As adults, most of our life is spent at work. The time we spend working far exceeds what we dedicate to any other activity: family, eating, or simply relaxing. However the impact of work on our lives goes far beyond time: for good or for worse, much of what we are is shaped by our professional environment and relationships.
Central to the idea of work as a life calling is that it is inseparable from our true, innermost identity. Seeing our work as a calling involves recognizing it as a space where our most authentic self – our talents and skills, our values and convictions – can find its full expression. How do you understand your relationship with your work? Is it a job, a career, a craft, or a calling?
Despite its central role in our lives, for many work is simply a job – a source of financial income to support themselves and the ones they love. Others conceive their work as a career. For those who embrace this vision, obtaining financial success and achieving upward progression are central goals. Differently from them, some individuals would rather consider their work as a craft: pursuing mastery and excellence are central to their way of understanding this dimension of their life. Finally, when asked to define their relationship to their work, some people would define it as a ‘calling’. What do they mean when they use this word?
Before answering this question, it is important to highlight that these understandings are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they can be seen as part of a dynamic continuum. Circumstances and contexts may lead us to emphasize one interpretation of our work over another.
In our research, we reflect on the interplay between these different definitions in the life of a pastor. Clergy rarely describe their work as a job, or a career. This may be due to the fact that, in a church environment, openly emphasizing money or career as legitimate objectives is generally considered as socially unacceptable. More frequently, pastors define their work as craft; the majority would describe it as a calling, something that is intimately connected to their identity and innermost convictions.
Being involved in a profession that truly ‘fits’ us, and allows us to fully express our deepest convictions, is of crucial importance for our wellbeing. For pastors, however, this idea runs parallel with an understanding that their calling is related to a superior, transcendent purpose.
In our interviews we see that a significant number of pastors believe they did not choose their calling – they were chosen by God, directly called through extraordinary signs or personal revelations they accepted or resisted. The final decision did not always come from a journey of self-knowledge – rather, it was a response to an imperative from above that in its urgency, skipped all the whys and the hows. Other pastors followed a different path, in which the realization of being called by God came at the end of a journey of discernment involving their identity, capabilities, and convictions. The final decision was the outcome of an inner spiritual dialogue in which a careful consideration of the self as related to the work of ministry played a central role.
The way clergy come to embrace and live out their calling sees many variations between these two polar extremes. Yet they highlight a tension: how is my transcendent calling related to my identity? Is that calling the place I was designed to be as an authentic individual? Does it correspond to my true capabilities and convictions?