by James Rudy Gray
How do you counsel Christians who come to you for counseling about which career they should follow? Apart from the special call of God into full-time Christian ministry, how can God’s pastors help people with this issue?
It is important to emphasize the call of God for all God’s children. Every Christian is called to be a disciple of Christ—which means he or she is to follow His guidance, learn His Word, and obey His truth. All Christians share the same vocational calling. It is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Men and women who are engaged in the professional ministry have the opportunity to lead those who come to them for help to recognize that their work or career is more than simply a way to generate income until they retire. It is a huge chunk of their lives. They will likely spend more waking hours at work than at any other activity. What people do to earn an income is indeed important.
However, it is not as important as who they are. We all are different from what we do, but what we do definitely affects how we think about ourselves. Once a person has grasped that vital fundamental concept, he can then move forward constructively in more specific career directions.
In her work on career choice, Linda Peterson observes that there are four stages in the career-decision making process: self-exploration, occupational exploration, goal setting and decision making, and implementation of the decision. Her advice is good, but it falls short. We must also help people see their place in the family and service of Christ.
We can show them the difference between their Christian vocation (glorify God) and their occupation (the job or career). Vocation remains constant but occupations change. Further, Christians can be encouraged to recognize that they are called to carry their vocational calling into whatever occupation they have.
Deciding what career to pursue can be a daunting, complicated, or even a frustrating task. Family relationships are powerful factors in people’s career decisions, concepts of success, and values and beliefs. Questions about their family background, values emphasized by their parents, occupational areas common in the extended family, etc., can help individuals sort through some of the challenges as they move ahead in their career plans.
Since peoples’ basic or core personalities remain the same throughout life, it is important for them to understand that not only do they need good training but that they also need to know what kind of personality they have.
Tests such as the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory, which can be administered at vocational schools, colleges, etc., or by qualified professionals, can help identify their personality type and what areas of interest or aptitude they may have in some occupational areas. Whatever their choice, we must help them understand that the occupation is always secondary to their Christian vocation.
From that perspective, people can better deal with the occupational stresses, changes, and frustrations that are bound to come. Many people in our culture still derive most of their self-esteem or self-worth from the work they do. We can caution them that they must not allow the job to identify them but that they must use the job for the glory of God—whether the job is short-term or life-long.
Evangelism may not be possible in a direct way in the work environment, but displaying the values, virtues, and faith that come from a genuine relationship with Christ is. A Christian is a child of God wherever he or she goes and whatever he or she does. We in the helping ministry can do a valuable service to God’s children by helping them move forward in their career directions by encouraging them to see that who they are is most important and what job they work in, while important, is secondary.
James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.