Am I called to remain in my existing occupation, or am I called to forsake it for new opportunities for service?
At pivotal points in our paid work we must sometimes decide whether to remain where we are or move on to a new location. Some feel they need a whole new career or form of paid work; others feel drawn to new job offers within their existing profession. Many pastors, for example, are “second-career” pastors who felt called to leave their secular occupation to enter paid work in the church. Should the call of the first disciples to leave their nets to follow Jesus lead us to leave our current occupations?
Many Christians at Corinth thought their new Christian identity called them to forsake their social locations. Paul exhorts them to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. . . . In whatever condition you were in when you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God” (1 Cor. 7:17, 24, NRSV). This advice about vocation has often been used to justify conservative conformity to our social locations and what they demand. But this misinterprets the Pauline exhortation.
In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes how different the calling in 1 Corinthians 7 sounds compared with the calling of the first disciples in the gospels. He resolves the apparent contradiction in two ways. One is to observe that the post-resurrection Christ is now present as the body of Christ in this world. We do not have to leave the world to follow Christ; Christ now permeates this world through the Spirit.
The other part of his response is to stress that Christians should not conform to this world in their occupation but should “remain with God” in and through their callings. They should live out their call to be a Christian amid the callings they occupy in this world. Some occupations will be off limits to Christians because they are incompatible with the call to follow Christ. Other occupations will need to be transformed to become better avenues for serving God and neighbors in this world. This is hardly conservative conformism.
Leave for new places to which Christ is calling you, or stay where you presently are. But whether you stay or leave, live for Christ.
About the Author
Douglas J. Schuurman is a professor of religion at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.