God offers students the same relief he offered me: He has called them. To be sure, God calls some to be pastors, missionaries, and seminary professors. But God also calls the accountant, teacher, ditch-digger, and grocery store cashier. These “secular” vocations are just as important as the pastor, missionary, and seminary professor. Jesus is Lord over all (Philippians 2:9-11), even every field of work. God has called us to our vocations for His purpose of reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). God has called the baker and candlestick-maker to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) and to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). This is how vocation finds its meaning. Vocation is calling. In a world bombarding students to decide what they want to do with their lives, we need to equip them to understand God’s calling on their lives. The former brings stress, anxiety, and self-justification. The latter brings grace, relief, and full reliance on God.
These ideas of calling and vocation were developed into a Doctrine of Vocation during the Reformation, especially through the theology of Martin Luther. Previously Medieval society had forced a wedge between clergy and laity. In this society, a clerical collar imbued one with purpose and meaning in work. This notion began to change during the Protestant Reformation. Luther proclaimed the “priesthood of all believers” – that the farmer had the same direct access to God through Christ as the clergyman. This understanding had direct implications for vocation and work. Since everyone is a priest, some could be called to pastor while others are just as called to pharmacy, medicine, and plumbing. Luther claimed that one’s vocation is the “mask of God,” in which the Lord serves others through work. Commenting on Psalm 147, Luther notes,
- “What else is all our work to God—whether in the fields, in the garden, in the city, in the house, in war, or in government—but just such a child’s performance, by which he wants to give his gifts in the fields, at home, and everywhere else? These are the masks of God, behind which he wants to remain concealed and do all things… He could give children without using men and women. But he does not want to do this. Instead, he joins man and woman so that it appears to be the work of man and woman, and yet he does it under the cover of such masks… In all our doings he is to work through us, and he alone shall have the glory from it, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:7: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 
These masks of God allowed both laity and pastors to view their work as God’s means to serve their neighbor. God could have provided bread from heaven, but instead he uses the farmer, mill worker, baker, and grocer to feed the hungry. This elevated perspective of work provides meaning and purpose to one’s vocation. The Lord has called someone to their job to be His hands and feet to a neighbor.
Here are some ways Youth Workers can cultivate these ideas within their students and equip students to view their work as a calling:
- Break the sacred/secular divide. My hunch is that many students see Sunday and Wednesday (or whenever you meet) as their “sacred” days, or the time when they truly please God. Christ cares about their Monday through Saturday just as much as their Sundays. Instead of having our focus mainly on preparing students to be at church, we need to prepare students to live out their callings outside the church walls.
- Help students see God has called them to their current vocation. Being a student, child, sister, brother, athlete, or fast-food employee is just as much of a calling as a pastor. The Lord has called our students to their station in life. We need to help equip them to work in that role in obedience to Him. They are called there to expand God’s Kingdom.
- Integrate vocations within our student gatherings. Tom Nelson calls this “a liturgical regularity that affirms work.” Find people in your congregation and community who are faithfully working in their vocation for the love of God and neighbor. Invite them to have a Q&A session with your youth group, asking them questions like these:
- How does your faith inform your work?
- What would happen if you did not do your job (or if your line of work ceased to exist)?
- How does your job play a role in God’s Kingdom?
Whatever the color of the collar, every vocation has a place to play in God’s Kingdom. Nurses, teachers, and farmers do not play a supporting role to those in “vocational” ministry. They are ministers. Their work is valuable to God’s Kingdom. Their work is a calling from God. Let’s teach these truths to the next generation.