KINGDOM CALLING by Amy L. Sherman
While in seminary I worked part-time at a health foods deli where I was one of maybe four Christians in the whole store. What a missional opportunity! But seminary taught me nothing of this job's significance for Jesus. What, besides creative evangelism and being extra nice to my customers and coworkers, could give this job meaning? I lacked the theology, training, and relational support to charge my deli life with holiness. In a seminary culture that prepares us for all things Sunday morning, I hadn't a clue about Monday through Friday.
Vocation was the void in my professional Christian pedigree.
Amy Sherman's Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good aims to heal that void. The gospel story, Sherman says, has much to say to our jobs—and in ways more interesting (and possibly more Christlike) than the evangelism and do-it-with-integrity approach with which the topic is usually addressed.
Grounding her claims in the fertile soil of the biblical vision of shalom and justice, Sherman shows that every part of our life can express righteousness and offer healing to the world. And the kingdom gospel makes us the kinds of people able to live into that. Eclipsing the lunacy of the prosperity gospel and the limits of asceticism, she propels us toward a gospel that transforms the privileged and unleashes abounding justice.
But Sherman doesn't just give us a vision; she illuminates and brings it to life for us through stories. Kingdom Calling is a packet of mustard seeds, true parables of folks who let their election in Jesus Christ spill over from Sunday into their Monday-through-Friday lives. Their jobs don't reduce to a way to make (and tithe) more money. No, they sow the seeds of new creation among greedy capitalism's sharp briars. Sherman gifts us with replicable parables of Christians prospering in a way that make poor people leap for joy.
Sherman's book extends the important conversation of re-sacralizing all spheres of life. But the conversation could go even further—by going lower, and by going local.
"We're called to labor with [the poor]. We do not impose our vocational power on them or even use it for them. We are called to bring it alongside them."
– Amy Sherman in Kingdom Calling
"Going lower" refers to class divides. Upper- and middle-class jobs are empowered by her kingdom vocation stories, but my entry-level deli job feels marginalized in this book. For those with privilege, the book rocks. For those who, for whatever reason, cannot turn their job into a kingdom calling, this book shows its limits. The poor may rejoice in the flourishing of the righteous, but what does the gospel have to say to the vocations of the poor? To salespeople, waitresses, factory workers, firefighters, farmers, and, if I may be so bold, Galilean fishermen? I look forward to Sherman's readers finding ways to extend Kingdom Calling's aspirations across class lines.
Here's one: At my neighborhood-scaled deli, regulars came from nearby businesses, schools, and homes. Some asked for me by name to make their sandwiches, and we knew a bit about each other. We'd see each other at bus stops and bars. Locality's inherent immediacy and transparency suited me, more than any of the store's higher-ups, to seek the kingdom through my job. What, I always wondered, if I had lived near where I worked? How might the Spirit have used me? Would my job have become my kingdom calling?
Place, neighborhood, and shared locality are promising platforms for bridging the class lines of Kingdom Calling. What if we churched, worked, lived, and served in the same neighborhood? What if we broke bread with those for whom we bake bread? Suddenly the entry-level and trade jobs underrepresented by Sherman become charged with an enduring dignity and kingdom potency. Call it incarnational vocation.
My hope is that the Lord will use Sherman's empowering book to inspire others to live into these questions with me and so find themselves, their jobs, and their neighborhoods steadily transformed by God's gospel of the kingdom. And—in that—that the poor may rejoice!
Brandon Rhodes is rooted in the eclectic Lents neighborhood of Portland, Ore., with the Springwater community. He is a doctoral student focusing on the effects of automobility and its pending decline on North American churches and applying this research with ParishCollective.org.