Academics & Vocation

What’s Your Theology of Vocation?

It’s an inevitable question/conversation for every college student — especially as they prepare for graduation:

What do you want to do with your life?

And I hope that, as college ministers, this is a conversation we are having with our students starting early on in our relationship with them… except coming at it from a different angle.

Asking questions like:

What do you think you were created for?

What do you want your life to count for?

What kind of legacy to you hope to leave with your life?

What are you willing to sacrifice?

In the wake of our recent graduation… and the conversations that continue to happen with students who — quite frankly — are still trying to figure out what to do next… I find myself wondering how we have some of these conversations with them — especially given the way(s) I hear students talk about their future.

It has me thinking about how we, as college ministers, speak about the meaning and purpose of work in the world.

How do we talk with students about calling? Vocation?

There are several theological veins that quickly come to mind:

  • One that speaks to students about waiting on God.  Waiting for God to open doors and close doors and make it clear the direction that is best.
  • One that says that God has given you a set of talents and gifts to use, and a mind to discern how best to make use of them, so you go figure it out.
  • One that might be a combination of these first two veins — believing that God will open doors and close doors, but one still needs to understand how they were uniquely created and discern which door to walk through, or not walk through, or bang on until it opens.
  • There’s even one that would suggest that God’s greatest desire is for us to be happy, and healthy, and even wealthy — so decisions about vocation need to bear these things in mind.

And I think that students, and even us as “trained” pastors and leaders, can find biblical support for any of these veins of theological thought (at least to a certain extent).

But if we’re really honest about what we see in the stories that we find in the scripture, the overwhelming majority of them seem to be a call to an unpopular, undesirable, even desperate and often times hopeless place.



Consider the calls of Moses, the prophets, Jesus, the Disciples and Paul… (not to mention the countless martyrs and missionaries that have come since them)

How would you describe the kind of life, leadership and ministry God called these individuals to?

How does this reality shape our own theology of vocation?  Not to mention the ways we talk with students about it…

Do you think God still calls people to painful places?

Do you think God still calls people to places they will suffer?

If so, how does that fit within the theological veins described above?

And more important, how then, do we have conversations about vocation with our students?

I’d love to know what you think about this.  Please take a moment to share your thoughts — or voice your own questions — in the comment section below.


  • Steve Rankin

    Good post, Guy.  I have long identified with the prophet, Jeremiah (especially chapter 20).  Ironically, he was a very optimistic (if I can say it that way) prophet (e.g. 29:11), but he had some very harsh things to say to his people.  

    I also think we need more talk about suffering in the Christian faith.  Here I’m think of Paul’s comments in Philippians 3 about sharing both in the power of Christ’s resurrection and in the fellowship of his suffering.  We’ve go a lot of work to do on this front with most American Christians.  

  • I wonder if the increase of students going off to grad school right after graduation doesn’t have something to do with this.  Granted there are many other major factors, but I wonder if part of the draw of grad school is that it gives them a few more years to figure out their calling and wrestle with this idea of vocation.  College graduates can be beautifully (and at times, frustratingly) idealistic.  They are looking for a job that aligns perfectly with their perceived vocation.  That is, if they have even put much thought into vocation and calling.  I know with the students I mentor and work with, this is a point of conversation and wrestling, but I don’t know that it is the case for the majority of students.