HED:A calling from God .Secular employments offers discipleship opportunities
By John Armistead
Danny Kelly came to his position as a mathematics teacher at Tupelo Middle School by a circuitous route.
"When I started out in college I wanted to be a teacher and coach, but I got away from that," he said.
After receiving two degrees, Kelly found himself sitting at a desk doing a job he didn't like. He was unhappy as he compared his original aspirations with his current position. Then he made a decision.
"I took a pretty large cut in pay and went to work as a teacher's aid," he said, "but I knew I needed to be a teacher."
Kelly went back to school to earn teaching certification, and, along the way, worked at whatever teaching-related jobs he could. Eventually, he found himself in Tupelo when his wife Ann, a Presbyterian minister, took a position at a local church.
"I've never felt like teaching was a 'job' or that 'work' was involved," Kelly said. "I look forward to getting up every morning and seeing those kids. I feel just as called to be a teacher as Ann does to be a minister."
Kelly, like many people understands his job not as just a way to earn a living but as a calling, a special task to which God's providence has appointed him.
The concept that everyone, not just ministers, are called by God to their occupations is an honored tradition in Christian theology. The word "vocation," in fact, comes from the Latin vacare, which means "to call."
In what sense, then, is a person's occupation a calling and what does that involve?
The gospel in the workplace
"When I think of work, the first thing I think of is Jesus' father being a carpenter," said the Rev. Bill Sims, pastor of Pontotoc's First Baptist Church. "This afforded money for food and clothing and other necessities. And Jesus worked right along side him."
For Sims, the calling to be a carpenter or a school teacher is no different from the calling to be a pastor. "Work is part of your discipleship," he said. "The Lord gives us the opportunity to provide for our families. And whatever God calls us to do - whether it's to dig a ditch or teach or drive a truck - he wants us to do it well. That's the test. Whether we are on time and work hard and are loyal and faithful workers."
As far as the Rev. Ben Jones, pastor of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Shannon, is concerned, a person's work is appointed by God. "We know that God ordained work according to the Scriptures," he said. "He put Adam in the garden to keep it. He means for us to work."
And, working provides additional benefits than just putting bread on the table."It builds self-esteem because he doesn't have to depend on someone else," said Jones. "And it doesn't matter what kind of work it is, as long as it's honest."
A code of integrity
M.W. "Bubba" Miller, a master mechanic, owns Community Car Care in Mantachie. Like many lay people, Miller sees his day-to-day vocation as very much a part of what being a Christian is all about.
"I live on a basic code," he said, "It's about integrity. To me the integrity is the most important thing we are about here. I describe it to my co-workers that integrity is doing the right thing when you know the other person is not going to know whether you did it or not."
God gives the basic mental and physical capacity to a person to do work, according to Miller, and expects people to put in 100 percent honest effort. "It works for me," he said, "and it allows me when I lie down at night to sleep. I did it right."
Finding God's will
"I believe God has a will for each of our lives and included in that would be a work to do," said the Rev. Bobby Hankins, pastor of Booneville's First United Methodist Church. "I think he allows us certain choices, however. We just have to find within our gifts where we can make a positive contribution to our fellow men in whatever vocation we are best suited for."
Finding just what a person is suited for may be a matter of trial and error. "If one thing doesn't seem to work, try something else," he said. "The best indication what our vocations should be may be found when we take a look at our abilities and talents."
Whatever the job, one is working for God wherever she or he is. "In the parable of the two sons the father sent into the vineyard to work, we see the invitation to both sons to be partners with God in his vineyard. We are to cultivate our garden wherever we happen to be. We are to do the best we can with what we have where we are."
Reflections of God's love
"You can look at work biblically two ways," said Sister Liz Brown, parish administrator of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Okolona. "You can look at it as the punishment for sin, or you can look at it as a opportunity to participate in creation and in the creative work of God."
For Brown, it is clearly the latter. "Things are created good and we are participants in creation," she said. "Service comes out of our theological base, and we can't categorize God's call. God calls all of us to something."
To suggest that one calling is "higher" than another is inappropriate. "The distortion of that [the idea of a calling] is that being a priest is a better call. It's not a better call, it's just a different call."
Society often ranks the worth of individuals according to the type work they do and/or the money earned in that work. "We are all called by God to build up the kingdom," she said, "and essentially it doesn't matter what we do. It matters how we do it. After all, some may have limited abilities, but that doesn't mean that they are less reflections of God's love and care."
People get into trouble when they try to classify the worth of individuals according to their callings. "I think that where Jesus was clearing the table and saying, 'Now, wait a minute. That's not what it is about. It's about reflecting God's goodness.' That's why he wasn't loved by the high and mighty."