A majority (56%) of practicing Christians in the U.S. say that discovering their sense of calling “is primarily a solo journey,” according to a Barna Group report published Sept. 27.
This is on par with the general population, as 57% of all U.S. adults agree with this view of vocational discernment.
Barna defines practicing Christians as “self-identified Christians, who have also attended a worship service within the past month and strongly agree their faith is very important to their life.”
Among the 56% of practicing Christians who affirm this perspective, 16% strongly agree and 40% agree that “understanding your calling is primarily a solo journey.” By comparison, 32% disagree, 5% strongly disagree and 7% are not sure.
For all U.S. adults, the breakdown is: 17% strongly agree, 40% agree, 29% disagree, 5% strongly disagree and 9% are unsure.
When presented with the statement, “There is one best-fit job out there waiting for you to discover it,” 75% of practicing Christians agreed (34% strongly), while 18% disagreed (13% strongly) and 7% were not sure.
By comparison, 67% of all U.S. adults agreed (24% strongly), while 23% disagreed (16% strongly) and 10% were unsure.
“This research points to a major opportunity for church leaders to walk alongside members of their community as they discover their callings and move toward lives marked with deeper confidence, satisfaction and purpose,” the report said.
The data is from a survey conducted in November 2019, but it has not been published until now. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 2%, and the full report is available here.
Good Faith Media reached out to several faith leaders about the report’s findings, asking them to provide a brief reaction and response. Here is what they said:
“The disconnect I find within the search for calling is the false equation of ‘vocation’ with ‘occupation,’” said Meredith Stone, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry. “While an occupation is a job, a vocation is how one is called to be, connect, and have purpose in the world.”
“For many in the first world, we tend to imagine that our occupation must necessarily connect to our vocation,” she said. “However, privilege and wealth are informing this view tremendously since two-thirds of the world never have any choice as to their occupations.”
“Yet, I believe those people still have vocations – unique ways God is calling them to be and connect with God’s purposes in the world,” Stone said. “In this way, when the church focuses on journeying with all people to understand their vocation, rather than a divinely appointed occupation, we can begin to better equip all God’s people to be about God’s purposes each and every day.”
“The data reported by the Barna Group relative to the privatization of call and vocational discernment is not surprising. For too long have we (the church and the academy) left the matter of vocational discernment to the individual,” said Michael G. Cogdill, professor and dean emeritus of the Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and author of It’s Worth a Life: Hearing and Responding to God’s Call.
“Having spent a career in Christian liberal arts higher education, I always felt that 3-6 hours of academic study could have been devoted to vocation discernment. Too frequent is the case that young people do not have any sense of vocational calling upon entry into the university and leave after four years with little progress made in this area,” he said.
“The same is true for the church. We should look at our young people and provide encouragement and incentive to consider Christian vocational callings. But we don’t. We leave these words unspoken,” Cogdill said. “This study challenges me to preach more on ‘God’s Call and Calling’ for all church members and to gather the youth in my church more frequently to discuss matters of calling.”
“While I agree that the final decision of vocational discernment lies with the individual, I understand the discernment process itself to be more communal, involving the feedback and counsel of mentors, influencers and members of one’s faith community,” said Barry Howard, lead pastor at the Church at Wieuca in Atlanta, and editor of the book Call Stories: Hearing and Responding to God’s Call.
“Oftentimes, one’s spiritual gifts and the call of God on one’s life are observed and affirmed by others before the individual reaches awareness. Such was the case of George W. Truett whose congregation sensed his calling before he did,” he said.
“As a Baptist-flavored follower of Jesus who believes in both the priesthood of the believer and the soul competency of the individual, I do contend that the ultimate decision of one’s vocation lies with the individual, whether one has discerned their call or inclination as a soloist or in concert with others,” Howard said.
“As a pastor, I have observed that all vocational discernment, not just a call to ministry, is shaped by spiritual community, either explicitly or implicitly,” he said. “I have been blessed to serve educators, administrators, entrepreneurs, politicians and business leaders who were influenced by members of their small group, their accountability partners, or their faith community in making a career choice.”