A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran an opinion column under the headline “Please Don’t Call My Job a Calling.” The immediate context of the piece is the current screen writers guild strike and the statement by a Warner Brothers executive suggesting that those who write scripts for movies and Netflix series and jokes for late-night comics will come back to work soon enough because, after all, they love their jobs.
Forget loving what you do, says the columnist. “The rhetoric that a job is a passion or a ‘labor of love’ obfuscates the reality that a job is an economic contract.” Later in his rant he mentions those who name teaching, nursing, or being a librarian a “calling” as a way of justifying paying such professionals low wages.
The writer is correct when he points out that loving your job or the joy of helping others doesn’t pay the bills. Paul tells Timothy that the worker deserves his wage (1 Timothy 5:18).
In fact, though, a job is more than just an economic contract. Some jobs are a joy and some workers love their work, they keep showing up precisely because they love their work and find joy in doing it. When someone tells us “Well, at least the pay is good,” we might fairly assume there is otherwise not much joy in the job and not much to love about heading off to work.
Our English word “vocation” comes from the Latin word for the Greek word for calling. By the late Middle Ages, the word vocation had been hijacked by the church to mean only the work of priests and monks and nuns. Luther famously reminds us that farmers, cobblers, milkmaids, and candlestick makers are called by God to excel at what they do, their vocation, their calling. God superintends our calls in life.
A pastor’s job is often called a calling. We are part of the vocational ministry. The economic contract between a pastor and a congregation is called the terms of call. Terms of call include salary and benefits, reimbursable expenses and the like. They look a lot like an economic contract. In my business it has been easy to call a job a calling.
But callings, a biblical concept, are not just economic contracts, not just about pay and benefits. And, thank you Luther, not just about church jobs. You don’t have to be a priest, a monk, or a nun to have a call. But in the best sense of the word, you have to know that your call comes from God.
God’s call is first to belong to Christ (Romans 1:6) – a call out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). And we are called to peace (1 Corinthians 7:15) and called to hope (Ephesians 4:4). We are called to serve (Galatians 5:13).
Something I am discovering in retirement is that a call is not necessarily linked to a paycheck. My call, even my call to be a pastor, did not end when my economic contract with a congregation ended.
Please, call my life a calling.