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Why Vocation Matters
Applying Scripture to daily life can be a tricky and complicated process for our learners.
With all the different voices in contemporary American Christianity, it’s easy to be led astray. Peruse the Christian bookstore, scan the list of pop Christian blogs, watch a popular televangelist—there are many voices. Each one tells us of a different methodology to apply to our Bible study. Most of these voices teach a form of narcissism, pointing people to make everything in Scripture directly about them. This trend takes often takes scriptural “sound bites” out of context or really stretches the meaning of a passage beyond what is intended. It’s easy for our learners to fall into the trap of listening to these voices, often to their own spiritual confusion and harm.
Enter the doctrine of vocation. As I’ve written on before, understanding this can both encourage our learners and clear up some key issues at the same time. Vocation could be described as our purpose in the left-hand realm. God ordinarily uses means to do His work. To offer forgiveness, life, and salvation (the right-hand realm), God uses the Means of Grace (Word and Sacrament). In creating order in the left-hand realm of the world, God also uses means. God uses the means of people living faithfully in their different areas of responsibility to care for creation. These responsibilities, or vocations, include our life in the household, congregation, workplace, and society. As we love and serve our neighbor faithfully in these areas, as God has commanded us in His Word, we are His means of sustaining creation.
This is a liberating thing! We need to point our learners more and more to this reality, especially in a culture and society that is quickly changing. As Lutherans, understanding this doctrine gives us a wealth of insight and purpose to offer our fellow human creatures. By adding a deeper understanding of vocation to our lessons, we can help cut through the many voices of pop Christianity and point our learners to seeing God’s purpose for their lives in the left-hand realm of creation.
A Simple Way to Teach Vocation
The purpose of parish education is learning. This means that it isn’t always enough for our parishioners to listen to a lecture or participate in an activity. Learning involves engagement with the content of a thing and mentally working through the process of better understanding it.
One simple way to help our members learn to apply and understand vocation is to add this assignment to a lesson or Bible study. I wrote on the value and definition of an assignment (as opposed to an activity) in a previous post. Please check this post out before proceeding, if you are curious. I’ve found this assignment to be useful in my own ministry, and I hope it can be a blessing to you as well. The following steps can be added to any lesson to help not only teach what vocation is but also help your learners understand how God uses them in their various callings.
- Begin your lesson/devotion/study by breaking your learners into small groups and having them share a “high” and a “low” from the last week. Though this might seem a bit silly (for adult learners especially), there is a purpose: to get the learners thinking about what’s going on in their lives right now. All too often, I submit, we remove the content of the Bible from the context of life. By starting the lesson with this exercise of sharing a good and bad thing from their last week, learners are identifying their triumphs and challenges.
- Near the end of your lesson/devotion/study, challenge your learners to write down a reflection on what was learned with specific criteria. This is the “assignment” portion of reflection. It also serves as a form of assessment to measure what your students have learned. This can be done on a piece of paper, or better yet, on a note card.
- Use this prompt for the reflection with your learners: Now, after this lesson/devotion/study, reflect on how God’s Word applies to you faithfully engaging a vocation in your life. Before they start their written reflection, post or remind them of this evaluation rubric. This will help them focus. If they can answer positively on each one of these in their written reflection, they can consider their reflection a success.
- Have I specifically named a high or low in my life right now?
- Have I quoted or referenced at least one piece of Scripture or a Bible point from the lesson/devotion/study that sticks out to me?
- Have I connected the Scripture or Bible point to my high or low in my life?
- Can I name one area or responsibility in my life that the Bible points to that the high or low connect? Does it relate most to my responsibilities in my household, congregation, workplace, or society? (Pick one of the four.)
- After the reflection is done, with each learner writing down a few sentences to a paragraph, take some time to share the reflections.
When it comes to sharing, there are a few options. First, the learners can discuss what they wrote down with a partner (in pairs or trios). This is pretty low-key and easy for most. The learners could also share in their small groups, making sure to note which realm of their vocation is most impacted at the time. An important part of this step, regardless of how they share, is to not simply leave the response in the hands of the learners. If this reflection on vocation is to serve as an assessment or measure for learning (and not simply another activity), then it must in some way become a feedback tool between teacher and learner. The teacher must have some way of hearing or reading the reflections of the learners to measure if their understanding of Scripture is on track. I would even suggest, as odd as it seems in the parish, that the learners all leave behind their reflection cards with the teacher! Then the teacher could quickly read what was left behind to see where the learners understood the role of vocation and where they could use more work.
Whatever we do, though, there is fantastic opportunity in this day and age to embrace the doctrine of vocation for the spiritual formation of our learners. In a world that sends so many conflicting signals about humanity’s purpose, and in a Christian culture that often skews the truth of Scripture, it’s critical that we in the Church return to the simple truth that God’s Word speaks to us and that through it we can understand how to engage our callings.
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