Once you have a handle on the Four Pathways of vocational stewardship, you need to discern the avenues for deployment that make the most sense for you, given your season in life, responsibilities outside the workplace, and degree of influence in your current job.
This will involve prayerful thinking about your capacity and your context.
Discerning Individual Capacity and Context
The work of deployment—assessing what level of investment to make in the various pathways–begins with a focus on one’s capacity. By this I mean two things: time availability and the degree to which you have influence in your workplace.
Once you have a clear sense of your particular gifts, passions, and skills, you are ready to take up questions about where and how to use those. The two principal queries related to capacity are:
1. Given the total time and energy I have, in light of all my non-work commitments, do I have capacity for channeling any time into Pathways 2, 3, or 4—or only enough for investing in my “day job” (Pathway 1)?
2. What is the degree of capacity I possess for influencing my workplace? (That is, what position and responsibilities do I hold, how much seniority do I enjoy, and how much of a “say” do I have in how things are done?)
Every Christian should begin the journey of vocational stewardship by asking: How can I promote Kingdom values right where I am, right now? In this sense, Pathway 1– “blooming where you’re planted”—is mandatory for all. What are the factors that influence one’s assessment of how much time and energy to invest in Pathway 1?
The first relates to your latitude for “blooming.” If you are a young, inexperienced employee in a low-level position in an organization, you’ll likely have less capacity for influencing that organization than will a more senior officer with more experience, skills, responsibilities, and voice. Consequently, you may face limits in how much they can “bloom” and decide that, at this season in life, you should devote time and energy to practicing vocational stewardship through Pathway 2, where you’ll volunteer your skills in a nonprofit. But if you are senior person in your firm/organization, you may have considerable scope for blooming. The most strategic investment of your time may well be in and through your “day job.” And once you’ve decided this is where your primary focus should be, you can say “no” with confidence to requests you might receive to volunteer inside or outside the church. Be confident that your best service for God is happening right through your current role at work!
It may be possible, though, that senior people also face limits to “blooming,” despite years of service and strong resume of skills. Perhaps you face constraints in influencing policies and practices at work. Such constraints may come in the form of individual actors–such as a boss with a tin ear, or a Board of Trustees disinclined to reforms of any sort. Or they may take institutional forms. For example, maybe you have seniority in your company, but the firm itself has little real influence over the work it performs because such work is done under contract with a client that controls all the key decisions. In this setting, while “on paper” you might look like you have significant capacity, but in reality, you possess limited power. Similarly, if you’re a high-level employee, but in a gigantic bureaucracy, you may not posses that much capacity for influencing organizational decisions. If your situation is like these, it may be that you have reached your limit for “blooming” in the workplace, and your most strategic investment will be to carve out time away from your day job in order to launch of a new social enterprise that draws on your long-honed skills and expertise (Pathway 3) or volunteer using your expertise at a nonprofit (Pathway 2).
There are also non-work factors that affect one’s capacity. If in your current season of life you have a fulltime job and have really heavy home responsibilities (e.g., caring for preschool children or elderly parents), you may need to focus exclusively on “blooming.” You won’t have capacity for volunteer involvement (Pathways 2 or 4), and certainly no time for launching your own new initiative (Pathway 3).
Finally, at any given season in life, you might find yourself in a job that doesn’t genuinely reflect your calling or vocation. For example, imagine a young woman earning her living now as a waitress, while inside she is an artist. Or imagine a young man, freshly minted with an engineering degree. Today he may be working for a computer repair firm because he has not yet landed a job within his professional field. Our occupations and our vocations, in short, don’t always overlap. In all these settings, vocational stewardship remains possible, but is perhaps a bit more complicated.
If you find yourself in these circumstances, the first Biblical counsel to heed comes from Col 3:23-24, about doing all our tasks “as unto the Lord.” The waitress should ask God’s help in offering excellent customer service and in being a punctual, hardworking, and honest employee. She should seek to love and serve her coworkers. Then, she could brainstorm with friends (and perhaps co-workers) as to how, despite her modest position, she could advance Kingdom values—such as peace, beauty, justice, sustainability, or community—in and through her work (Pathway 1). For example, if the restaurant is small and family-owned, she may be able to talk to the owners about buying local produce as an expression of environmental stewardship. If the restaurant is part of a large chain, her boss may not have a lot of scope for making such a decision. In this instance, the waitress might suggest a different sort of activity, such as a training session for wait staff in effective ways to deal with nasty customers. Perhaps a counselor, or a person with conflict resolution skills, from the waitress’s home congregation could be invited in to give a short presentation on this topic. In this small way, the waitress can contribute to promoting the Kingdom value of peace at her workplace.
Meanwhile, since her true calling is as an artist, the waitress might consider what actions she could take to promote beauty in the way the food is presented or the manner in which the restaurant is decorated. Again, the scope she has for making such a difference will depend on who owns the restaurant and what rules and regulations apply. In some circumstances, though, she will likely be able to volunteer her services to decorate the restrooms or brighten up the landscaping outside the restaurant. Then, in addition to seeking such ways of “blooming,” our artist should seek out opportunities to serve outside her workplace using her artistic talents, perhaps through Pathway 2 or 4. It may even be that such volunteering will lead to a paid position, or to networking opportunities through which she is able to find a job that more fully utilizes her artistic skills.
Continue to Discerning Context