Voices

Called out

The failure of a television program shows the importance of the biblical doctrine of vocation

Issue: "2004 Election: GOP's encore," Aug. 28, 2004

When Matt Drudge reported that McEnroe, CNBC's weeknight talk show starring John McEnroe, received a Nielsen rating of zero, I felt I had to watch it.

A zero rating means that the number of viewers is statistically insignificant-about 30,000 according to the latest estimate for McEnroe. More than that have watched Mr. McEnroe live at a tennis match. Mr. Drudge calculated that, given the show's costs, the network was paying $27 per viewer.

WORLD will review a TV show if it might interest our readers or-more usually-if it reflects what is going on in the culture. McEnroe fails on both counts, but we can still learn something from the program that no one watches.

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A continual theme of this column is the doctrine of vocation. According to this biblical teaching, which became a major emphasis of the Reformation, all Christians have "callings" in the world. That is, God has called each of us to specific tasks, relationships, and types of work in which we are to love and serve Him and our neighbors.

We have a "vocation" (from the Latin word for "calling") in our families (as husbands, wives, parents, children), in our society (as citizens), in our church (as pastors, elders, members), and in our work (as we make our livings with the gifts God has given us). We serve God not just in "church work" but in every line of work, and recovering the doctrine of vocation is a key to how Christians can influence the culture once again.

McEnroe reminds us of a corollary of the doctrine of vocation. God blesses our work when we act in our calling, but He does not normally bless our work when we act outside of our calling. John McEnroe was a fine, gifted tennis player. That was his calling. He is even a pretty good tennis commentator. He does not, however, have a calling as a comedian, an interviewer, or a political analyst.

Watch his show once and it will take more than $27 to make you watch it again. It is painful to watch someone try to be funny when he isn't. Mr. McEnroe was famous as a tennis player for being abrasive, but on TV abrasive is just another term for obnoxious.

The night I watched, Mr. McEnroe had a huge guest, Howard Dean. His big leading question: "So how are you doing, governor?" He went on to serve the former presidential candidate questions that were nothing but soft lobs, something he would never do on the court.

Acting outside of vocation is at the root of many of our problems. A judge is called to interpret the law, not infringe on the calling of legislators by creating laws. Government leaders are called to protect us, not raise our children or provide us all financial security. Those callings belong to the family.

Workers who lose their jobs, businesses that fail, students who flunk out of classes-all of these can be (though are not always) cases of failure to discern one's calling. Workers try a job they have no talent to do. Business owners provide a service their neighbors do not need. Students pursue a major because of the money they think it will make them, rather than assessing their God-given abilities.

Many churches have problems because the pastor tries to be a CEO, running the finances and administrating the congregation like a business. Meanwhile, he has real CEOs, MBAs, and accountants in the congregation making evangelism calls, to little effect.

How much more effective the congregation would be if it took to heart the division of labor taught in Acts 6, with lay people taking over the administrative duties, freeing the apostles to have enough time for "prayer and the ministry of the word." Just as some pastors have management skills, some CEOs might be good evangelists, but how much more effective would they be if they were taught to evangelize in their vocations?

Violating vocation is at the heart of moral disorders. Why is it wrong for two men to marry each other? Because God does not call men into a marriage relationship with other men. Why is sex outside of marriage wrong? Because sex is part of the calling of husbands and wives, and no one is called to have sex with anyone else. Why is abortion wrong? A mother is called to love and serve her child, not take its life. Why is euthanasia wrong? Doctors are called to love and serve their neighbors by healing their patients, not killing them.

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