Thursday, August 19, 2010

Profession, Vocation, Occupation

Preface: This was written but not published when we were getting ready to move. Now that I do have a job, I came on to blogspot for the first time in a month and realized I'd never actually sent this out. So here it is, in its time-warped "glory."


One of the most common questions I've been getting about the move (and I've been getting this from my grandmother, some high-school acquaintances, and everyone in between) is what I'll be doing once I get to Lexington. When I give the honest answer ("I have no idea") the followup question is always the same: will I be in professional / vocational / occupational ministry. I don't usually play the deconstruction game, but let's check this out a bit. Imagine this conversation between myself and a hypothetical friend.

HF (hypothetical friend): So, Micah, are you looking for a role in professional ministry in Lexington?

MrO: Let's talk about that word "profession." We take it to mean a line of work or a trade. But if you check it in the dictionary, you'll find that it's actually a matter of allegiance... we profess vows to a religious community, or profess a faith, or profess a belief or opinion. Only one of the four definitions given by Messrs. Miriam and Webster has to do with economic activity, and my understanding is that even that was once a matter of allegiance... I profess allegiance to a guild or a trade.

I used to joke that pastors are professional Christians... they get paid to do what we're all supposed to be doing anyway. But that's not really the right word on my part. The reality is that ALL followers of Jesus should be professional... we should "Hold firmly to the faith we profess." So in that sense, any ministry I do should be professional.

HF: You know that's not what I mean. What I mean is, are you looking for vocational ministry in Lexington?

MrO: That's a funny word, "vocation." It's from the latin voca, which means "to call." Your vocation is your calling. It's what people are talking about when they're "called" into ministry. Eugene Peterson, though, has an entirely different take on it.
During his seminary education in New York City, Peterson worked with a group of artists. They were dancers and poets and sculptors, and they all worked blue-collar jobs as taxi drivers, waiters, and salesmen—whatever they had to do to pay the rent and put food on the table. Soon enough Peterson realized that “none of them were defined by their jobs—they were artists, whether anyone else saw them as artists, and regardless of whether anyone would ever pay them to be artists.” That is to say, being an artist wasn’t a job for them, but a vocation. Their jobs simply kept them alive so they could pursue their vocations. “Their vocation didn’t come from what anyone thought of them or paid them.”

So if I'm getting paid by a church, that might mean that my ministry is NOT my vocation. Not saying that's definitely the case, of course, but the real question is "would I do this even if i wasn't getting paid for it?"

HF: That's not what I'm talking about. What I mean is are you looking for an occupational ministry in Lexington?

MrO: You know, "occupation" is another funny word. We use it to...

HF: Your being needlessly pedantic, and it's really annoying.

MrO: Hey man, you're just a literary device that lets me order my thoughts. It's a pretty well-established one, too, started by Plato. I mean all of the Socratic philosophy we have is just Plato pitting Socrates against...

HF: Dude.

MrO: Right. Anyway, there's two ways you can take "occupation." It could be a trade, but it could also mean holding territory for an invading force. And that's what we believe about the Kingdom of God... that we're the beachhead of a Kingdom that is breaking through into this world. It's fully present but not fully realized; both "already" and "not yet." Right now it's only here in part, but soon it will be here fully. The dam is currently bursting... right now there's a trickle of water at the ankles but before long there will be a wall of water that sweeps a new Kingdom into existence. It's a Kingdom entirely without borders or even governments, except for one King.

And so for the next season of life, my next occupation is Lexington. That's the beachhead I'm occupying, that's the territory I have my eye on. That's where my ministry is, and that's what it means to do "occupational ministry."

HF: What. Are. You. Going. To. Do. To. Make. Money.

MrO: Oh, my job? I have no idea.

1 comment:

amymck said...

who needs money anyway?! Hoping Dean read this today! We've been battling it out in sorts as I struggle with trying to find the balance between what's a priority and not in my life now that college has taken a huge amount of my time away! I can't seem to let go of my serving time. I don't think I should have to. People work full time jobs and go to CCU, I think I should be able to give a few hours a week to serve right! So, my "vocation" doesn't pay, so what. It doesn't mean it's not a priority to me. In fact, it's more of a priority to me because of that. Like you said, would I still be doing this if I wasn't getting paid. I do it all the time and I don't get paid!
Anyway, thanks for saying it way better than I could have ever said it!
We miss you! But come on, when do we get a new post!? :-)