From Success To Significance?: A Vocational Paradigm

A Vocational Paradigm

I don’t know if it is the stage of life I now indwell or the company I keep these days, but something seems afoot among my fellow baby boomers. Perhaps as the generation ahead of us is passing on with increasing frequency, our own mortality is confronting us more and more with each passing day. In any case, much has been made to those of us who are entering the middle years about moving from lives of success to lives of significance.

This beckoning to more fully embrace lives of significance touches us deeply as image bearers of the one true God. Often this call to significance is translated as leaving the for profit world of business to invest our time, talent and treasure in a non-profit faith based enterprise.

I do not doubt that God’s vocational calling can and does at times lead us from one work sector to another, but does the well intentioned clarion call beckoning us from success to significance bear up under the thoughtful examination of Holy Scripture?

With all due respect for my “half time” friends, I don’t believe a robust theology of vocation, carefully mined from the biblical narrative, supports the “half time” paradigm.

  • First: The Genesis creation account centers the definition of work not in terms of financial remuneration or an economic model, but rather to our contribution toward the flourishing of the common good and the cultivation of God’s good world.
  • Second: The Apostle Paul writing to New Testament churches emphasizes being faithfully present wherever we are providentially placed in the work place. Writing to the local church at Colossae, Paul avoids any kind of dichotomous thinking about either a successful or significant vocation. Instead he presents God-honoring work indwelling God-honoring motive in the broadest of categories of worshiping God. Paul puts it this way, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men.” Paul wants us to grasp that our work itself has more than instrumental value; our work whatever it is has great intrinsic value as an act of God-honoring worship. From Paul’s perspective we are given a great deal of freedom in our vocational endeavors as long as we direct them to the glory of God and the advancement of the common good.
  • Third: The matter of wise stewardship of the work skills we have attained over the years may very well be best used and further developed in the same for profit work sector. As one who has worked primarily in the non-profit world, I can speak from experience that while some “half-timers” find the transition to the non-profit world a good fit, but many do not. I don’t doubt that some non-profit enterprises have found “half-timer” contributions helpful, yet many I encounter have also experienced great difficulty. While both for profit and non-profit sectors can learn from each other, they each have unique dynamics that are vastly different. Many “half-timers” bring to the non for profit sector needed skills in organizational efficiency and pragmatic management, but what they often lack is the essential level of theological reflection needed to guide the organization in accomplishing its multiple bottom line mission.

So before we jump too quickly on the “half time” bandwagon, let’s both search our souls as well as the Holy Scriptures. Whether our lives have been marked by success, modest achievement or failure, our vocations are filled with great significance as we worship God in and through them.

Perhaps it is time we replaced a success to significance paradigm with a vocational paradigm of faithful presence. Wherever God has providentially placed you, whether that is in the profit sector or non-profit sector, be fully present for the Glory of God and the furtherance of Christ’s Gospel mission in the world.

Guest Post by Tom Nelson, author of Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work.

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