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By Dwight L. DuBois Vocation: From worship to the world I

t was Monday morning after spring break. We were beginning a week of activities on campus

designed to lift up the concept of vocation for students, faculty and staff. “It’s Celebrate Vocation Week,” I said to a man as he walked by, trying to get him to take a flier. He didn’t want to, but he stopped, took the flier and looked at me, puzzled: “I thought we had our vacation last week?”

Vocation. It’s a word capable of drawing puzzled

looks. It’s also one of those words that—even when it’s not confused with vacation—means different things to different people. For many, vocation means little more than a job.

That’s why there are vocational schools where one learns a trade. For others, it’s a religious word most often associated with a call to full-time church work. For Lutherans, though, vocation is deeply embedded in our history and theology. It’s a foundational principle of the Reformation. Yet it still confuses people, and its promise remains largely unfulfilled. Our vocational call to serve God in our everyday

lives is embedded in our baptism, and in weekly worship we’re reminded again and again to live our faith in all we say and do. Though many may experience a stubborn

disconnect between faith and daily life, a solid understanding of vocation brings meaning and joy.

Many names, one promise Vocation has gone by many names. Martin Luther talked about the “universal priesthood,” which shortly thereafter morphed to the more familiar “priesthood of all believers.” In the last century, during a revival of interest in the concept, people started talking about the

14 MAY 2016

“ministry of the laity.” It didn’t take long before that phrase came to be associated with things laypeople do in and for the church (serving on committees, being a lay reader or visiting the sick). The phrase “ministry in daily life” was born. Of late the word ministry has caused some to

stumble because it sounds too churchy. So the language shifted to calling and purpose. Most recently people talk about vocation in terms of “spirituality in the workplace.” While this shifting language might cause us to

despair (what are we supposed to call it after all?) there is reason for hope: the promise of vocation just won’t let us go. History shows that we keep coming back to the potential for connecting faith and life—each time as if we’re discovering it anew— precisely because it holds so much promise. Vocation is on our lips and in our heart, but

our practices and priorities often betray us. We see the call to connect faith and life as being critical to our purpose, but we keep short-circuiting this connection with a persistent focus on what we do as the gathered church.

Tracing the mystery Not long ago I brought pastors together to discuss vocation. Hoping for a handful to respond, I was overwhelmed when more than 100 showed up. The pastors said they yearned to put ministry

in daily life (vocation) at the center of their ministries, but either they didn’t know how to do this or were aware of congregational dynamics that would resist any effort to turn attention outward. On top of that, there was considerable confusion about “ministry,” what it is and who does it. They were intensely interested in the topic but unsure about how to shape their congregations around it. After more than a year of discussions with

pastors, I engaged laypeople in the conversations. Surprisingly, these conversations showed that laypeople don’t limit ministry to what happens in church. They clearly affirmed their baptismal vocations, but they also expressed a need to be better supported in their various ministries in life. Far from limiting ministry to what pastors do,


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