What in the world is a vocation infusion?
Near the end of last year I was invited to apply to be a part of the 2014 Vocation Infusion Learning Community (VILC). The idea of vocation and it’s importance for living a life of holistic discipleship is something I’ve been engaging for a few years, so I thought it was a great opportunity. I applied and our church was accepted along with fourteen other churches of various affiliations and sizes. What in the world is a vocation infusion you may be asking. Well, that’s why I’m writing this post–to talk about what it is and share a little bit about what it means for Trailhead.
First, we’ll look at vocation: 1) a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling. 2) a function or station in life to which one is called by God: marriage, job, neighborhood, etc. (I include both of these definitions here because I believe both are important in the conversation about Christian vocation.)
I would summarize vocation as a Christian’s calling into the entirety of their life. As disciples of Jesus we are meant to live as citizens of the kingdom of God in every moment of life. Our new life in Christ is to touch and transform everything we are and everything we do. A primary aspect of vocation is our work since we spend the majority of our hours working (no matter what our work looks like). One important part of understanding this well is Tom Nelson’s clarification that work is primarily about contribution, not compensation. Just ask a stay-at-home mom. So vocation is about the intersection of faith and work. From there the concept moves into the other spheres of our lives–which we are called into by our King–marriage, friendship, recreation, rest, etc.
The fundamental push of the VILC is to expunge the divide between Sunday and Monday from the life of the church and individual Christians. The Church has often taken one of two approaches to people’s lives outside of Sunday. One is to be silent. We focus on atonement, salvation, righteousness, and other biblical themes without connecting them to the lives of people in any significant way. This approach naturally digs an insurmountable canyon between the “spiritual” life and the rest of life. The second approach is to view our vocational spheres (our jobs, marriages, recreation, etc) as nothing more than fields for evangelism. This is not to say we should not be witnesses for Jesus in our vocational spheres–indeed, we are to be his ambassadors all the time. It’s just that this is not the whole story.
In her phenomenal book, Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman outlines four aspects of Christian vocation that form a more holistic perspective when taken together.
- Ethics: How do we do our jobs (and engage the other aspects of vocation) in a way that fits with the moral/ethical way of Jesus? Are there decisions we make differently or actions we won’t take because of our faith in Jesus?
- Evangelism: We believe that people need to be reconciled to God through Jesus. This is something we attest to through words and actions everywhere we go–including the workplace.
- Enrichment: We are able to grow as people through our work–whether it is dealing with challenges or engaging opportunities. Seen rightly, work is one of the things God uses to grow us into the fully restored people he wants us to become.
- Experience: “Work has both intrinsic and extrinsic meaning and purpose. That is, the particular work someone does, in and of its own right, is of theological value.” In other words, the work we do matters because it is a part of our purpose as people made in God’s image to contribute to God’s world. This is the aspect that is most often overlooked. (There is important theology behind this point. It is not my aim to address the theology in this post, but I will do that in another one soon.)
Vocation, rightly understood, involves all of these aspects of how we engage our work (and again, other areas of vocation). When we allow any of these to fade, whether the inherent value of work (as has often been the case in Evangelical churches) or evangelism (as has often been the case in Mainline churches) we lose a significant part of true vocation.
So that’s some about vocation, but what about infusion?
Infusion means introducing and instilling one substance, idea, or focus into something that already exists. For instance, a new principal at a school might infuse a responsibility to be kind to all into the culture of the school. So when we talk about vocation infusion, we are asking how churches (and in this case Trailhead in particular) can infuse a holistic understanding and practice of vocation into the life of our community. How can we shape the church and live our lives in a way that gets rid of the Sunday/Monday gap? This has been the focus of the VILC gatherings (we’ve had two and have two more). We are being challenged to assess our current posture toward vocation and then think strategically about how we can gain a fuller understanding that can lead to more fulfilling practice together (the vocation infusion plan).
The VILC seeks to do this through lectures about the theology of vocation, stories of churches and communities where it is already happening, and each participating church sharing the things they’re trying. One simple idea that has been shared is doing “vocation interviews” at Sunday gatherings. During these interviews the churches have asked questions that help to draw out the implications of all four aspects of vocation from people in a variety of professions. Other churches have shared how they commission people into their jobs in the same way we might traditionally commission missionaries. I find a lot of value in this since if we understand our calling rightly we are all ambassadors (or missionaries) for Jesus and his kingdom, not just those who go to another country to do it.
So what does this mean for Trailhead?
On the whole the answer is I’m not sure yet. What I do know is that we want to be a people who are intentionally living in the way of Jesus and that means the idea of vocation–and perhaps how our faith impacts our work in particular–is essential for us to engage. We can’t do this through a sermon series once every few years–it has to be a part of our shared language and practice (our culture). I don’t know exactly what it looks like for this to happen, but the VILC is giving us some great ideas (Todd and Anne are participating in the gatherings as well). I also look forward to conversations about this where we can figure it out together. This is one of a number of things I’m excited about as God leads us together into the future he has for us.