman” protest intentionally overlaps with the global International Women’s Strike and International Women’s Day during Women’s History Month.
“A Day Without A Woman” protest is a one-day international strike from paid and unpaid work and a one-day freeze on spending at non-women or minority owned businesses. Women make up nearly half of the United States’ workforce but continue to earn less than their male counterparts. The goal of the strike is “to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in the U.S. and global economies, while calling attention to the economic injustices women and gender nonconforming people continue to face.” Women and men were encouraged to wear red as a symbol of “revolutionary love and sacrifice” and participate in any way that they can.
“I have taken the day off from my 8-to-5 office career but I am also a business owner,” said Ronisha Sanders, who participated in the strike. “I have orders to fulfill and brides to meet for cake tastings as well as speaking to a young group of ladies about what it means to be a black female business owner. That is all today! I am also wearing my red in solidarity.”
“I will be participating by not buying anything and wearing red,” said Alanah Dillard, a youth and family therapist. “I am not able to stay home from work today, but I will be having a staff meeting and spending time addressing the importance of recognizing this month and this day.”
Like Dillard, all women and men across the country are not able to take off from work to show their support. Organizers have recognized that some workers do not have the option of refraining from work for a day, particularly those with jobs that “provide essential services” like the medical field, as well as women and men who face “economic insecurity” and literally cannot afford to lose a day of pay.
A Day Without A Woman is a testament to the major contributions of women in paid, unpaid, and unnoticed labor capacities. According to the Center for American Progress projections, a total of $21 billion (in GDP) could be lost if all women took off work for one day. Although the idea of all working women in the country staying home from work is improbable, the potential impact of the strike is not only economic.
“I work in a predominantly woman-dominated profession [mental health counseling and social services] so to have women not show up to work would make a huge difference,” Dillard said.
Education—a field typically dominated by women—has already been affected. Some public school systems such as Prince George’s County, Maryland, have closed after hundreds of teachers and school staff members requested the day off.
As young professional women, both Dillard and Sanders acknowledge the importance of A Day Without A Woman through the perspective of their livelihoods.
As a resident manager for the YMCA, Dillard works closely with young adults and has noticed the need to continue to empower women and fight for female equality and respect.
“I was told by two African American male residents, ‘I don’t have to respect you. You are a woman and you can’t get me a job unless you are a white male, so I don’t have to do anything for you.’ This is why these strikes are important. In this day, these comments are made with no hesitation—and by kids born in the 2000s.”
For Sanders, the strike and call to support women and minority businesses strike a personal chord.
“For me, this strike is a solidified push against Mr. Trump, [and a call] to be bold in pushing for change when it comes to women inequality. As a young, minority, female business owner, I pray and hope that other women know their worth and that their purpose collided with destiny,” she said. “I hope we women never question who we are. The sky is the limit. I hope that supporting women-owned business continues even after this International Women’s Day.”
As most Christians earn a living in secular careers, we often struggle with knowing how to best operate in and share our faith at work. We tend to play it safe—some might even say we compromise—by keeping our faith to ourselves and reserving the Gospel for church, where most believe it belongs.
Yet, the Great Commission is the #1 job of every Christian (Mark 16:14-16). We are called to preach the Word in and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).
So why do we seem to forfeit the Lord’s work the second we clock in at our 9-to-5? FEAR!
Fear of losing our jobs. Fear of offending. Fear of looking insane. The list goes on. But God has not given us the spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).
So here are four tips for fearless witnessing for Christ in the workplace.
Put Your Job in Its Proper Perspective
Truth is, most of us base our identity around our professions. But our careers are not our life’s purpose. Our purpose, according to the Word of God, is to glorify God (Isaiah 43:7). Our jobs, in the grand scheme of things, are merely a means to an end. We each have talents, gifts, and skills we can tap into to earn a living. But whatever we do is to ultimately bring God glory (Colossians 3:23-24; Proverbs 3:6, 16:3; Ecclesiastes 9:10). Paul was a tentmaker, Peter was a fisherman, and Jesus was a carpenter. Yet, each man is known not for his vocation, but for the great things he did for God’s kingdom.
Embrace Being Peculiar
No one wants to be that religious weirdo in the office, and no one is saying that you have to be. But Christians are called to be a “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9). We are set apart by God so it’s only natural that we stand out – even at work. Our renewed minds and non-conformance to the patterns of this world should cause our conduct and attitude to greatly differ from the status quo (Romans 12:2). Most employees might arrive late or slack off when the supervisor is out of the office, gossip about colleagues and leadership, or do the bare minimum when they’re not satisfied with their positions or supervisor. But Jesus is ultimately our Boss and He calls us to lead with integrity, avoid gossip, and go the extra mile (Titus 3:2; Proverbs 11:3, 20:7, 21:23; Matthew 5:14, 41). Our work ethic testifies of Him before we ever utter a word.
