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81% of Catholics Believe Their Work is a Calling From God

September 7, 2009

One thing I have learned from those bloodthirsty media journalists is that if you want eyeballs to land on your website, then use a sensationalist, attention-grabbing headline. So. As luck would have it, I recently came across an enticing opportunity for making such an alarming claim when I saw a new survey published by U.S. Catholic magazine last week to coincide with Labor Day. The focus of the survey was on the readers’ perceptions of the intersection of their faith and their work. Surprisingly, the magazine reports that 81% of the readers who responded say they believe that their work or vocation is a calling from God.

Huh? 81 percent? That’s just about everybody! Could it really be true?

Although I am a diehard Protestant, over the years I have come to admire the Catholics for any number of reasons (let’s see…monasteries, monks, mysticism, Mary (that’s right, I think Mary rocks. Why do we Protestants have to insist on an exclusively male-gender theological model to associate with our faith?), Anne Rice, folk masses, the liberal use of incense and candles in church, to name just a few). But the stock of the Catholic church went up even a couple more points in my eyes upon reading this exciting news. “Well,” I thought, “Those Catholics sure must be doing a good job of preaching an integrated faith to their congregations!” A better job of it than the shizophrenic sacred/secular-splitting Protestant Evangelicals were doing, anyway.

But, alas, upon closer examination, I found my initial skepticism was warranted. When I studied the fine print to decipher the breakdown of these faithful survey participants, I discovered that 88% of the readers who responded to this survey either already worked for the church  or for a non-profit, or they were stay-at-home moms, or they were retired. Not many in the traditional work force, to speak of. So that explains it. Only a mere 12% of those surveyed actually worked in the for-profit business sector. No wonder the results were so positive. The corporate wonks were most certainly the ones sucking wind there at the bottom quartile. It only seems logical that there is a more natural connection between work and a sense of God’s calling when you have a job in ministry or service. The rest of us in the corporate workforce have to retrofit the spirituality back into our jobs somehow.

Although it is all too apparent that the designers of this survey could have drawn from a more diverse cross-section of workers, I still have to give U.S. Catholic magazine credit for trying. Really, I don’t think I have ever seen a survey like this before, about exploring the relationship between work and God’s purpose. Hello, Christianity Today? Barna Group? It’s the spiritually depleted mass of Christian-ish workers calling… Where have you been on this issue?  Despite the glum economic news, there are a lot of us out there, you know. Think of the magazines you could have sold!

If Barna Group (a market research firm specializing in faith and culture) were ever to get with the program here, I would be very interested in seeing a survey that asks this same question of executives and managers in corporate America. I wonder, how many of us actually feel a connection between our jobs and our calling from God? Do you think it would be 50%? 10? Less? And what if the same survey was given to production line workers? Do you think it would be any different? Or what about those menial low-skill jobs, like fast-food workers and trash haulers? Would they be all giddy about God’s purpose for their jobs?

The US Catholic magazine survey also posed some other intriguing statements for their participants to respond to, such as, “The church helps me to understand the spiritual role of work in life” (66% agreed), and “Sometimes I feel my work is in conflict with my faith” (17% agreed). This surely is a goldmine of data and information for the work-faith community.

All in all, in spite of my nitpicking, I salute US Catholic magazine for making a valiant effort to bring our attention to the important connection between work and spiritual purpose. A quote at the close of the article from one of the survey participants says this:

The call to holiness is, pardon the pun, holistic,” writes lay ecclesial minister Katherine Coolidge of San Pedro, California. “I cannot leave my personal relationship with Christ in the hall closet as I go to work. Christ is present in the workplace, the grocery store, the family, the stranger in our midst. Faith has to be part of it all.”

