Calling versus Career: What’s the difference and does it matter?

Along with many of the people I’ve encountered going through job transition, after Arthur Andersen imploded years ago, I was praying earnestly to find a job where I could: 

  • Be where God wanted me to be  
  • Successfully perform the work required 
  • Provide for my family with the compensation I would earn 
  • Enjoy the work and find it fulfilling 
  • See the work as being missional in nature 

You see, I had been in a job at Arthur Andersen that hit all the bullets listed. I thought Arthur Andersen would be the last employer I’d ever work for. My career path had been quite a ride up to that point, and as a relatively new partner in the firm, ongoing achievement of those bullets was a sound bet. 

While I knew intellectually and biblically speaking that alignment isn’t guaranteed in employment, I had a taste of what it could be like. And although I knew I had slipped at times into work becoming my idol, I felt I would much rather face that risk than employment which wasn’t stimulating and fulfilling. 

Find God’s Calling in Your Career

With that backdrop, when I discovered Crossroads Career in my job transition, with one of the taglines being “How to Find God’s Calling in Your Career,” I was intrigued. Like many things I become intrigued with, I discovered there’s nothing new under the sun. While job transitions aren’t explicitly described much in scripture, many descriptions are given of people who faced crossroads in their lives, made decisions, and emerged performing different vocations than before. Think Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul, to name a few. 

Jeremiah 6:16 states, “This is what the Lord says, ’Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”  

In this case, despite the prophecies Jeremiah shared, the Israelites were too hard-hearted and chose the wrong path at their crossroads. At Crossroads Career, we work to provide biblical principles to support people in choosing the right path. First, to hear and follow God’s effectual call of salvation, the only way calling is referenced in scripture, but then also to discover the vocational calling He has uniquely given to all of us that complements the missional calling He’s also given to us. 

Career x Calling = Maximizing

We have an exercise in the first chapter of our “You Are Created For Good Works” workbook that I’ve always been intrigued with and have enjoyed facilitating with a small group called “Career x Calling = Maximizing”. In the exercise we define career as “an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework.” For calling, we recognize its origin from the Greek word Kaleo, which means “to call, invite, summon”. We ask for people’s thoughts on the similarities and differences they see with the two words and definitions. 

Over the years, I’ve found it easier to identify the differences between the two, so I thought I’d share those with you here to stimulate your thinking. I’d encourage you to add your own thinking to the list. I’ll lead off with three I heard recently from Pastor Chris Brown (North Coast Church), with the rest that follow from small group feedback: 

Career Calling 
What we do for a living How we live 
Temporary Eternal 
What I choose What He chooses 
Focuses on your competence Focuses on your character 
Motivated by your own advancement Motivated by what God wants advanced 
Preparation is critical Prayer is critical 
Driven by the needs of this world Driven by the needs of His kingdom 
Defined by what you do vocationally  Not necessarily defined by vocational boundaries 
Often about you Never about you 

C.S. Lewis summarizes this well,  

“If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we look for something that would turn the present world from a black of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.   

But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty to which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.” 

I see many differences between Career and Calling, yet there’s no reason they can’t be melded together within the many opportunities available to us today. Let’s just keep the right priority to follow His Call first.

Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.

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