Vocation vs. Service

Vocation vs. Service

by Pastor Joshua Reifsteck on May 01, 2023

I’ve spent the last year or so writing out and devotionally exploring tensions in Christian life. Faithful discipleship is full of them! Law vs. Gospel, Reason vs. Emotion, Faith vs. Works… Like the deity and humanity of Jesus, these are not simple either-or’s so much as they are complex both-and’s. Faith saves, not works, but faith leads us to work. We are a Gospel people, and we do not submit to the law, but as Paul says, we are “under the law of Christ.” Reason and emotion can both steer you astray, but we are to worship the Lord with our whole person, reason and emotion included. This newsletter will be an introduction to one more of those tensions—the most recent one I’ved added to this list. I’m calling this one “Vocation vs. Service.”

One of Martin Luther’s great emphases was that the Christian need not become a monk or nun to live a life which is pleasing to God. Many in his day believed that monks and nuns lived the most pious possible life, but Luther and a number of his contemporaries said, “No!” A Christian shoemaker could be very pious simply by making good shoes. That shoemaker was fulfilling their vocation—the calling God had for them. If they made shoes for humans to the best of their ability, as if they were making those same shoes for the Lord, they were being very pious! If you knew their heart, you would see that they were fulfilling their vocation. They were doing everything they did to the glory of God. This great rediscovery transformed medieval Europe. Monks and nuns left the cloister, became married, had kids, and lived faithful lives in a myriad number of different occupations and roles. “Normal people” lived lives of renewed urgency and meaning; they had vocations. 

But this doesn’t explain how this might be a tension. The tension comes in the fact that it’s possible to take this too far. Imagine if a Christian went all-in on their vocations: they were the best father, best husband, best employee, best neighbor, best friend they could possibly be. Would they have much time for anything else? I’d bet they wouldn’t!

Honestly, to be the best at any one of these things, they will likely be short-changing all the others. The man who wants to be the head-coach of his son's football team can do so to the detriment of his work and even his relationship to that son. The woman who starts a side hustle as a hobby for a little extra income can become consumed by it, to the detriment of her many other opportunities. Especially because we call them vocations, it can be easy to take it too far, and only realize it when we’re in too deep. “I’m serving the Lord! It’s only natural that I pour my heart and soul into ___________.” And what about our obligations to the church? I fear that many in our culture today struggle with this tension more than they like to admit. They’ve gone all-in on a handful of their vocations, leaving no room for their other vocations or their service to the church. Or they’ve gone all-in on their service to the church, leaving no room for their many other vocations! Doing everything to the glory of God means not slacking in any one thing. We may want to go all-in on just one or two vocations, but God gives us responsibilities in each of our vocations.

Therein lies the tension. Each vocation and role of service has its own pull, its own weight, its own obligation. How do we navigate these well? No one can answer that for you; your vocations are your own. But we have one thing in common. We do it all under the grace of God. When we mess up—and we will—we return to the cross for the forgiveness he alone can offer!

God’s Peace, Pastor Josh Reifsteck