Katherine, I think you got it right. Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2009 1:26 pm

    I gotta hand it to you, Brad. You deal with real issues and you sure don’t have an ostritch menality. When I was much younger and first became acquainted with Christ and the idea of serving Him, being “called” presented only two options: (l.) Pounding pulpits and preaching or (2.) Chasing down savages in dark corners of the world and getting them to see the Light. As I grew, I came to understand that if a person is where God put them and doing their best to live for Christ and others, they are “called” in the largest, truest sense of the word. If some Christian professionals in business, medicine, education, industry, etc. I’ve known at the highest and lowest levels aren’t “called,” then no pastor, evangelist, or missionary I’ve ever known was “called.” You’re spot on. Bulls-eye! Bravo. Bring it on, and let’s hope you rattle some cages in some literary ivory towers! -dk

  2. September 7, 2009 1:36 pm

    Bradley, I’d guess you’ve heard the quote before, but all this makes me think yet again of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

    “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’ ”

    If you didn’t already know it, I’m a “stay-at-home mom.” Yet I define myself as an ambassador of God, with primary ministry to husband and children.

    My occupation as His ambassador means while grocery shopping I’m perhaps the only cheerful person I’ll encounter—until after someone’s encountered me. While waiting through piano / violin / martial arts lessons I’ll take time to be social and encouraging, when I’d rather be working on whatever project I brought with me. At church where I’m involved with two worship teams (and would rather hang out with them), I’ll take out the trash and mop floors.

    As a writer, I ignore numbers and publishing progress via my agent, and just keep writing because God’s made it clear He wishes me to do so.

    All work is His calling, because Christ needs ambassadors everywhere.

  3. September 7, 2009 9:24 pm

    the first thing I thought of was, “I thought Protestants had the work ethic thing”….

    good job unearthing this treasure trove.

    I recently interviewed the woman who sewed the flag that Neil Armstrong used on the moon. another article talked about here Catholic church involvement. So, in my interview, I tried to connect the two.

    ME: “Did you see your work, sewing that flag, as a calling from God? Did He help you? Did you ever run your machine for his glory?”

    SHE: No. Never even crossed my mind.

    Funniest…and saddest…thing I’ve had this year.

    It’s good to know other Catholics are at least thinking about the connnection.

    David
    http://www.redletterbelievers.com

  4. September 8, 2009 3:36 am

    “It only seems logical that there is a more natural connection between work and a sense of God’s calling when you have a job in ministry or service.”
    This seems to be a proper explanation of the Sacred-Secular Divide…

  5. September 8, 2009 11:09 am

    One of the greatest tragedies I’ve seen in the workplace is when Christians leave their faith at the door because “this is how business is done.” Well, maybe it’s business like man would do it, but I think God has a different idea.

    As usual, a thought-provoking, issue-wrestling post.

  6. September 8, 2009 12:50 pm

    Here’s another thing I love about the Catholic traditions: the mystics, especially Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. He so practiced the presence of God in every task — from sweeping the floor to washing dishes — that people flocked to his monastery to enjoy this pathway to God.

    Unfortunately, too many Catholics and people of other faiths don’t know about the work of Brother Lawrence. When I introduce him in a talk about spirit and work, however, heads nod with recognition that when we work with spirit, the work becomes joyous, and service trumps ego.

    I really loved the comments here. Thanks especially for Dr. King’s quote on work. Spirit or faith at work may be a natural and organic connection, but in a world that focuses on a split between spirit and work or money, we need steady soul food to stay true to what we know to be true.

  7. September 8, 2009 1:12 pm

    As a pastor who also works another job, I’m always happy to see people saying these things. Dividing secular and sacred is not for us in our limited capacity. Where I am now, whether job or city or whatever, is ministry. It can be used by God if we are available. We can have real relationships and not choose either “convert, convert, convert” or total detachment.

    My calling is not what I do. It’s who God has made me to be. By the way, I don’t always comment, but I do read regularly- Good stuff!

  8. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    September 8, 2009 5:05 pm

    Love everyone’s comment, but Jason’s sums it up- “My calling is not what I do – It’s who God has made me to be.” Hmmm.. I want to think more on that. How does it translate to career selection?

    You guys are really brining on some great insights in the comment section here – better job than what’s going in the Blog content! I am delighted to hear from and learn from you all. Keep it coming!!

