Work, Profession, Job, Vocation, Occupation, Career or Calling? Getting Clear on Language About Work

by Jeff Haanen

“You don’t just have a job, you have a vocation!” Really? It feels more like I need a vacation.

“Some people have a calling,” my father said to me. “But most of us just have a job.”

“Profession? Sounds like what rich people do. ‘Round here, we just work.”

“I think I’m gonna quit. I just don’t feel called to this anymore.”

This is just plain confusing. Work, profession, job, vocation, occupation, career and calling. What exactly are we talking about here?

Does vocation and work mean the same thing? When is a job a career, or just a job? Am I working if I’m not getting paid? Do I really have to be called to every task I do at work? Or is it ok to be called to something completely different than my 9-5? Why does it feel like the hardest work I do is at home, and I go to work to rest?

The language we use around work – especially among Christians – can be mystifying. And a mist in the pulpit usually means a fog in the pew. Defining terms would help. But Webster can’t tell us how we use these terms in relation to one another.

In this short video (6:16) I take a stab at trying to get clear on both how we actually use these terms, and how we ought to use language around the idea of work based on Christian revelation.

My friend is fond of saying, “Change the language, you change the culture.” That’s hopeful. Maybe we can at least get a little less confused.

Download the video transcript.

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Jeff Haanen

Jeff Haanen is the Founder of Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the 5280 Fellowship. He contributes to various magazines and publications, including Christianity Today. He has previously served as a school administrator, a pastor and missionary. He holds a B.A. in International Economics and Spanish from Valparaiso University and a Master of Divinity from Denver Seminary. Jeff attends Littleton Christian Church with his wife and four daughters.

Jeff has written for The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, The Gospel Coalition, and Christianity Today.