Was Christ Forced into Family Business?

by Brad Harmon on November 4, 2009 in Leadership

millais jesus as a carpenter 600x360 | marketplace christianityLast Week, while reading 81% of Catholics Believe Their Work is a Calling From God on Shrinking the Camel, I started thinking that Christians were finally starting to get that their vocation is a calling from God.

I was quickly disappointed as I kept reading the post because it pointed out that the survey was largely comprised of those working in the church or in a charity.

I’d already started my blog post Are You Recommended By God? when I read this article, so the idea that being a Christian entrepreneur is a vocational calling was fresh on my mind.  There is an entire section in my post about it.  In fact, it is one of the foundational pillars of the post.

I commented on the article and went back to finish my post.  It was then that I received an email notification that a response to my comment had been made.  The response challenged the notion that there have always been vocational callings.  It even suggested that perhaps Christ had been forced to be a carpenter.

Here’s the comment I made on the article from Shrinking the Camel

I wonder why so many Christians feel like they check their Christianity at the door when they head off to work. Do you think it is that they do not believe God has a place in their work life?

Perhaps it is because they are not in the career in which God called them? It is interesting that most of us forget that before their ministries began Christ was called to be a carpenter, Peter was called to be a fisherman, and Paul was called to be a tent maker.

Although they were later called into full-time ministry as their vocation, most of us are not. Yes, we are all called to be ambassadors of Christ, but we are also called to our vocations.

I wonder why so many do not realize their calling or choose not to follow it?

What do you think?

The author, Bradley J. Moore, responded with the following …

Brad (great name, btw), I think you are on to something with that idea of “calling.” I intend to write something on that sometime, as it has been on my mind for a while. We happen to live in a society where, for the most part, we have the freedom to choose our vocation as opposed to just doing whatever we were born into (for better or worse). I don’t think Peter or Jesus got to choose their jobs – they just did what their dads did, and their dads before them, etc. For all we know, the fishermen HATED their work, which is why they rushed off so quickly to follow Jesus that day. Much more exciting prospects to be had there, right?

This idea of “calling” seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon, and therefore creates a new set of problems/opportunities when we look at it through a Christian lens. There are too many choices, maybe. Or, perhaps we don’t get the good breaks in life. Or, we are not aggressive enough in pursuing what we want. Or, we get our dream job and we hate it…. Or, we find it and we love it and live out a sense of God’s purpose for our work lives.

Good thoughts, worth a lot more discussion!

Worthy of more discussion indeed.  It definitely made me think about whether I was correct in my understanding of vocational callings.

Is Vocational Calling a New Idea?

At first, I thought this comment was a bit ridiculous.  After having a week to think about it, I wonder if it really is though.  I did not grow up in a Christian home, but luckily for me, my parents looked at the church as a convenient babysitter so I was at the church whenever the doors were open.  In the 35 years of attending church services since, I can tell you I have never seen anyone walk down the aisle to proclaim that God called them to be an entrepreneur.

We do tend to get excited and praise someone that makes a decision to go into full-time ministry, don’t we?  There are often announcements in the church bulletin, special fellowships, or other recognition.  With all the attention, you would be led to believe that only this type of calling was special.  Anything else is for lesser Christians.

It’s not something on which the church has put much focus historically.  The closest the church ever seemed to come to recognizing a non-ministry calling was graduation or retirement ceremonies.  In recent years, we have started looking at vocational callings and recognizing God’s hand at work.

This doesn’t mean that God has not called us to our vocations from the very beginning, but there is little room to argue that it is not a new idea as it relates to the modern church.

Is It Still a Vocational Calling if You Have no Choice?

This is an interesting question.  Many entrepreneurs are groomed to take over the family business from the moment they are born.  Casting off this mantle involves disrupting many family dynamics so few ever do.  Bradley rightly points out that today (in the United States) we have a plethora of choices from which to choose our vocation.  This has made it easier for the groomed son or daughter to break away from the family business, but it’s still difficult.

Compared with first century Christians, it’s the proverbial walk in the park.  There were very few choices but to follow in the footsteps of your father.  It is likely that Jesus and Peter followed in the steps of their family and became a carpenter and fisherman because there was no other choice.  They may very well have hated their vocation.

We don’t know much about Christ’s life between the periods of his birth and the start of His ministry, but we do know that He was scorned by those in His hometown when He went back.  Also, His family did not show up in force until the end of His ministry.  Perhaps this was the lingering effect of breaking ties with the family business?  It must certainly have been taboo for that time.

Jeremiah’s vocational calling came before he was conceived.  Adam wasn’t given a choice of vocations when God put him in the Garden of Eden.  Joseph had no choice when appointed as administrator for Potiphar or Pharaoh.  Early Christian slaves had no choice for their vocation.  Well, they did have one choice – not to do their vocation.

We have that same choice today, but without the harsh consequences or likely death that would befall these people.  In addition, we have a plethora of choices available to us for our vocation.  There is a difference between a choice and a calling though.  A calling is not something we can control.  It is not something we can choose.  Our only choice is to follow it or not.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

rupzip November 5, 2009 at 12:47 pm

“Choosing” our profession is a new 21st century idea. And you would think that it would translate into a sense of vocation, doing our work as unto the Lord.

But instead, it's just entitlement. And a right to “pick” our jobs.

Well written post! I've added you to my blogroll. Keep it up brother!


Brad Harmon November 5, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Great point. It is amazing how the things that were blessings to our grandparents are now considered entitlements to us.

