Are blue-collar people left out of “calling”?

by Dave Rhodes and Cory Hartman

Is the pursuit of calling just for white-collar professionals and their “no-collar” successors? Are blue-collar, working-class people unwelcome in the church’s vocation conversation?

That challenge is posed by Gustavo H. R. Santos in a recent article for Comment magazine—a challenge that we at Younique feel directly and know we need to learn from. In his own words, Santos “scrapes back the veneer called ‘vocation.'” What he exposes underneath is a heap of assumptions that don’t come from the Bible but from modern Western values that are easily read into the Bible.

The article is so good that you should read it now. (Go ahead, we’ll wait.)

Assuming the best?

Santos points out that the people who talk most fluently about “finding your purpose in life” and “pursuing your calling” tend to be middle-to-upper-middle-class professionals, often affluent ones. Consequently, the mindset and conditioning of that sort of person slips into our talk about vocation without us realizing it.

The conditioning starts young. As children, many of us were told in numerous ways that we could be anything we want to be and do whatever we put our mind to. We raise our kids the same way. To drive the point home, we give them Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go! when they graduate from high school.

We tend to overvalue the options we have before us and the choices we can make. We describe the world as full of limitless possibilities. We struggle to select the way that best fits our individuality out of the countless ways we could go. We take our competence and capacity for granted—the problem isn’t that we can’t find a door but that so many doors are standing open at once.

Unfortunately, we fail to recognize that for a lot of people even in wealthy North America—not to mention the rest of the world—this problem is completely foreign. These folks don’t have nearly as many options of what to do with their lives. They have occupational limitations, social exclusion to contend against (such as racism), and responsibilities for dependents that many others can’t conceive of.

So if we talk carelessly about calling from a professional-class perspective, we saddle our language with all sorts of assumptions that make it a non-starter for working-class and blue-collar people. Our vocational talk sounds like it’s coming from another world. In a way it is, and it isn’t very helpful.

Santos exposes how our reading of the Bible on the topic of work is motivated by our own background. But he also points out that the Bible rebukes the professional class’s assumptions. Specifically, why do we think we (and everybody) have more choices than we actually do? Why do we think we can go anywhere we want? And why do we assume that the main purpose of work is our own satisfaction instead of satisfying somebody else?

3 truths for every class

As I said, Santos’s article challenges how we at Younique talk about vocation, and I’ll talk about how we want to grow from the challenge in a moment. But Santos also affirms what we teach about vocation in Younique.

Santos beautifully displays Ruth as a biblical example of vocation—not someone with social and educational advantages from the get-go but a poor, vulnerable, foreign refugee woman working a back-breaking job on someone else’s land. Younique exists to help the church train every believer—blue collar, white collar, and no collar—in the principles shown in Ruth’s story.

First, don’t get purpose from your job. Bring purpose to your job. Working-class people can feel left out of the “calling” conversation because they can’t imagine that their purpose in life is wrapped up in what they do to get a paycheck. But maybe that’s not their problem—maybe it’s professionals’ problem. Professionals easily fall prey to “work-olatry,” idolizing the phantom “dream job” instead of God as their source of satisfaction. It puts pressure on the job that it can’t possibly bear.

That’s not what Ruth did. She didn’t find her purpose in gleaning a field. She found her purpose in serving the God of Israel by serving her widowed mother-in-law. Yet her mission was so evident in the quality of her work that the field hands couldn’t help but notice that she stood out from the rest of the poor working on Boaz’s farm.

Because Younique helps people discover and name a LifeCall that is bigger than an occupation, it infuses their job with meaning it didn’t have for them before. One of our favorite videos is a TED talk by comedian Michael Jr. in which he says, “If you’re a mechanic you may think you get paid to fix vehicles, but if you make this shift, you will recognize that you help people reach their desired destination.”

Second, our job is only part of our calling. We are more than workers, and vocation is about more than work. When we tie calling to a career, we make huge amounts of our time into calling-free zones. That makes my work out to be “what I am supposed to do with my life for the world” and the other half or so of my waking hours to be “what I want to do on my own time for myself.”

But God doesn’t want part of our time; he wants all of it. He doesn’t want part of us; he gave his only Son to buy it all. He made us to live out our calling in all parts of our lives.

A person in a blue-collar job may face limits on how fully they can flourish in their calling at work. But there is a whole range of activity in family, community, and even recreation where their true vocation can shine. In fact, many working-class people do a better job than professionals at serving the world with their calling outside the workplace. It isn’t for nothing that at the beginning, the ending, and key moments in the middle of Ruth’s story she is seen at home talking with Naomi, not working on the farm.

Third, everyone has more choices than they realize. Michael Morgan likes to say that poverty isn’t a lack of money or material things; rather, “poverty is a lack of perceived options.” Note that poverty is not even a lack of options but a lack of perceived options. Anyone who functions as if they have no choices, no matter how much or how little they have, acts like a poor person.

A key principle of life design, however, is to recognize that even though some people do have more and some have less, most of us have more to work with than we think.

Ruth’s tale is a good example. Ruth was very poor in financial capital. But she leveraged her spiritual capital (the blessing of the God of