    Don – you are such a cheerleader. Thanks, bro!

    Anne – Well, now I am all starry-eyed because you said “my agent” so I didn’t hear anything else you said. Seriously, you have such a way of making the spiritual-talk into such pragmatic, every day living. Love the way you continue to do that, all the time. The Dr. King quote is great. I had never seen that before.

    David – I agree. A funny and sad story. The things people miss out on, that is right in front of them. Shows how much work we have to do in getting the word out.

    Leon – you caught me red-handed, making that secular-sacred distinction without even realizing it. Good catch! Keep me honest, right?

    Pat – nice to meet you! I read something by Brother Lawrence a LONG time ago, but remember the impression of how he took every measly task of his day and turned it into spiritual meditation, or sacred work for God. But now I am back full circle to wondering how our choice of career fits into this. I don’t want to be cleaning toilets for a living when I am capable of being CEO. That would be poor stewardship. Therefore, it would be right and proper for me to be frustrated cleaning toilets for a living. Right? i don’t know.

  9. September 10, 2009 4:00 pm

    i find that the way that each person is created is a little bit
    different than the next. i look back now and see the personality of both of my daughters by how they were in the womb.

    not that where and how one is raised does not influence people, because it does to some degree. but, for the most part, if one is not abused, the personality remains in tact.

    i do not know how or when we are directed by God to end up where we are at any time in our life.

    however, i think that God can use anyone at anytime to do whatever He wants to do.

    the thing is, i am thinking that what He really wants is for us to Love Him and to Love each other through His Son and the Holy Spirit.

    the the actual relationship with Him is the Holy Ground that He allows us to walk on, and this can intertwine into the lives of others that we relate with in true Love. “God’s Love” from our relationship of Love for Him is the Power that reaches out and enters hearts.

    the heart can recognize God’s Love because the Holy Spirit can speak to the heart, the word i use for the spirit, of man.

  10. September 13, 2009 6:46 am

    Nicely put , Nancy. We can’t begin to understand , yet I think a certain awareness or discernment does help.
    Also a discipline , and listening spirit.
    I struggle most with this in the realm of volunteering actually.
    I start out all holier than thou and end of frustrated and so not WWJD in my attitude.
    Yet an interaction or phone conversation can have repercussions that astound me when I wasn’t meaning to be Christian. Just trying to quiet myself and consider the Divine. Because deep down I am I hope enough of one.
    Bradley.. would you consider sharing some specifics on how you share or use your faith at work? Does is relate to your overall personality or ethics.. or do you specifically bring up God in your conference calls, reference Jesus in breakout sessions? 🙂 I am very curious about this.

  11. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    September 13, 2009 7:17 am

    Deb- What a great question! And, yes, I do plan to write about this more in the future. The quick answer (for now, anyway!) is that I see God at work through me in my job by:

    1) Being aware of my strengths and acknowledging the gifts and talents I have come from God

    2) Conscious awareness of directing those gifts and talents for His glory, whatever the outcome of the use of those gifts

    3) Integrating in my work a sense of Helping people around me rather than achieving my own ego-driven goals and ambitions – THis alone is a big discussion to be had. THis involves switching perspective for everything I am doing at work, every task, initiative, project, goal, with a view of it’s all to help others rather than pumping up self.

    4) Submit everything to God in prayer and attitude, and watch how it unfolds every day.

    So, there you go. No, I do not make attempts to talk about my faith or share the gospel of Jesus, but it happens naturally as I am building relationships with people that come from genuine concern for their good, rather than acheiving my own agenda.

    I definitely will post more on this.

  12. September 16, 2009 3:30 pm

    The church I go to has had messages in the past saying that “God doesn’t call people just into the mission field”. The point being that if the only calling a Christian could get was to be a professional ministry person, there wouldn’t be a lot of job opportunities!

    Sometimes staying where you are, or working in the mail room, board room, or some other room, is exactly where God wants you.

  13. September 23, 2009 1:40 pm

    Incredible assessment. If anything, the Catholic survey revealed the real need to have someone address this issue. Why do we have such trouble connecting our work and our faith?

