“Vocation” (derived from the Latin vocatio, meaning “calling”) denotes all activities that God calls us to, either directly or indirectly. What does God call us to?
First, in Genesis, he called us to fill, subdue, and rule over the earth for its flourishing—and ours. Second, in the Gospels, he calls us to love God with our whole being, and our neighbors as ourselves, as we are redeemed and transformed in Christ and enabled by his grace. And third, in Paul’s letters (and, really, throughout Scripture), he calls us to fill practical roles as workers in all spheres of life, from the family to the marketplace to the larger social order. The Protestant Reformers understood all of these societal roles as vocations. And they taught that we are to fulfill these vocations in light of both the Genesis call and the Gospel call.
Though vocation has these larger meanings, since we spend the majority of our waking lives in some sort of work, it is important to understand, more specifically, what work is.
We can understand “work” to include all human activities that create value and promote the flourishing of others. This certainly includes unpaid work, such as work done in the raising of a family or in civic participation, volunteering, etc. But it excludes, for example, activities of consumption or leisure that create no value for others. In its myriad contexts and permutations, work should be understood as that which fosters value and encourages the thriving of other people.