Words like calling, vocation, career and job get used sometimes interchangeably though they can mean different things. Hugh Whelchel organizes them in this way in How Then Should We Work?
We are first called “to follow Jesus out of darkness into light.” This call to faith in Christ is the “primary calling.”
Then come four “secondary callings.” First, to be “a part of our human family: brother, sister, son, daughter, father or mother.” Second, “to the church.” Third, “to serve God’s purposes in the world through civic, social, political, domestic and ecclesiastical roles.” Finally, “to vocational work.”
Whelchel says this fourth secondary calling, the vocational calling, “is usually stable and permanent over a lifetime” and is “based on giftedness, interests, passions, and human need, which are all easy to identify.” A caree, in turn, “should be based on the opportunities for service which are presented to a believer enabling him or her to fulfill their vocational calling.” Finally, “finding the right occupation [i.e., job] at any one time is a matter of God’s specific leadership, guidance and provision.”
Hugh Whelchel points out two lies that together define “success” in our culture in How Then Should We Work?
The first is, “If you work hard enough, you can be anything you want to be.” The second is, “You can be the best in the world.” Put the two together, and you have this message: you achieve success when you work hard to be the best in the world in whatever you choose to do. But this definition of success — “being the master of your own destiny” — is an idol. Whelchel quotes Tim Keller:
More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are God, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength and performance. To be the very best at what you do, to be at the top of the heap, means no one is like you. You are supreme.
The Biblical alternative, drawn from the parable of the talents according to Whelchel, is to define success as being faithful with the talents we are given by God. And we should all “feel God’s pleasure when we are faithful to our calling.”
In How Then Should We Work?, Hugh Whelchel quotes Richard Pratt’s “down-to-earth description of how the Cultural Mandate works” as follows:
The Great King has summoned each of us into his throne room. Take this portion of my kingdom, he says, I am making you my steward over your office, your workbench, your kitchen stove. Put your heart into mastering this part of my world. Get it in order; unearth its treasures; do all you can with it. Then everyone will see what a glorious King I am. That’s why we get up every morning and go to work. We don’t labor simply to survive, insects do that. Our work is an honor, a privileged commission from our great King. God has given each of us a portion of his kingdom to explore and to develop to its fullness.
Viewing work as stewardship over a portion of God’s kingdom helps one make the connection between the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate. Namely, the goal of the Great Commission isn’t just the salvation of people; it is the salvation of people so that they can fulfill the Cultural Mandate as was originally envisioned. All to the glory of God, of course!