Know What You Believe and Why
Witnessing can be challenging when we’re not convinced of the truth of the Gospel in our own hearts. To be an effective witness for Christ, especially in a secular setting, we must be deeply rooted in our faith. When we are deeply rooted in Christ, witnessing becomes second nature. We won’t be overly anxious or hesitant about the best way to pray with a colleague or share our testimony. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we’ll do it organically! And when we encounter that radical colleague who asks, “Why Jesus and not Muhammad or Buddha?”, we’ll have the confidence and conviction to graciously, yet boldly respond (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 4:2).
Remember that God is Your Source
As some companies ban religious symbols in the workplace, witnessing at work can seem like risky business. Job loss is an especially valid concern. But God, not man, ultimately controls our employment status. It is He who gives us the ability to get wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). Some ways to share Christ shouldn’t conflict with workplace policies, such as
hosting a daily prayer call before work hours (using a personal conference line), facilitating a lunchtime prayer group, or inviting someone to church or an in-home Bible study. The wisdom of the Holy Spirit also guides us in how, to whom, and when to witness. But if there are consequences to be endured for sharing Christ, know that we are blessed for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10). We needn’t be ashamed of suffering for Christ’s name (1 Peter 4:6). God is our Source, Protector and Provider. He has the power to restore.
Have you ever witnessed at work? Share your story below.
Ronald West starts his day at 3 a.m., picking up passengers who are trying to catch early morning flights from Chicago’s downtown to its two busy, international airports. Around 6:30 a.m., the former retail salesman turned Uber driver, takes a break to avoid the frustrations of the morning rush hour traffic.
At 8:30 a.m., West resumes his day, shuttling passengers across the Second City and its suburbs until 3:00 p.m. West loves his work, and at the beginning of this year, turned down what many people would call a “good job”— medical benefits and a retirement package included—for the freedom and independence that the fast-growing “gig economy” offers.
Gigs, freelance projects, short-term assignments, on-demand jobs, or single task opportunities have been around for ages. The difference today is that technology is allowing people who need a service to quickly and easily connect with someone who wants to deliver it. Apps from companies such as Uber, Instacart, TaskRabbit, and Dogvacay, have given birth a whole new way of finding work that has its pros and its cons, depending on what you want out of work and life.
“The mindset of someone who wants to have a gig economy job has to be the belief that success comes from within,” says West whose gig is his full-time job. “Most people want a guaranteed job, but I want to guarantee my success by knowing that if I go out and do the work, the income will come in. I have to pay my bills like everyone else, but I also want time to do things that I enjoy by having the flexibility this work allows.”
West, who is a spoken word performer most weekends, opted to give a gig job a try because the job he had and the ones he was researching didn’t allow the kind of time he needed for practicing, writing, and lending support to fellow partners in rhyme, all of whom are committed to following their passion.
Pros and cons
Freedom, flexibility, and independence are the big plusses often cited by those taking advantage of a gig economy job. But other folks see some big drawbacks, even West recognizes. “There’s no medical insurance or retirement plan,” notes West, who is single with no kids, “so you will have to do some homework to find affordable and adequate health insurance, and you’ll want to talk to an accountant to make sure you’re taking care of your taxes and putting something away for retirement. But if you’re willing to take a calculated risk and step out on faith, a gig economy job could work for you.”
A TIME article from January of this year reports that 55 percent of Americans who offer services from a gig economy platform are racial and ethnic minorities. It’s a whole new frontier of immediate income opportunities that many say has to be balanced against long-term career goals.
Before deciding to take a gig economy job, you’ll want to ask yourself:
- Can I deal with an inconsistent income? There might be high and low-income months and you’ll need to develop a budget that accounts for irregular income.
- Am I a people person? You might be called on to engage with a wide variety of people and provide them with a customer experience that they’ll want you or others to provide again.
- Am I self-motivated? No one will be telling you what to do, how many hours to work or setting deadlines; but you still need to set a work schedule for yourself and stick to it.
- Do I like administrative tasks? If not, accounting, project, and time management apps can take some of the clerical work out of your day so that you can spend more time on the core activity of your work and life, knowing that important financial and administrative details are being taken care of.
- What service do I want offer? The range of services being offered via gig economy platforms is growing by the minute. You’ll want to research several companies to determine what their services are; if you have the skills and tools—such as a car—to do the work; and whether this is a service you’d like to provide.
- What’s my long-term goal? If the service you provide can be a stepping-stone or provide experience for what you want to do in the future, a gig economy job might be right for you. It may also be a good place to start if you’re not sure what you want to do and you want to test out a few options. In either case, you’ll want to take some time to think about where you want to go and how this gig will help you get there.
“I love offering transportation services,” says West. “And sometimes, if my passengers are open to it, I’ll try out a few of my spoken word lyrics on them. Being able to bring all of who I am to all I do is what I believe life and work is about.”
Have you decided to join the gig economy? Share your thoughts below.
Be sure to download the UMI Connection app to explore how your faith and work intersect.
The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015
20 Surprising Stats About the Gig Economy
The gig economy is coming. You probably won’t like it