By Alistair Mackenzie (see our interview with Alistair here)
One of the most helpful discoveries that I made in my thesis research was identifying some of the elements that are necessary for someone to gain and nurture an ongoing sense of vocation, or SoulPurpose as I have gone on to call it. I identified 5 important ingredients, although I don’t claim any absolute significance for these. But this is how it looks to me:
Connection: Understanding that our work and God’s work are connected. To gain a sense that we are participating in something of ultimate significance that imparts purpose to our lives. And this is partly about theology (a biblical view that affirms the worth of our work), and partly about spirituality (discovering ways that we can nurture a sense of the presence of God in our work).
Fit: Feeling that the person we are fits the work we are doing. This is partly about giftedness – understanding how our gifts and talents and passion and personality make us unique and help to define the work we are best fitted to do; and also about ethical fit, so that we not only work well, but also believe in the worth of what we are doing and see how what we are doing also fits with our Christian calling and values.
Service: Christians are not happy in the long term just to be serving themselves. We need to see how our search for significance also makes a worthwhile investment in God’s wider purposes and the lives of other people. We find our fulfillment in working for the good of others and helping to create a better world.
Balance: We need to establish a healthy balance in our lives that enables us to express our vocation through a healthy mix of domestic and voluntary work and leisure, as well as employment, to find meaning in the whole of life by understanding the functions that different parts play and how they are harmonized. We also need to regularly renegotiate this balance at different stages of life. And you can’t have a healthy theology of work without an accompanying theology of play and rest.
Encouragement: We need the support and encouragement of a community of committed companions. This may include family, friends, mentors, but I think should also include our faith community.
For a healthy sense of vocation to grow and be sustained a combination of these elements needs to be present.
Alistair Mackenzie is a Teaching Fellow at Laidlaw College – Christchurch, New Zealand and has also worked part-time with the Theology of Work Project. He is the author of Where’s God on Monday?, SoulPurpose: Making a Difference in Life and Work and Just Decisions: Christians Ethics Go to Work, and the founding director of Faith at Work (NZ).