Why Bivocationalism Is Unhealthy

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This is a subject that I continuously think about and have written about in snippets over the last number of years. A few pages here, a few pages there, an occasional chapter, and so on as I have kicked the tires of this conversation as I wrestle with it for my own life. I'm currently teaching an undergrad course on this notion of calling, careers, and vocation so even more so it's at the forefront of my thinking. Writing helps me process my own internal dialogue. I write to think.

When it comes to this notion of "bivocationalism" I'm convinced we have it all wrong. That's why it is unhealthy. You see, we have one primary calling, but then as we fulfill that vocation we have differing occupations. Let me explain.

My calling preceded any kind of formal education or training that I would later undertake. All I knew was when God rescued and redeemed me that out of gratitude and worship I wanted to in turn relinquish my life over to him in service. Christ was calling me to himself and for himself. That was my calling. That was and is your calling. As time went on and educational and occupational opportunities came my way I was always tied them back to that early sense of calling when I was eighteen years old. That has become the filter in which most (if not all) major life’s decisions go through.

Over time I have read a lot and have learned to hopefully refine my own language in addressing this topic. Early on I learned to differentiate between vocation and occupation. According to Dictionary.com vocation can be defined as “a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.” This then is the vocation of all Christians. In contrast, occupation is “a person’s usual or principal work or business, especially as a means of earning a living.” Here is how I have learned to distinguish the two so they are complimentary (and concise in my own mind).

My vocation is what God has called me to do ... missions, ministry, service, etc (however we phrase things as time passes and buzzwords come and go). That has not changed nor will it ever. I have thrown my whole lot in life into this deep sense of calling. It has shaped and defined who I am and even what I do. However, what has changed and is fluid is my occupation ... how I “earn a living.” That has changed and has been in flux since coming to faith in Christ. While in college as I was studying, training, and being equipped for a life of ministry service I had a lot of jobs during that time ... working in the college kitchen, landscaping, sales clerk at a bookstore, etc. My occupation was a moving target but my vocation never changed.

Not every Christian needs to nor should live out their vocation in full-time “Christian ministry.” For most, it is about living out this shared vocation in whatever occupations they are best wired, gifted, and suited for. We’re all called to give our life to Christian in full-time service, but that doesn’t mean a full-time job or occupation. Also, one isn’t better or more superior than the other.

With that in mind when we use the term "bivocational" it connotes a fracturing of focus. A split. However, what if instead we use the term "bi-occupational" which is more to the point? One calling, one vocation, but different occupations or jobs that carry us along. Even now I'd classify myself as "tri-occupational" and have had up to 7 jobs before at once (hepta-occupational?). We need a word change. For many bivocationalism is a dirty word because it means they can't do ministry full-time and are working some lousy job until they can. In that regards the term is unhealthy. However, what if we reframe it instead under the umbrella of bi-occupationalim that begins altering our categories and even frees us up to love and pursue jobs that (a) we love and are gifted at which (b) allows us to lean into our primary calling to Christ.

ReflectionsSean Benesh