Thank you for adding me to your blogroll. I discovered your blog last night through Shrinking the Camel. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts, and exploring your blog.


bradleyjmoore November 5, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Wow, this is a huge discussion!! (Thanks for the pingback, btw.) Some writers like Oswald Chambers in his book “The Call” say that our primary calling is to be followers of Jesus, in character and behavior, etc., and then our secondary calling is whatever work we choose to do. Also, the folks at “Theology of work” are attempting to develop a biblical response to this question to set us all straight, (especially the pastors!). One thing we know, is that regardless of our relationship with Christ, we still feel the need for purpose and meaning in what we do with our lives. And our society allows for plenty of choice, which I think makes it more difficult. Right now I like my job, I am using my gifts and talents and getting compensated well (all good, good, good), but in my youth I had a passion for a calling that is entirely different than what I do today. In some ways, I feel like I missed my calling because it didn't work out for me, so I had to make another path. Is this now my calling? Well, I sure as heck worked like a dog to get here, and am very satisfied. But notice now I am blogging and writing in addition to my regular job. Still trying to find my calling, I guess. Maybe it is an ongoing process. Maybe it is a myth.


Brad Harmon November 5, 2009 at 11:30 pm


I certainly agree that all Christians are called to full-time ministry; however, only a handful are called to make it their vocation. It is hard for me to imagine God telling the rest of us to just go pick something. If we are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made,” then it is for a specific reason or what's the point?

You bring up a great point though. Does God call us to multiple vocations throughout our lives, or do we just blow it and pick the wrong one?



corriehowe November 8, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Hum? This gives me something to think about. I guess without really thinking about it too much in the past, I've taken Psalm 139 about being fearfully and wonderfully made and known since being knit together in the womb…and even the number of our days before one came into being…and linked it to Eph 2:10 that we were created in the image of Christ and given a purpose before time began.

So I guess I've never questioned whether or not a vocation is a calling. Of course, I also believe that God is sovereign over us, so that we are predestined to do what He's designed us to do…although I'm not really sure how this works with free choice, which I also believe. I accept that it is a “both/and” as opposed to an “either/or” reality.

So back before people really had a choice about their vocation, I guess I would say that their choice was whether or not they accepted the Lord's calling in their life. We know that Joseph didn't choose slavery or imprisonment, but he accepted the Lord put him in these positions. Jeremiah accepted his call to present bad and unpopular news his entire life.

These are my first thoughts to this post. Thanks for getting the juices flowing.


Brad Harmon November 8, 2009 at 6:48 pm


There are some who believe that our free will somehow limits God's sovereignty by its very nature. If we are free to disobey His will (or plan) for our life they say He becomes dependent upon us, thus losing His sovereignty. Others say that since God is sovereign, there is no such thing as free will.

For me, both of these positions try to put God into a box confined by our limitations. If God is truly omniscient then He is never surprised by anything we do, or will do. He knows what we will choose to do in an infinite number of scenarios, so He places us accordingly. This neither negates His sovereignty nor our free will.

So, like you, I believe it is a “both/and” reality. Thanks for your comments.



Rita November 10, 2009 at 6:48 pm

I have been an entrepreneur for 7 years and recently realized, after much soul searching, that I am called to be a Christian business leader. Although, I didn't choose this as a vocation, I have started meditating on becoming a Christian business leader. I choose to follow my calling. I also believe as part of my process, I was led to your blog, because it is on point. Thanks, Brad.


Brad Harmon November 10, 2009 at 7:50 pm


I love that you meditate on becoming a Christian business leader. Meditation is something that fell out of style with Christianity some time ago, and now is mainly associated with eastern religions. It's sad because we see its benefits throughout the Bible.

Thank you for the kind words about this blog. It is my hope that God will use it to bless others, and that it will reflect His glory.



Gail Gardner June 2, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Even before Jesus’ time it is likely that all children in a family did not go into the family business. The eldest son was most likely expected to, but other sons would probably have apprenticed to other families that needed more labor if theirs did not need them.

I have absolutely no doubt that God has guided my path all my life to compile the highly unusual skill set I would use to accomplish what He has called me to do. That would certainly be true for others besides me.

The way the world is going there may soon have to be a divide between serious Christians and everyone else even in their chosen careers because what is considered mainstream is getting increasingly unacceptable for many of us.

Recently I publicly objected on Twitter to a guest post published on DannyBrown.me that contained the ‘f’ word in the title and blatant sexual content in the post. His commentators predominantly indicated that they find that totally ‘cool’ with one going so far as to say that using the ‘f’ word gave a person ‘instant credibility’.

The next week there was a huge outcry and debate regarding the choice of Closing Keynote ‘Entertainment’ at BlogWorld. In recent months I have stopped sharing content on various blogs because they have ads that go far beyond suggestive. One had a gyrating Avatar that was realistic enough it should have been at least R rated.

The further along my walk I go the less tolerance I feel towards vices that are now socially acceptable. While some are arguing we must allow this type of ‘freedom of speech’ they do not see the slippery slope they’re sliding down and how much worse this could get. Pole-dancing on prime time TV today; anything you can get in an adult movie tomorrow. Lace-covered behinds today; full frontal nudity coming soon to a venue near you.

What we think of as ‘normal’ is what we are surrounded by. I can only imagine what my Mennonite friends who have neither television nor radio and spend little time online would make of all this. Adult content has been secretly placed in media for decades or longer and it is going to get worse unless there is a huge outcry from ordinary citizens (which given the response to my objections is unlikely at this point).

Young people have no idea what is appropriate behavior or dress. Even when I was young which was in the ’60s and ’70s I didn’t really know what was ok and what was not because my parents never told me. Although we had a family Bible we were not allowed to touch it. We only went to church for about 1.5 of all my minor years (and that primarily conducted in Latin and The Bible was never read there either).

It is up to us who have found Jesus to serve as role models, answer questions and gently guide those willing to hear to find their way to a personal relationship with Jesus and the wisdom of The Bible.
Gail Gardner recently posted..Small Business Internet Marketing


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