Vocation of a Business Leader

The dictionary defines vocation as a person’s employment or main occupation, especially regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication. Vocation in a religious context is how God calls us to serve Him in the world. This can be done through the Church, Ministry, Marriage, even Business. The word vocation comes from the Latin, vocare, which means ‘to call.’ God calls or invites us to a particular vocation, each of us must then decide our response to that invitation.

Jonathan Maury, Society of Saint John the Evangelist, “Vocation is not a goal to be achieved but a gift to be received. Every life experience becomes a vehicle for God’s call to be realized in vocation. In learning our limits and embracing failures, we can begin to recognize God’s particular gifts for us, which infuse our very being and form in us our unique vocation.”

The Christian tradition offers a positive vision of work and business. The vocation of a Business Leader occurs when Spiritual Faith is significant. We need to meld our great depth of faith-based social teachings, the scriptures, and prayer in a way that can connect to the business world. Businesspeople have great resources to do great things. However, they must begin by seeing themselves, not through what they do, but through what they accept and become. The significance of life is not measured by outward achievements, but inward acceptance of what is right and contributes to the common good – good goods, good work and good wealth. Don’t work harder than everyone else. That attitude creates an “I’m great, and you’re not” culture. Instead work harder for everyone else. Change our intent to change our impact.

Business leaders, through practices and policies, must give in a way which responds to what has been received. The better we understand what has been given to us, the better we give in a way that develops others and provides for the spiritual well-being of society. This dynamism of receiving and giving is the heart of vocation. If we don’t get “receiving” right, we won’t get “giving” right. It is in receiving that we find our most profound identity, and it is in giving that we experience our most expressed mission.

World history displays the harm caused by decisions made by business leaders. Corruption, greed, poor stewardship of resources are a few of the obstacles to serving the common good. However, the most significant obstacle is leading a “divided” life, a disconnect between Sunday and Monday. A split between faith and daily business practice leads to imbalance and misplaced devotion to worldly success. We have more ‘private’ goods but are lacking significantly in common goods. As values have become relative and rights more important than duties, the goal of serving the common good gets lost.

Business leaders can pursue their vocation, motivated by much more than financial success. They can overcome the divided life and receive God’s grace to create both profit and well-being. To produce sustainable wealth and to distribute it justly (just wage for employees, just prices for customers and suppliers, just taxes for the community, and just returns for owners). The path of faith-based “servant leadership” provides business leaders with a larger perspective and helps to balance the demands of the business world with those of ethical social principles, brought to light by the Gospel.

Our work flowing from God’s call is an extension of God’s work to maintain and provide for His creation. It is a contribution to what God wants done in the world. In 1940, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a young Christian man, was one of hundreds of Americans who slipped into Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and volunteer to fight for Britain against Hitler. It is easy to see how God used Magee’s vocation to push back the darkness of fascism and positively impact the kingdom of God. John Magee was killed at just 19 years old, but a poem of his, High Flight, was made famous by President Reagan in a speech on January 28, 1986 as he consoled the nation after the Challenger space shuttle disaster – “Where never lark or even eagle flew/And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod/The high, untrespassed sanctity of space/Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

As we obediently answer the vocation in our own lives, we must learn to believe God uses everything we do for His purpose. In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, (8:28), he outlines through the grace of Christ all our work, even the most mundane things we do, are taken by God and transformed into kingdom work, “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Maybe the greatest vocation is in Mark (1:14-20), when Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John to abandon their nets and become “fishers of men.” Jesus did not do away with their work, He merely transferred their labor. Their vocation became their calling, which would become their full-time endeavor.

We are offered the privilege of advancing the Kingdom of God. It may be through serving others, enacting justice, or in some small but significant way, furthering the common good. When our invitation comes, may we find the same courage as Simon, Andrew, James, and John as well as John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

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