    Is it the way we approach work? Is it the way we approach faith? Is it both?

    Bradley, you are one of my personal heroes.

  14. October 28, 2009 2:53 am

    Bradley,

    I wonder why so many Christians feel like they check their Christianity at the door when they head off to work. Do you think it is that they do not believe God has a place in their work life?

    Perhaps it is because they are not in the career in which God called them? It is interesting that most of us forget that before their ministries began Christ was called to be a carpenter, Peter was called to be a fisherman, and Paul was called to be a tent maker.

    Although they were later called into full-time ministry as their vocation, most of us are not. Yes, we are all called to be ambassadors of Christ, but we are also called to our vocations.

    I wonder why so many do not realize their calling or choose not to follow it?

    What do you think?

    Brad

  15. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 28, 2009 4:08 pm

    Brad (great name, btw), I think you are on to something with that idea of “calling.” I intend to write something on that sometime, as it has been on my mind for a while. We happen to live in a society where, for the most part, we have the freedom to choose our vocation as opposed to just doing whatever we were born into (for better or worse). I don’t think Peter or Jesus got to choose their jobs – they just did what their dads did, and their dads before them, etc. For all we know, the fishermen HATED their work, which is why they rushed off so quickly to follow Jesus that day. Much more exciting prospects to be had there, right?

    This idea of “calling” seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon, and therefore creates a new set of problems/opportunities when we look at it through a Christian lens. There are too many choices, maybe. Or, perhaps we don’t get the good breaks in life. Or, we are not aggressive enough in pursuing what we want. Or, we get our dream job and we hate it…. Or, we find it and we love it and live out a sense of God’s purpose for our work lives.

    Good thoughts, worth a lot more discussion!

  16. November 4, 2009 6:38 pm

    Bradley,

    Your response really made me think, and I agree that this topic is worth a lot more discussion.

    I turned our comments into a post today on my blog. Check it out and let me know what you think.

    The name of the post is “Was Christ Forced into the Family Business?”

    Brad

    • shrinkingthecamel permalink*
      November 5, 2009 6:38 pm

      Cool! I’m there!

  17. Yorgos from the Old Greek church permalink
    November 13, 2009 11:13 am

    Hi Im an Eastern Orthodox christian and would like to add not only is calling in secular field a full time holy thing from God but that all the work you do will be brought into His Kingdom. We are building His civilization. Right now we have to overcome through Christ –the sin of the world but that doesnt mean the buidling doesnt continue. And I don’t mean your work will only or merely be remembered in the Kingdom, rather it will be brought into the Kingdom in a very real and metaphysical way. The City will descend from above. Cities are places of work and high culture. Shakespeare’s works will be there and the innovation your company made will be there. People ask how? I will leave that up to the Lord but notice in the Garden Adam and Eve started with no tools etc but in Revelation the Garden is found (tree of life) in the City.

    I say the above because many wrong minded folks say “well only if you bring a man into salvation–only that will last since his soul is eternal and your ‘work’ (the saved man) will last” Everything else will burn up as it says in Peter. But in the Greek the word is “revealed” or “exposed”. Your works in all of reality will be added to His Kingdom even if they are works that “fade” — a chef build a glorious wedding cake. In the Kingdom all will be brought back mysteriously added to His Civilization just like new cells are added to a growing body as a young person grows up into maturity so your works are grafted into His Body.

    • November 15, 2009 9:58 am

      Yorgos – I love your thoughts here, and your passion for creating meaningful work on this earth as equally important to the eternal life. This is a perspective that is never heard among Christians – the idea that our “work” or “works” will actually be brought into the new kingdom of heaven? Like you say, I can’t imagine a kingdom or city without work or high culture. So why not also in the City of God?

      Some say the answer to the question of “what will we do all day in heaven?” is that we will be praising God day and night. Well, that is hard to imagine, too. I like your view that we will be praising God through our work, creations, and culture that will be complete in its heavenly perfection.

      Thanks for a truly inspiring comment!

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