Vocation, Vocation, Vocation: Christianity and Careers

Almost three years on from finishing university, I find myself working for a university careers service. I certainly didn’t imagine that I would be in this position back when I graduated – in fact, I never used the careers services at either of the universities I attended (don’t tell my boss that I said that though…). The job I had prior to my current careers role involved creating explicitly Christian content for a Christian international development charity and, to be honest, I didn’t think that the two contexts had much in common - they didn’t feel like they were in remotely the same headspace. That was part of why I went for the new job!

Work is what occupies many of us from 9 – 5, Monday to Friday. Faith, on the other hand, isn’t limited to a certain time slot – and if it ever is, then it’s to a Sunday morning. It feels like we divide our week, and perhaps our thoughts, into these two different spheres. Doing vs thinking, earning money vs eschewing materialism, being ambitious vs embracing humility. One of the core messages of Christianity is that our worth is not defined by how much we earn but rather our identity as followers of Christ; during the week, it often feels like how we are performing at work defines who we are and what we are worth.

Yet it is also clear to me that faith and work are deeply intertwined. As one of my colleagues often says, ‘work isn’t strictly about what we do to get paid, work refers to whatever we care about and devote time to’. As Christians, surely we care about our faith and want to express that in everything that we do? And as is written in the Book of James, ‘Faith, without works, is dead’. Faith is fundamentally about both what we believe and how we express that through our actions.

So what does a ‘Christian’ career look like? Should we even talk about careers instead of ‘vocations’ or ‘callings’?

I am the son of a Methodist minister who loves her job. In fact, my mum probably wouldn’t even call it a job. Being a minister is as much a part of her identity as being a mother is. So, I understand that there is a distinct nature to the calling of ministry. The trouble is…I’ve never felt that calling. With each job I experience, I expect to feel a certainty that this is what I’m supposed to be doing and this is what gives my life meaning. And frankly, I’m disappointed each time.

When I worked for a Christian charity, I found that work and faith became too mixed up – and that my feelings about work were negatively affecting my relationship with God. Now working for a university, I genuinely feel comfortable in talking about my faith with colleagues from a range of faiths and beliefs. And as much as I respect and admire the work done in the international development sector, I feel like the work I do in my current role is so much more personally rewarding. Talking to students about what they want from a career and often, what they want from life, is so interesting – and signposting them to paths they can follow to get where they want is really cool too. I feel more open-minded and curious about the world than I have for a long time. It does get more ethically challenging when students express a desire to work for a big oil company like Shell or a weapons manufacturer like BAE Systems but part of the role of any careers service is to unpack why a student wants to pursue a certain career and really make them think critically about who they want to work for.

Even though I really like my job, I still don’t feel like this is my calling or vocation. I’m not sure that I will ever feel like that about any job really. And that is perfectly fine. You don’t need to have a profound sense of purpose about work to be a Christian; in fact, you don’t need to have a job at all to be a Christian.

Our faith is about loving God and loving each other – and if you’re trying your best to do that every day, well then…you’re doing the job God intended for you.

Written by Nathan Olsen. Nathan used to be on SCM's General Council as Movement Editor, and is currently working as Digital Content and Campaigns Officer at Queen Mary University in London.