Over the years, a cottage industry of Christians has sprung up addressing the issue of vocation. A quick glance at your iPhone suggests that we all ought to be talking about it.
I’m all for finding a vocation. Vocation comes from the Latin vocatio, or voice. Calling is hearing God’s voice, finding your calling. So why is it that those in vocational ministry are doing the most of the talking? It can leave the rest of us with the impression that calling is for a select few… spiritual Christians called into “full-time Christian work.”
It’s not. Pick up your iPhone. Check your voicemail. God has called numerous times. Start with his first conference call. Yes—a conference call. It was made to all of humanity in Genesis 1—be fruitful and multiply. God places the couple in the Garden, calling them to cultivate it. That’s where we get our word culture. God’s first call is the cultural mandate, to make cultures. It was given to all humanity. It’s the first great commission.
We keep learning why. Recent findings from neuroscience indicate 95 percent of our behaviors are culturally conditioned. They’re non-conscious. Here’s the math. The human brain processes about 14 million bits of information every second. Those bits are bundled into 100-200 bundles that travel on superhighways called neural pathways. We can only be conscious of between five and nine of them. The rest—around 95 percent—are non-conscious, formed by cultures.
That’s why the first call is to make cultures. Cultures shape 95 percent of our behaviors, so flourishing cultures help make flourishing people. This explains the next message on our voicemail—the great commandment—love God and neighbor. We love God and neighbor by making flourishing cultures, the first great commission.
Scroll to our next voicemail message—the second great commission (Matthew 28). It’s a reiteration of the first commission with one caveat. We fell. Before the fall, 100 percent of humanity was making flourishing cultures because everyone followed God. With the fall, 100 percent of humanity continues making cultures (the mandate was never rescinded) but many of these cultures are not healthy because not everyone follows Jesus. Those who do ought to be the best at making flourishing cultures because they are disciples of Jesus. That’s why the second great commission is make disciples.
Followers of Jesus have at least three conference calls on their voicemail. We already have many callings. Of course, God can make as many calls as he pleases. We can’t know when a special call will come, just as you don’t know the next time your phone will ring.
The phone rang for William Wilberforce in 1787. God called him to abolish the English Slave Trade and help to reform “manners.” Manners is another way of saying cultures. This sounds like the sort of call that God occasionally makes, pointing to a specific problem (in Wilberforce’s case, the English Slave Trade), while pulling the lens out to remind him of a conference call extended to all (make cultures).
As a new Christian, Wilberforce wondered if he could pull this off while remaining in Parliament. Thank God that Hannah More recognized there is no such thing as “full-time Christian work.” When Wilberforce told More and other Clapham colleagues that he didn’t know if he should remain in Parliament or go into “ministry” to pursue abolition, More replied, “We respectfully suggest you do both.” Thank God he did.
Calling and vocation shouldn’t be a small cottage industry. We are all called to make cultures, for they form what my friend James K. A. Smith calls the “liturgies” of contemporary life. Liturgies are our practices; 95 percent of them being non-conscious. They shape what we love. And, as Augustine reminds us, our loves are our weight—what we gravitate to non-consciously. Hence, the issue is not love per se, but the order of our loves. We’re to love the things God loves in the order that he loves them. That requires making flourishing cultures—one of the many calls God has already made to us.
If you doubt it, check your voicemail.